Peter Lane is an American ceramicist who creates rough, large-scale, mid-century-ish clay murals. His process involves laying out heavy slabs on the floor, à la Pollock, and hacking into them with his hands and tools. Lane has produced commissions for interior designers Peter Marino and Michael Smith and murals for the LVMH Foundation and Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. How does he believe clay transforms an interior space? “Ceramic has a quality of strength and permanence. It has a presence different from any other material, powerful and personal at the same time. It is literally earth, so it appeals as a truly natural material,” he says. Maren Kloppmann is a German-born ceramicist based in Minnesota who crafts series of porcelain pillows that creep up walls like ship’s sails. The floating bubbles give an interior a harmonious sense of nature, despite being made of hard, fired earth. “Ceramics is a powerful material because its process to completion encapsulates all elemental life forces: earth, water, fire and air,” she says. “It imbues warmth, cultural reference and the presence of humanity into a home.” Ceramic materials are often seen as a fragile but they are actually among the most durable and can theoretically last millennia. Accidents happen and repairs can be made, though it’s not a simple patch-up job. Chips need to be sanded, glazed and then fired. Bigger breakages can be repaired using a special glue, fired once, glazed again and then fired a second time.
Floris Wubben finds a reassuring permanence in clay. “We’re living in a world where objects are becoming less and less durable. There are few natural materials as durable as ceramic. In thousands and thousands of years, this furniture will be exactly the same,” he says. But what about owners’ derrières? “You maybe can’t sit for hours and hours on them, but you also don’t want to. They are art pieces: it’s not about comfort. If you want that, buy an Eames chair.” This sentiment is typical of the new wave of ceramicists. A highly inventive generation has developed what is possible with the craft and has been joined by people from other creative fields — architecture, furniture, illustration, interiors, painting — who are realising clay’s assets and bringing a fresh perspective. Today, there is a lively crossover between craft, design, sculpture and technology that is rethinking the material: what you can make with it and what it looks like. Ceramic furniture is just one outcome of this experimental attitude. So why stop at chairs? The one thing holding many ceramicists and product designers back is equipment. While clay is a relatively cheap material, turning it into ceramic takes not just mess but space and, inevitably, a massive kiln. “The problem with ceramic is always the kiln. My ceramic furniture is the maximum I can make,” says Wubben. Wolston says the same of his terracotta chairs, adding: “I’d like to take and push it as far as possible. It would be interesting to test the limits of scale and create whole environments where you have wall components or entire sofas made out of clay.”