Teapot architecture with whimsy and principles


TEA, anyone? This Carolyn Heydenrych tea pot is a rich blend of domestic-looking architecture, madness and pragmatics. Photograph by Robyn Sassen.

A MIX OF unadulterated capriciousness, fragility that makes you frightened to breathe too hard counterpoised with functional robustness, and a storytelling quirkiness that shimmers, not to mention monumentality to make you laugh: this is what you get to experience with the work of potter Carolyn Heydenrych. Over 30 pieces by her are at the moment on show at the Association of Arts gallery in Pretoria, under the ‘potter of the month’ rubric.

And while you may have been introduced to her singular aesthetic in the Kim Sacks Gallery in Parkwood, Johannesburg or other shops specialising in one-off pieces of this nature, here you see Heydenrych taking her ideas to another level and the only pity in the show is that it is not bigger and her work is not allowed to overflow the whole gallery with its contained and delicious insanity. For pragmatic reasons, of course: the ceramic surfaces are hard-edged but thin, perforated but illustrated.

It’s like a myriad of tiny windows have been opened into the cladding of an enormous castle. In ornamental and functional bowls and tea cups, sugar basins and vessels for lit candles, Heydenrych plays with scale as she challenges the architecture of the humble tea pot in ways that will make you smile, even if you never drink tea from these delightful vessels. In blending the idea of functionality with actual functionality, she creates the perfect hybrid: these objects resonate with the kind of sketchy aesthetic of Ludwig Bemelmans, the Austrian writer and illustrator who created the famous Madeline books from the late 1930s.

They’re architecturally sound looking yet gleefully unbalanced in their ethos, clear but sparkling with possibility. If these vessels had voices, they’re shriek and laugh, they’d tell lewd jokes and they would skirt within the realm of outrageous, while they adhered on a surface to the rules of properness. Using light and black ink on the pristine white surface of her vessels, Heydenrych plays with physical lightness and the aesthetic of volume. The works are utterly magical.

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