Celebrated ceramicist Lucinda Mudge’s latest body of work, Kill You Eat You, features a series of 25 vases that, like many of her previous creations, carry multiple meanings and evoke a range of feelings, all at once. It’s a rare skill that she has to balance notions of beauty next to those of violence and aggression, all wrapped in delicious colours and exquisite textures.
The imagery and text on her intricate vessels reflect the multiple realities of life in South Africa, and as such they’re highly relatable pieces of design that offer a glimpse into the workings of a fascinating artistic mind. To try get insight into Lucinda’s intriguing way of thinking, we chatted to her about her vases, her quirky style and her latest show.
What first drew you to ceramics?
I have been fascinated by ceramics from childhood. It’s the transformation that the clay undergoes, changing from floppy to glass-like.
Why do you predominantly choose vases as your canvas?
The beauty of a canvas that is round is that the story will link up and repeat. My vases are canvases that tell stories and I use this as a reference to the human condition – the idea that we are on repeat. Secondly, with a vase, it is not possible to see the whole picture at once. The image on the back will always be hidden, but we know it is there. This is a reference to the way that we live – what we choose not to see even though we know it’s there. Some of my vases are built with this in mind – there are two different sides to the vase and only one is visible at any one time. If you don’t like the message, you can turn it to face the wall. I engage with that.
Building a ceramic vase is a technically difficult operation, and one that I still struggle with. It’s similar to spending three weeks stretching a canvas and two weeks mixing paints, and all the time I’m thinking, thinking. It’s also very demanding – if I do one thing wrong, the vase will fail. Then, thrown against this is my personality – I can’t make test tiles, I just don’t have it in me; I can’t measure the amount of stain in milligrams, it’s too boring. It makes me rebel against it all, be free, not care. I think it may be these two elements combined that give my work a sort of edge.
A sharp sense of humour underlines a lot of your work. Do you think this is an important quality to have as an artist?
I use humour, irony and mockery as a way of asking authentic questions. The work then opens up to operate on two levels, because it’s sometimes unclear to the viewer as to whether it’s serious or not. I don’t think artists in general need to use humour, but it is part of who I am and this comes through in my work.
Why merge beauty with suggestions of fear and violence in your vases?
I am interested in the human spirit – the good times and the bad – so my vases reflect that. They are glitzy, gold and beautiful, but there is a heaviness there too.
How would you say Kill You Eat You differs from your previous collections?
I don’t think it is very different. It’s just another year of my life represented through a series of vases. Though, they are bigger than I was previously able to build, and I have discovered a beautiful pale palette.
We’re aware that the expression ‘kill you, eat you’ is a reference to a news story you read, but why pick this phrase in particular as the title for your new collection?
It alludes to the aggression that I reference in my work. It also ties up with the animal-like qualities that I often use to illustrate human characteristics.
Which of the vases is your favourite?
I do not have favourites – I prefer to see them all together as a single entity. Together they represent a year of my life. I hold onto work throughout the year and build up a narrative, ultimately exhibiting it as a complete collection. The vases balance and reference each other.
Billie Zangewa, Hieronymus Bosch, Olaf Hajek and the artists behind Indian miniature paintings.
If you were a vase, what imagery and text would you choose for your surface?
Gold fingernails, fancy sunglasses with tiger stripes and an ornately patterned floral outfit with gold monkeys from head to toe. I’d have glistening rubies in my big smiling teeth and the text would read: ‘repent, repent, repent’.