After seeing the excellent work that many ceramists bring to their pieces, you may think that their hands contain ancient spells to create inexplicable forms, or that their limbs possess exceptional skills to mould anything to their desired form.

British designer Olivia Walker is one such manual magician, creating simple forms with curious finishes, micro-organisms that seek to develop and grow in each of their vases, even when they are finished. It is as if her work with materials such as clay or ceramics do not end after the simple moulding process, but instead continue to develop over time.

Three different pieces that show the work of ceramicist Olivia Walker.

Essentially, Olivia wants to discover and explore through her works the intrinsic qualities hidden behind these materials, characteristics which allow her to achieve forms, finishes and textures that are ever more unique and imperfect.

Two ceramics, one in white clay and the other in clay dyed black.

1.Your work is obviously very different to much of what is currently on the market. What do you seek to convey with your ceramic pieces?
I am interested in making work that explores material quality and natural forms. My pieces make reference to organisms – fungus, coral, and bacteria – but are unidentifiable: growing over and eating up the form beneath. I am interested in the tension between the ordered and precise object and the rough, mossy, textured surface upon it. The beauty that can be found in the space between growth and decay.

2. The material and design of your pieces is essential to the aims you achieve in the final result…
Each piece I make is unique. I spend many days building up the texture that I apply to the surface of a piece. This texture is made up from individually made and applied shards of clay, and therefore the final piece can’t be replicated.

3. ¿How do you tackle such topical issues such as the environment and the use of natural resources in your production?
Clay is a natural material and it can be continuously recycled up until the point it is fired in the kiln. This means there is no waste product and because each piece takes a long time to make, I find I use relatively small amounts of clay. The most resource heavy part of the process is the firing, and I make sure that I fire my pieces just once (rather than the norm which is twice) to make the process as sustainable as possible.

Glass clay dyed blue finish.

Model finished in clay terracotta colour.

Finish detail with golden material added.

4. In this aspect, the materials used for your work are very carefully chosen…
Most of my work is made with porcelain. I am interested in the qualities this material has – it is vitrified so very durable and has a smoothness, purity of tone and translucency that other clays do not have. I don’t glaze my work

5. ¿Which part of the process do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy working with clay when it is at the leather-hard stage. This means that it is wet (but not too wet) and not dry enough to go into the kiln. Clay at this stage is the consistency of a hard cheese. I spend many hours with my pieces at this leather-hard stage, and enjoy watching the piece as it dries out fully, and slowly changes colour.

6. ¿What characteristics define your pieces?
I think the most recognisable part of my work is the texture that I build up upon the surface. It is made up of many small parts and looks like it is growing and spreading over the piece. My more recent pieces have a collapsed side which this texture covers and grows over. I like this feeling that as something decays and collapses, something else is able to grow and flourish.

Olivia Walker ceramics offer an exterior deformation that makes them unique.

The ceramist Olivia Walker in his workshop.
Hundreds of small pieces cover the outer body of each glass.

7. ¿Do you have anything in particular that inspires you?
I look to natural forms for inspiration. I look at elements in nature that are made up of many small repeating parts. This might mean coral or the underside of a mushroom. I am interested in things that are very simple individually, but when put together become something different and powerful.

8. ¿What are your upcoming plans?
I have some plans to undertake a residency next year which I am really excited about. This would be an opportunity to develop some new pieces which could be mounted on the wall and take my work in a slightly new direction.

Fictional composition of a model in two colors.

Photos: Sylvain Dleu
Portrait: Lucas Amillano

Previous work of turning to shape ceramics.

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