November 1 - 7, 2015: Issue 238

Katarina Wells

 Katarina Wells

                             Katarina Wells Ceramics:
                              Vessels. Totems. Sculptures. Animal Sculptures.

Clareville Artist Katarina Wells features as our November 2015 Artist of the Month and shares some wonderful visions of her ceramic works. Specializing in Vessels, Animal Sculptures, Totems and Sculptures inspired by the place we all live in, Pittwater, these works communicate a power of observation translated into a high form of creativity and produce a perception of shapes uncoiling from something as mundane as clay.

Clay shaped and fired, apart from being one of our earliest ways of making something useful and beautiful, is also a way of communicating life that transcends time.  A shape made sculptural can bring harmony to an empty corner, infuse a room with an essence or presence that conjoins it to the busy world shaped outside.

Katarina’s works communicate this entwined tenuousness and solidity at once. 

Right: 'Fish Totem'

Having followed her work and its working for a while, and fallen in love with what we call her ‘Whale Tales/Tails’ at the Pittwater Artists Trail Winter Exhibition at Avalon Beach SLSC Clubhouse, we asked here then if we could share some of these delights with you.

The last Pittwater Artists Trail Open Studios weekend runs the first weekend in December 5-6 2015. As a Prelude to what will be yet another spectacular weekend of Pittwater Artists showcasing their works in the greatest work of all, luminescent Pittwater, we are privileged to share a small insight into one of the Artists on this Trail.

When and where were you born?  

I was born in 1969 in Graz in Austria. Graz is the second biggest city in Austria – not too many people have heard about it. I grew up there. Graz is about the size of 300 thousand inhabitants, so you can ride a bicycle through it, go anywhere by bike alone. We lived in an apartment on the outskirts of Graz. My parents would always try to get us out of the house so we would walk for hours and hours in the woods collecting chestnuts and mushrooms and blackberries. I’ve always loved being outdoors.    How did you come to Australia?  When I was 20 I met my husband. My brother and next door neighbours met him in Greece and invited him back and it was love. I have been here for 25 years.  

What were your first impressions of Australia?  

My father had been out here in his early 20’s after the war years, so I had always heard about Australia while growing up. He came here as part of a work scheme in the mid 1950’s when a lot of Austrians, Germans and Italians from all over the place came to Australia. He ended up working in the mines up at Mount Isa in Queensland. He had some pretty wild stories to tell and that was the impression I had of Australia prior to coming here.    

Mount Isa can still be a pretty wild place on occasion - and then he went home?  

Yes, he went home after five years. He had wanted to come back here but then he met my mum and stayed.  

So what were your impressions compared to his stories from a mining town of the 1950’s?  

Well, I thought it was this wild country, and then when we came here I ended up on the leafy green North Shore and suburbia, which I had never experienced before in my whole life, it was very different. The reason we ended up in Lindfield for a couple of months is that my husband had a bad accident in Greece before we left to come to Australia together, his leg was badly damaged, and so we stayed with his parents for a while until he recovered.  We were going to travel but ended up in Penguin in Tasmania for a year, which was a beautiful place. This all came about as he played in a band called ‘Penguins on Safari’ – and when he saw Penguin on the map he said let’s go there. He did do some songwriting after the band finished, and  managed somebody, Rai Thistlethwayte, but he’s a teacher now, in Economics! (laughs) 

Yes, the opposite in many ways. What was it like being in Tassie for you?  

It was fantastic, we loved it and it was great for my husband’s leg, which had been completely smashed up, as we just walked and walked. There was a huge National Park just behind where we lived and we just walked and walked.  

What was the Tasmanian bush like compared to the woods of Austria? 

Quite different, much wilder. Straight away I just loved the countryside here, which is wilderness compared to the managed woods of Austria – it’s still wild there of course, but here is wilderness.  We actually married in Tasmania when I was  21. We married in this lovely little church. We were going to just do it on our own as my family couldn’t come and thought if that was the case then we didn’t want anyone else either, but in the end Mark’s parents were our witnesses, they came down to be with us, and it was lovely.  

Have you been back to Austria?  

Oh yes, many times. Last year I went on my own and next year all four of us are going, we have two daughters, one is 20 and the other 14.  
What was the first thing you created?  

I started off with pots witch slowly developed into more sculptural pieces. I still do come back to vessel forms. I was 28 when I began, I had a three year old and felt I really needed to do something for myself. I had a friend who lived just up the hill behind us here at Clareville and she did many things, painting, collages, printmaking – anything and everything really. She gave me a bag of clay and said ‘have a play’.  
I loved it straight away. I enrolled in a one night a week TAFE course which introduced me to wheel and hand building and I went on from there, slowly developing into more sculptural works.  

Who are your favourite sculptors?  

Barbara Hepworth would have to be my favourite. She is a British sculptress. I love the period of mid last century. My favourite potter would be Hans Coper; they both come from that era.    

What would be your favourite sculptural piece that another has created? 

I don’t really have a special piece. What I like are the more abstract forms, simple, refined pieces. It is more a feeling than a mental choice for me – I know what I like from that.   

Were you aware of working with clay being an art form prior to this? 

Not at all. Doing this has meant I’ve taken an interest of course and learnt more and taken an interest in what other people are doing and learned from that too where before I may not have had a chance to access that world and what is happening.  

What to you defines a difference between pottery made for use and ceramics created simply to be an art from?  

To me pottery that is made for use, for practical use, can be an art form and I think many people do refine this to be an art form. One potter whom I really admire, Lucy Rie, did all her work on the wheel and all for use. I think she was definitely an artist and her work is an art form.  I don’t think there is a divide between functionality and non-functionality which defines this. 

Personally, I wasn’t ever concerned with something being functional, I was always more interested in the form of things. So for me it is the shape, the space around it, where to place things. I find it fascinating how popular handmade ceramics have become now, this wasn’t the case when I first got into it. Everyone wanted pure white dinnerware and  you could buy the best stuff in Op Shops for practically nothing. It has changed now of course and anything handmade has become trendy. I think it’s fantastic how many young people are getting into creating something.  

This wonderful totem you have in the garden, where did that idea come from?  

Well the fish stems from living by the sea of course. The totem is partly because of my kiln size limits which is only a certain height, 80 centimetres, so I wanted to do something bigger and thought of stacking things on top of each other.   

Where do you draw your inspiration form for your works – what influences you – those wonderful whale tails that everyone loves for example?  

One idea usually grows from another, creating the next. With the Whale Tails - I have been making a shape which was like a spearhead and had started to make another one, when I saw this shape developing that looked like a whale tail, and thought ‘that’s a whale tail’ and went on from there. Similarly the ginkgo leafs/ trees that I just finished developed from the whale tails. I try to work by not having a preconceived idea of what something will become.  

The whale tails are a good size and make those looking at them wonder how they would look even larger in scale – have you ever wanted to get bigger? 

Yes, definitely. There’s always a limitation in scale size by kilns of course. The whale tails won’t fit into my kiln, I have to take them to Brookvale Ceramics to get them fired and even their biggest  kiln is only a metre by a metre, so you’re restricted in that way. And the there is always the danger of breaking unfired pieces during transport.  


'Out Of The Deep Blue'

Glazes, colours – how do you choose those? 

I’m not using many glazes at present. I love using metal paints, like rust and copper or bronze with patinas. I think those colours work really well in the garden, especially in our coastal environment. I also love using Terra sigillata as a surface treatment. To make terra sigillata you soak clay in water and syphon off the very fine clay particles that rise to the top and you end up with something that is nearly like a glaze. It’s not completely waterproof but it’s very tactile and subtle.  

Is working with clay therapeutic for you as well? 

Absolutely, but I think anyone who does any form of artistic work whether it’s music, ceramics, painting, whichever it may be, there is that being in the moment aspect of this which is like a meditation. There is also that being on fire element as well of course, which can be exhausting. An example of that would be after the recent Pittwater Artists Trail Winter Exhibition where I was lucky to land a commission. I would work 6 to 8 hours nonstop without even eating.    

How do you balance this work with being a mum and running a home?

My girls are older now and of course, when you’re working from home you can do it at a time that suits you and fit it around anything else that needs to be done.There is that autonomy that is one of the great advantages of doing such work. You do need a little bit of what I would define as headspace to be able to focus undisturbed on doing the work.   

It was harder when my girls were younger, when I first began. I really wanted to get into it but just didn’t have the time, small children demand a lot of attention.  

What are your favourite places in Pittwater and why?

My all time favourite would have to be Clareville Beach. When my kids were small there wouldn’t have been a single day when I wasn’t down there with them. Even now my favourite place is the very south end under the paperbark trees, hiding away, having family picnics, swimming.  My other favourite place would be Palm Beach. I love going for a run, especially in Winter, early in the morning.  

You run the whole beach?

Oh yes, you have to be fit to be able to do this work, there is a real physical aspect to it. In Summer I swim. It can be a bit of a mess in Summer when the masses descend and suddenly the beach is crowded but then you just go first thing in the morning and last thing at dusk.  

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase you try to live by?  

It would be a mix of Carpe Diem and just really be in the moment, be present. I think as an artist you are really lucky in that you do spend a lot of time being in the moment, being present, so if you can apply that to other parts of your life too then you are blessed. 

Katarina at Work 

Katarina Wells
Katarina Wells Ceramics:
Vessels. Totems. Sculptures. Animal Sculptures.

My aim is to express a sense of balance and harmony through my work. I hand build my pieces over a period of a few days, to allow the clay to stiffen sufficiently, before adding more coils. This slow process fosters an organic growth, allows for time to step back and observe where a piece intends to go.

Terra Sigillata, a natural finish containing very fine clay particles, provides a sensual, tactile surface for much of my work For many of my outdoor sculptures I use iron and copper finishes, relishing the rich patinas that develop when exposed to the elements.

Inspiration is found in the natural world - the colours and textures of rocks, seedpods, wasp's nests or shark eggs found on the beach.

Right: 'Kookaburra Totem

I grew up in Austria and moved to Australia in my early twenties. In 2000 I completed a studio ceramics course at Brookvale TAFE. I have been exhibiting my work since 2007. 

I live and work at Clareville on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. My studio is open to the public three times a year as part of Pittwater Artists Trail or by appointment. 
Commissions welcome. 

Elfriede Bartnitzky, who is also on the Pittwater Artists Trail, joins Katrina at her house for the open studio weekends. Elfriede is a contemporary painter, using acrylic and mixed media who loves to explore using colour and texture.

2015 Pittwater Artists Trail Winter Exhibition, Avalon Surf Club, Avalon

2014 Newport Sculpture Trail, Newport
          Pittwater Community Arts Exhibition, Avalon
          Arcadian Artists Trail, Dural
          St. Thomas Art Show, Willoughby
          Pittwater Artists Trail Autumn Exhibition, Newport                          
          Holy Family Art Show, Lindfield

2013 Glanaeon Art Show, Castlecrag
          St. Thomas Art Show, Willoughby
          Pittwater Community Arts Exhibition, Avalon
          Vision 7, Mosman
          Oatley West Art Show, Oatley
          Holy Family Art Show, Lindfield

2012 Pittwater Community Arts Exhibition, Avalon
          Glanaeon Art Show, Castlecrag
          Epiphanies, Ryde
          View Exhibits, Lane Cove
          Oatley West Art Show, Oatley
          Holy Family Art Show, Lindfield 
          Pittwater Ceramic Award, Mona Vale

2011 View Exhibits, Lane Cove
          Vision 6, Mosman
          St.Thomas Art Show, Willoughby
          Pittwater Community Arts Exhibition, Avalon

2010 View Exhibits, Lane Cove
          St.Thomas Art Show, Willoughby
          Pittwater Community Arts Exhibition, Avalon
          Arts Beat, Mona Vale

2009  View Exhibits, Lane Cove 
          The Rotary Club Of Breakfast Point Annual Art Exhibition
          Balmain Art Show, Balmain
          Loreto Spring Art Show, Kirribilli
          PCA Exhibition, Avalon
          Arts Beat, Mona Vale

2008 View Exhibits, Lane Cove 
          Balmain Art Show, Balmain
          Art Sydney with Gallery 307
          St.Thomas Art Show, Willoughby
          Vision 5, Mosman
          PCA Exhibition, Avalon

2007  'Vessels', Momo Art, Castlecrag
           Selected Artists Show, Gallery 307, Castlecrag
           PCA Exhibition, Avalon 

Copyright Katarina Wells, 2015.