Ceramic artists

Gemma Orkin, Ceramic Artist: Queen of Quirk

Gemma Orkin inside her studio. Gemma says it takes it her 2 days to complete 50 dishes.

Gemma Orkin inside her studio. 

For most people change is a good thing, but not for ceramic artist Gemma Orkin. Gemma has been making semi-functional ceramic dishes and bowls for over 20 years. Her drawings are quirky, sassy and sweet and totally her own. Her signature, though it has evolved gently over time, is so particular and light-hearted, and well, un-changed. If something works, why change it? Gemma explains, “I don’t like change, but I do love with ceramics that there are so many different areas to it. It’s not monotonous.”

Gemma had a very early introduction to art and the art world as one of 7 children to her artist mother, Gail Catlin. Gemma says art has always been a part of her life. She grew up taking art lessons on a regular basis, not always formally but from her mother or sent to friends of her mother for lessons. Though Gemma did eventually receive formal training at the University of Cape Town, majoring in print-making. “Print-making was a difficult medium to really do something with”, she says. When a friend suggested she come to Barbara Jackson’s studio to try ceramics Gemma gave it a shot and very shortly after she began teaching other students at the studio.

Bowls of the day in between phases of painting. Gemma says she enjoys the quality of dryness of clay for drawing on.

Bowls of the day in between phases of painting. Gemma says she enjoys the quality of dryness of clay for drawing on.

All of Gemma’s work is hand-made with coils, each and every tiny oval dish to her bigger pots. Then of course there is the drawing. Gemma begins with an idea and then draws the image for reference before drawing it onto each piece, then it is hand-painted and finally glazed. Her first signature pieces which put her on the art world stage were her big hair people. I must admit they are my personal favorite. Many of her special one-off pieces were largely inspired however by nature with paintings of indigenous birds and flowers. Life and wellness are her biggest inspirations. She says, “you can go for a walk and feel happy and notice something and then I ‘ll draw it.” Gemma is the queen of quirk and on her ceramics you can find anything from hanging laundry, hot air balloons, rockets, fish or a ramble about being in love or being in life. Her work makes you smile. “There are no hidden meanings,” she says. “It’s light.”

At Melissa's Food Shop on Kloof Street you can always find a range of Gemma Orkin's latest creations.

At Melissa’s Food Shop on Kloof Street you can always find a range of Gemma Orkin’s latest creations.

Gemma’s ceramic art can be found all over the world. Most notably in South Africa are her continuous collections at Melissa’s Food Shop in 9 outlets throughout Cape Town and Johannesburg. She has also appeared at Anthropologie and West Elm in the US, Habari in Vienna, Le Panape de Camela in Geneva and at Angie’s Little Food Shop in England. Though Gemma has made her ceramics a full-time business over the last 12 years she admits, “I don’t advertise myself. I don’t like to sell myself. I am very lucky people find me.” Or rather they are very lucky to find her <3.

To request more information regarding Gemma’s work, please contact amyonajourney@gmail.com.

Inside the World of John Bauer, Eccentric Ceramic Artist

John Bauer outside his home in Cape Town.

John Bauer outside his home in Cape Town.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting John Bauer, acclaimed ceramic artist and wildly-free thinker, in his home in Claremont. I am met outside by the eccentric John himself and dozens of gargoyles scattered across the front veranda. John concedes that for a long time in the early days he did a lot of gargoyles, but John is the kind of artist who moves along swiftly in his inspiration from one genre to the next. He began his entrance to center stage as a ceramic artist with his poetry bowls: beautiful words and drawings of mythical creatures onto exceptionally thin handcrafted porcelain bowls.

John Bauer has been making pots his entire life. He has over 4,000 of his pieces stored in the roof, he tells me. For every piece he has made throughout his life, he makes 3 of a kind. He chooses his best of the 3 to be stored for the day when his entire collection will be exhibited. We half -jokingly say that place will be the Smithsonian.

John’s work appears around the world including far out and off places, like the tiling of an entire palace wall in the United Arab Emirates. Currently and locally, his plates and bowls and other fine ceramic pieces are what a finer diner will feast upon at The Test Kitchen, the restaurant of the moment in Cape Town. When John receives an order, from clients as big as Anthropologie in the US, he says he will over-produce. Guidelines are rather difficult for John as a creator. He says if the order is for 400 pieces he will produce 1000 and then the buyer can choose from what has been created. John explains, “ I have to respond to the voice of the clay, which is far louder than the voice of the client.”

John has a keen interest in bringing things back into fashion. He says he alone brought back the doily. Stacks of doilies on a metal stick are piled almost to the ceiling like flapjacks with a bell on top as if to summon the spirit Doily? John is after all, the self-proclaimed, Doily Lama. John uses the doilies and other found objects to imprint into his work creating a mystical, whimsical and for some possibly scary look.

John says that this year he is bringing back the basket. His techniques are beyond fresh; they are breakthrough. No other ceramic artists are doing what John is doing in terms of technique. At the moment he is making porcelain bowls and light fittings that almost look identical to a basket or crochet weave.

It would be fair to say that John’s entire house is a work of art, including he himself. When asked how he works and if he sleeps, he admits that yes he does sleep, but he does get distracted easily. One of those distractions came one day and inspired him to dig a well outside in his back garden. John explains, “If a saying has lasted a 1000 years, it must be true…Unless you draw your own water you will never be happy.”

Still water runs deep. Inside Bauer's self-dug well.

Still water runs deep. Inside Bauer’s self-dug well.