Clay mantras, crocheted


PATTERN making in clay and wool: plates by Corlie Schoeman in ‘cleilap’. Photograph courtesy Pretoria Arts Association.

THERE’S NO SLEIGHT of hand or conceptual tricks in Corlie Schoeman’s considerable body of pottery exhibited in the Pretoria Arts Association ‘Potter of the Month’ slot for March. She refers to the technique she uses here as ‘cleilap’. And you can easily understand why. These objects, big and small, mostly in medium depth relief and in two dimensions are infused with a ceramic energy that draws from the repeat patterns in crocheted work, fabric and doilies. They’re unabashed in how they’re located and described as objects fit for function and yet, given their confident repeat designs, their bold striations and clear unapologetic rhythms, as you gaze at each beautiful object, you feel yourself touched by an eastern aesthetic.

One of the key distinctions between western art practice – be it in the context of visual art or music – and African or eastern aesthetic values, is the notion of narrative. Sometimes it is rather abstract. But when you walk into a mosque or listen to a bit of African jazz or gospel sound, you notice it too. Classical western values offer a trajectory that begins in one spot and takes you to another, using the story or your eye or ear as a logical vehicle.

Traditional eastern and African aesthetic does something completely different. It immerses you in its rhythm, and doesn’t let you go until you are mesmerized and the whole room is full of it. Schoeman’s bio and the press release offered by the gallery do not link her aesthetic to the east, but as you gaze at her richly glazed pieces in deep blues, greens and burnt siennas, you are irrevocably seduced by the textures and the cohesion of design and shape that is central to each of them.

Because they challenge the porous borders between ‘art’, ‘design’ and ‘craft’, exhibited as they are in a gallery context, but bearing labels that point them to the kitchen cupboard rather than a plinth, something else happens and they become haveable in a way that is not stuffy and precious but glorious and gorgeous. These objects deserve to be owned and loved, but more than that, to be used.

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