ARTIST INTERVIEW- Emily Stapleton Jefferis
Emily Stapleton Jefferis works between drawing and making, with a particular focus on the use of ceramics and colour. She employs a feedback loop of drawings informing sculptures, sculptures informing new drawings and new drawings informing new sculptures, with this evolutionary approach echoing her biological subject matter. Her sculptural work primarily involves clay, which she is drawn to as a result of its plasticity, tactility and intimacy within our daily lives, along with the alchemical processes by which it becomes ceramics.
Your work is so viscous, they appear to be almost living forms, how do you draw on the natural world when developing your ideas?
Stoneware clay and glaze, 2020
I investigate the relationships between the microscopic and macroscopic, drawing on the real landscapes around us and the science-fiction worlds existing within our imaginations. By recontextualising the macro and micro of the natural world I aim to provide an escape from the anthropocentric perspective humans are locked within. I hope this transformation of the viewer carries an ecological message of kinship with even the strangest incarnations of life. I look at a myriad of visual sources to develop ideas and inform my work. Mainly I take inspiration from the anatomical, botanical and geological, zooming in on the overlooked or unseen, extracting the wonder, beauty and strangeness that exists just out of sight.
What led you to working with earthenware and stoneware, how does the clay body influence your approach to the work?
Circumstances dictate whether I work with Earthernware or Stoneware. Whilst in Mexico I made Earthernware sculptures due to the materials and kiln available. Most often in London I work with Stoneware as I often share the kiln with my studio mates and this is the most popular temperature to fire to. I have also developed a greater range of stoneware glaze tests and so my library of stoneware surfaces and colours is larger and therefore provides a greater range of potential finishes to choose from. The plasticity and tactility of the clay along with the alchemical processes by which it becomes ceramics constantly spur me on. I love the transformative and often unpredictable element of the firing process, and the animate force that clay seems to have - it often feels like the clay is in charge, you have to be constantly waiting for it to reach the right dryness, softness, hardness for you to achieve your aims. Professor Louise Steel in Camden Arts Centre’s Earth and World podcast talks about this idea of clay not simply being mud but having a life within it, and also of the idea of technologies of enchantment, which is the idea that certain people who can do these things have magical capacities.
I am really drawn to your sculpture ‘Glistening’ , what was the inspiration behind it?
Earthernware clay and glaze, 2019
I made ‘Glistening’ during an Artist residency at The Leonora Carrington Museum in Mexico where I drew upon the materiality of clay and glaze to explore states of flux and flow and transformation. The work I created was inspired by Carrington’s interest in the alchemical transformation of matter as a parallel to the transformation of the self through an accessing of the unconscious, along with the flora, geology and the folklore of Mexico. Whilst making this piece I was looking a lot at Mexican flora and the symbolism and uses of different plants. The Peyote plant’s name is Spanish and derived from the Nahuatl, or Aztec, peyōtl [ˈpejoːt͡ɬ], meaning "glisten" or “glistening”.
What brought you to working with glaze to bring colour to your work?
Stoneware clay and glaze, 2018
I love the alchemical nature of working with glaze - how the colour and surface of the glaze change completely in the kiln due to the heat of the firing process, and how this process can often be unpredictable. There is such a range in potential glaze finishes and so the glaze can act as a chameleon, creating a surface reminiscent of lichen, mould or marble for example.
How do you decide the size of your pieces, how important is scale to you?
Fruit of the Earth
Earthernware clay and glaze, 2019
Scale is a really important element of my work and I am often looking at structures which exist on a micro and macro scale. I like to make pieces which range in size from those which are intimate and can be held in the hands, to larger pieces which exist on a scale in relation to the whole body.
Finally, who are some of your favourite contemporary artists at the moment?