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Book review: Earth & Fire, the timeless fundamentals of working with clay

A new – and beautiful – book written by Kylie and Tiffany Johnson takes an in-depth look at ceramics and the work of the artist from clay to kiln. Covering a wide variety of artists, Earth & Fire also ranges from porcelain and sculpture to everyday functional pieces.

Book review: Earth & Fire, the timeless fundamentals of working with clay

Mirroring its object, this book takes a fundamental approach to the practice of working with clay. The title captures this essential focus: earth and fire are, as Kylie Johnson notes, “the main components of any piece of ceramic.”

The book is divided into two main sections. The first, named Earth, focuses on the process of building forms using clay as a base material. The second, Fire, looks at how heat and finishes create conditions for an enormous variety of work.

Under these overarching fundamentals, more detail is provided using similarly essential and fundamental guiding themes: hand, cast, flame, mark and form. This is a work that seeks to explore the art form as contemporary practice but also within its deeper historical and even timeless context.

The writers, with contributors including artists and curators, clearly hold a passion for ceramics. A high number of artists are profiled, providing details on their material and process preferences alongside personal accounts of their modes of practice.

Related: Fantastic Forms at Bundanon Art Museum

Amy Leeworthy, for example, is a ceramicist based in Victoria. Her profile in the Mark section of the book gives a personal account of her journey into this art form, touching on family connections and adjacent practices such as sculpture. We even get insight into her working practices in the studio, such as preferred times of the day and fitting creativity around a schedule filled with the responsibilities of being a mother. Much of Leeworthy’s work in inspired by the Bauhaus movement and features bold geometric patterns.

Earth & Fire will be inspirational reading and a useful resource for established artists as well as amateur makers perhaps keen to try ceramics for the first time. The abundant imagery, ranging from messy studio working practice to refined objects, makes for an overall beautiful book. 

Curated by Kylie and Tiffany Johnson, this is an aesthetically pleasing book that not only presents art but also provides inspiration to practice it. Makers, artists and design enthusiasts of all persuasions will be keen to add it to their collections.

Earth & Fire by Kylie Johnson and Tiffany Johnson, published by Thames & Hudson Australia, is available here

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