Ken Eastman: Border Country

January 16 – February 6, 2021

Press Release

​Ken Eastman was born in 1960. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art (1979-83) and at the Royal College of Art, London (1984-87).  He exhibits widely and has won numerous awards in the field of the ceramic arts, including the ‘Premio Faenza’, Italy in 1995, the ‘Gold Medal’ at the 1st World Ceramic Biennale, 2001, Korea and ‘Bronze Medal’ at the 5th World Ceramic Biennale, 2009, Korea, the ‘Primer Premio’ at the 8thInternacional Biennal de Ceramica de Marratxi, Majorca, Spain in 2016 and the Primer Premio at the 8thInternacional Bienal de Ceramica, Talavera de la Reina, Spain in 2017.

Eastman’s work centres around the idea of the vessel. He uses the vessel as a subject- to give meaning and form to an expression. Working through the medium of ceramics, Eastman can be both builder and painter; can handle shape and structure, as well as exploring tone and colour.  

These latest multi-faceted pots were made from numerous slabs of clay, shaped and assembled in a spontaneous and intuitive way. This process meant that the forms couldn’t be planned beyond loose ideas about scale, proportion and complexity. Initially slabs of white stoneware were rolled out by hand with a wooden rolling pin and then shaped over found objects and formers. Through this process, each piece of work became the sum of innumerable small decisions, choices and actions- being built up gradually by addition, so that each piece came into focus slowly.  In this way, Eastman was able to concentrate on how each element met and related to its neighbour and how it contributed to the whole. The final works are sharply defined, each has a clear drawn ground plan, smooth walls and definite edges.  Once fired everything is changed and a new life is sought through the application of layer upon layer of painted coloured slips and oxides, refining and developing the surface.

Eastman’s work is held in leading international public collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Japan; The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA; The Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Canada; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands; Landesmuseum, Stuttgart; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK; Museu de Ceramica de Manises, Valencia, Spain and the Musee des Arts Decoratifs de Montreal, Canada.


“Ken Eastman” by Glenn Adamson 

“The Border Country is where I live, and the border is something I’m aware of and often cross.” So says Ken Eastman, and the proof is in his work. His ceramics seem built from pure contradiction. Small enough to be set on plinths, they have the commanding presence of whole mountains. Their undulating volumes are formed of thin, flexible planes, yet one could not imagine anything more solid, or definite. And while that concreteness lends them an air of serenity, they also produce a completely contrary impression of vertiginous movement, of turning and tumbling, of sloping and sliding. 

I think of Alison Britton, another master of muscular, wonderfully unpredictable, hand-built ceramics. Back in 1989, she wrote of an Eastman pot: “Its pleasures are abstract, it provides a place for the eye to wander in.” That reminds me in turn of another British artist, William Hogarth, writing in his Analysis of Beauty (1753) of compositions that “lead the eye a wanton kind of chase.” Other connections come to mind, too: the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, the architecture of Frank Gehry, the choreography of Martha Graham, the tailoring of Cristobal Balenciaga. All these figures share Eastman’s particular form of genius, to pitch a curve in space just so, and meet it with another, and another, and another, each shape compounding the intelligence of the whole. 

Yet Eastman has something going for him that none of these others do (Britton excepted, of course): the affordances of pottery. Uniquely among art forms, it allows for a dialogue between inside and out. The relationship between a vessel’s interior and its exterior topologies has no exact parallel: it is not simply a repetition, nor a mirroring, nor a molding, but its own special kind of counterpoint. In Eastman’s work, that primary dialectic is echoed in a perpetual series of unfurlings, the pot in constant dialogue with itself.

Over the past few years, in the UK and the USA alike, debates over the meanings of borders have raged. Are they necessary protective barriers, delineations of identity? Or should we see them as acts of violence, cutting across the human fabric? Eastman’s work exists beyond such stark opposition; every one of his edges is also a threshold. At a time like now, it’s helpful to have his objects to think with. 


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