Shifting Lines by Justine Allison

‘The sun shines through the dusty windows of Justine Allison’s rural workshop in mid Wales. But there is nothing rustic about the refined porcelain vessels that are caught in the light. Hand built from thin slabs of clay she creates precise forms - beakers, pourers and sharp-edged vases decorated minimally with line. Sometimes this is a simple dark line around the middle although her signature decoration uses parallel lines of blue, black or pale green on the translucent white porcelain. Justine Allison’s ceramics are skilfully made, precious to touch and a delight to the eye.’  

Professor Moira Vincentelli
Consultant Curator of Ceramics, Aberystwyth University

Hand building is one of the cornerstones of ceramic practice. It is also dynamically affected by the choice of clay, its preparation, the atmospheric conditions and the hand of the maker. So much can go awry; cracking, blistering, separation. It is the skilled maker that works with these fallibilities to produce forms that have both vitality and strength.

Justine judges the weight, thinness and dampness of the rolled clay in order to be able to manipulate it effectively whilst allowing it to find its own form. Hand building with porcelain brings additional challenges because porcelain moves and shrinks substantially as it dries and is fired to a high temperature of 1400°C. It is when the porcelain is in its molten form that it vitrifies. This is the transformation of the dense clay body into partially glass-like, translucent ceramic. It now holds and transfers light and gives the porcelain a luminosity that brings it to life. 

Justine’s practice has rigorously investigated these aspects and fluctuations. The seeming simplicity of each piece of work belies the painstaking process and accumulation of physical experience that has brought it into being.

Through her intricately made vessels, Justine considers the balance between form and function. She reflects fixed and shifting lines in urban and rural landscapes. She explores edges that define form yet convey movement. The outcome of Justine’s tenacious approach is a body of work that is eloquent and uplifting.

Introduction by Ceri Jones

 

Justine Allison’s intricately made vessels are eloquent and uplifting. Effectively so because of their unassuming presence. Light is attracted to them, held, and radiates from them. There is a quietude to Justine’s work that reflects both the meditative process of its making and the grace of the finished forms. They are not perfect, they are precise. They have strong lines and soft colours. They are fixed forms that convey movement. They are vessels that make us hold our breath.

Lines from land and urban strata are in the fabric and decoration of Justine’s vessels. The lines drawn into the clay as well as the ceramic edges evoke movement in each piece. The vessels shift as they are built, settle as they dry and alter again as they are fired. They have a poise born out of the fragility of their material and the robustness of its qualities. Porcelain is a very fine clay body to manipulate and Justine does so with skilful tenacity. Once it is fired to a high temperature, vitrified, it is stable and strong and luminescent.

Families of vessels have familiar traits and pleasing differences. They sit comfortably in groups, chime as pairs or sing out as individual pieces. The seemingly most simple of small, cupped bowls can be utterly alluring. Justine applies gold leaf to the inside surface of select small bowls. This gives an ethereal quality that can dazzle. 

Form, for Justine, is paramount. Function is a driving motivation, but it is the aesthetics of a piece that are key to her making. Taking a functional vessel, such as a jug or a spoon, as a starting point, Justine will work her thinly rolled sheets of porcelain at just the right pace to capture the form. She describes it as drawing with the clay. Like a drawing, the marks of making remain. Lines, stripes, rubbed colour, lettering, hemp twine, gold leaf or palladium, any of these contribute to the considered aesthetic of finished jugs, pots, bowls and spoons.

Justine has her own language of clay. Balanced between functional and sculptural, her ceramic practice is rich and original. With a profound understanding of her materials and a honed visual aesthetic, Justine’s vessels are resolved. It is such a pleasure to have this solo show by Justine as the opening exhibition in the second series of The Language of Clay. It expands the dialogue presented through the first series and celebrates singular expertise. 

Exhibition at Mission Gallery

Touring Schedule

 

Mission Gallery Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre

Swansea Cwmbran

13 January - 04 March 2018 01 December 2018 - 19 January 2019

Ruthin Craft Centre Ceramic Gallery

Denbighshire Aberystwyth

14 April – 15 July 2018 02 February - 24 March 2019

Biography

 

Justine grew up and studied in London, graduating from Camberwell College of Art in 1998. As a craft based degree course, making multiples was integral to her training. This persists in the families of vessels that Justine now makes, though it’s the differences in each piece that motivates her creative interest.

The urban environment too has had a lasting impression on her. A move to rural west Wales fourteen years ago catalysed a shift in Justine’s practice. With time and space to dedicate to making full-time, the lines and shapes of an urban landscape translate into her forms and decoration.

Justine has been hand building with porcelain since college, a technical feat which has become second nature to her. She works thin sheets of rolled porcelain as if they’re paper, slicing and joining, propping and mark making. 

Justine’s starting point is functional pieces. She’ll take the form of a particular vessel and make it to her aesthetic, focusing on form above function. Most of her pieces remain functional but it is the perfection of form and use of line that is the overriding priority. Her eye responds to a sharp aesthetic that insightfully acknowledges the constant movement of the clay throughout the making process.

She uses light as a medium, the thinness of the clay is key to this. Justine corals a glow from within a vessel just as she lays bare a simple, smooth surface in order to catch every whisper of light as it falls. 

The seeming simplicity of the decoration belies the profound attention to detail that Justine applies to the texture of her vessels. Fine stripes meticulously sculpted using minute strips of masking tape and underglazes in muted colours bring an unassuming tactility to her work. Gold leaf applied to the interior of small bowls conveys striking luminosity.

Having presented work at selected exhibitions in the U.S., France, Ireland and Japan, Justine has recently exhibited in UK galleries including the Biscuit Factory, Bevere Gallery, the Geffrey Museum and Nantgarw China Works Museum. Current stockists include Flow Gallery, Snug Gallery, Cambridge Contemporary Crafts and Ruthin Craft Centre.

Justine’s work has been purchased by the Aberystwyth Ceramic Collection.