Firing the imagination: ceramicist Shanti Venkatesh goes with the flow
By James Brewer
As a maker of ceramics, Shanti Venkatesh loves flowing lines – anything but strict geometric form. So when she joined some of the 4.7m tourists who visit the Grand Canyon each year, she became eager to translate the vast, breathtaking scenery into a new series of decorative containers and vases when she got home to London.
The organic forms she fashioned are, she says, “a reflection of the contrasts found in landscapes.” She revels in the earthiness, “the warm and the cool colours, the shiny and matt finishes, the smooth and the textured surfaces.”
Shanti is committed to embracing this weave of landscape in her work, which has just been on show in a group exhibition in Surrey called Hot Pots. The title of the show to those in the know recalled the term “hot spot” which is used to describe the hottest section of a kiln.What Shanti and the circle of enthusiasts of whom she is one produce are far more than just ‘pots, ’ they are truly works of art.
A parallel spur for her ceramic creativity is the cut and design of Indian fabric and textiles. She deploys the fold of such garments in ingenious ways. This strand of insight stems from her roots: born in south India and holder of a BFA degree in fine art from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat, Shanti is known to many members of the Indian community in London as a result of her time at the Nehru Centre in London, where her work was related to the institution’s extensive cultural programme. She has fine art credentials from the UK too, from Richmond School of Art, Surrey, where she gained qualifications in design ceramics and kiln-formed glass.
It is easy to see why she nominates Alvar Aalto as one of her heroes. The brilliant Finnish architect and designer was known for championing the so-called organic modernist style from the 1940s. He created a wavy-line glass vase that clearly continues to fascinate today’s artists, among them Shanti. We should work, said Alvar Aalto, for “things which are in harmony with the human being.” Another son of Finland, Tapio Wirkkala, is an inspiration to Shanti in his mastery of a huge number of design disciplines. Among living potters, Western Australia-based Pippin Drysdale with her passion for the mesmerising quality of landscape, is a role model,
At the Hot Pots show, Shanti was in the company of several colleagues attending workshops at King Charles Centre, Surbiton, refining their construction, decoration and glazing techniques. Shanti’s materials are principally stoneware, grogged porcelain (clay that has been fired and then ground into fine granules to fortify texture), slip-cast porcelain (based on moulds) and bone china with oxides and matt glazes.
Her forthcoming output will be along the same lines as recent work – of fluid, flowing appearance, keeping the theme of nature and organics. “I am experimenting with colours and texture, ” she says.
The Hot Pots show returned to the popular venue, Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking, after a gap of five years. It set out much original work, including some remarkable leather-look handbags conjured out of clay by Catriona Head. In the series A Touch of Glass by Jane Drown, the light and colour of contemporary stained glass was parlayed into beautiful objects for the home and potentially for such domestic enhancements as feature windows.