Ceramics continually fall under the radar as an art form. In this country ceramics struggle to shrug off the perception of it being a utilitarian craft, whilst in Europe you have whole museums dedicated to the subject. Lisa Katzenstein is a Hastings-based ceramicist who, through her art, would like to change people’s awareness of the medium. Nicholas Toovey tells us more
Lisa was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the age of 4 she moved with her family to Italy, moving again to London when she was 10. She continued to live in London and eventually shared a one bed room flat with her husband and renting a separate studio. In 2007, Lisa and her partner decided to stop spending money to live uncomfortably and moved to Hastings, halving their outgoings and trebling their space. Lisa’s mother-in-law lived in the town so they both knew the area very well. Today she would not live anywhere else, as the move took them to somewhere that they now love. She acknowledges Hastings may have had a bad reputation, but personally cannot understand the reasons behind it. In her eyes the town is not too chichi like other neighbouring towns and is a wonderful place in itself, it also is host to a thriving artistic community. Does Sussex inspire her? Definitely, it may not be immediately translated in her work but she loves the contrasts between East and West Sussex and the nearby west Kent. From the Denge sound mirrors near Dungeness and the wilder parts of the pretty marshes in East Sussex to the ‘park-like’ appearance of West Sussex. Rye, Winchelsea and Hastings have their history, she says, but it is portrayed differently to the Cotswolds which has a Disney Land appearance. Whilst these places are more an inspiration, it is perhaps the proud scruffiness of nature and wild flowers in our counties that transfers onto her work in ceramics.
Lisa studied a BA in ceramics at Central School of Art, London, followed by an MA in ceramics at the Royal College of Art. She is a professional member of the Craft Potters Association and on the Sussex Guild, she is also listed on the Craft Councils listed makers list. When she was leaving college very few of her fellow students could make a living from ceramics, with the public attitude being very much ‘Why pay that much for a vase?’. Fortunately today, people have a better understanding and appreciation for a one-off piece of art. As a nation our perception of ceramics as an art form is slowly changing, but a dedicated museum to ceramics, especially 20th Century works, still seems a long way off.
Lisa describes her work as traditional, her pieces are slip-cast or press moulded white earthenware adorned by hand-painted ‘tin-glaze’ decoration prior to firing. This technique was developed in Europe to imitate the imported and fashionable Chinese porcelain. It would be referred to as Majolica, Maiolica, Delft or Faience depending on where it was produced. She also says that her work is a half-half mix of design (as it is functional) and art (as it is individually painted). The traditional element also refers to the fact that not only is the work functional but she chooses flowers and nature as her subject. However her work is not stuck in the 18th or 19th Century, Lisa reinvents the oeuvre for a modern audience, the flowers are not painted in a botanical way, they are contextual. Her bright, colourful and cheery palette enables her work to be eye-catching and still fit within interiors of today. Her latest series of work concentrates around the renewed interest in ‘grow your own’, decorated with vegetables and fruit.
Lisa will be showing her work on the 9th and 10th June at the fabulous ‘Sussex Guild Show’ at Parham House near Storrington, and at ‘Art in Clay’ at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire on the 6th, 7th and 8th July. Her work can also be seen at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery between the 1st June and 7th July in a group exhibition with 49 other artists in the preview exhibition of Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auction where all the works on show will be offered for sale at their Spring Gardens Salerooms on the 21st July.
For more www.lisakatzenstein.co.uk
Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in June 2012.