When one attempts to imagine examples of contemporary ceramics, simple adaptations and subtle variations on the timeless tradition may come to mind. While plenty of artists have preserved the customary look and feel of the ancient craft, many have opted to reinvigorate the medium through experimental approaches and unconventional aesthetics. Here, we explore the groundbreaking work of some of these avant-garde contemporary ceramic artists.
Each ceramicist featured in this selection pushes the boundaries of the age-old practice in order to give it a modern makeover. From works that magically mimic dissimilar materials to pieces that effectively call attention to important causes, the ceramic works of art created by these individuals demonstrate the versatility and diversity of clay.
Christopher David White
While Christopher David White‘s surreal sculptures may look they're made out of wood, they're actually crafted with clay. Each trompe-l'œil piece is handcrafted by the artist, who explains the intent behind his illusions: “It is through the creation of hyper-realistic sculpture that I explore the relationship between nature, man, and the phenomenon of impermanence. I seek to expose the beauty that often results from decay while, at the same time, making my viewer question their own perception of the world around them.”
Read more on My Modern Met: Sculptor Expertly Fools the Eye with Surreal Ceramics That Look Like Wood
Ceramicist Charlotte Mary Pack creates beautiful wheel-thrown pieces that double as homages to endangered species. Each pastel-colored vessel is topped with a handcrafted model of a threatened animal and features a description of the creature on its underside. Pack explains that this identification aspect is an intrinsic part of the series, as it “provides an opportunity for you to explore more about the specific species and why it is under threat.”
Read more on My Modern Met: Colorful Ceramics Topped with Endangered Animals to Identify and Help Save Them
Isreali artist Zemer Peled creates intricate sculptures reminiscent of beautiful blooms. Given the delicate appearance of Peled's floral collection, you may be surprised to learn that each piece is actually composed of sharp ceramic shards. With this stark contrast between material and aesthetic, Peled aims to explore the relationship between the “beauty and brutality of the natural world.”
Read more on My Modern Met: Exquisite Sculptural Blooms Made with Thousands of Ceramic Shards
Brett Kern creates playful Pop Art sculptures that will make you do a double take. Inspired by inflatable toys, his ceramic pieces come complete with shiny surfaces, seams, and meticulously crafted creases. To Kern, this collection of childhood-inspired art serves as a sort of time capsule. “I am a product of this specific time period, and I like to think of my artwork as the fossils that will help preserve it,” he explains.
Read more on My Modern Met: “Inflatable” Dinosaur Toys Are Actually Expertly-Crafted Ceramic Sculptures
In Nomad Patterns, an avant-garde series by ceramic artist Livia Marin, traditionally-painted teapots, cups, and bowls appear to melt into patterned puddles. The decorations featured in the series range from paisley prints to plaid, and cleverly retain their integrity when seemingly liquified. The intention of this “trope of estrangement” is to prompt the viewer to reflect upon the familiarity and predictability of everyday life.
Read more on My Modern Met: Ceramic Cups Melt Into Puddles of Patterned Porcelain
Though the patterns that adorn Lei Xue‘s ceramics are directly inspired by age-old Ming Dynasty porcelain, the pieces themselves are undeniably contemporary. For his Drinking Tea series, he has crafted vessels that look like crumpled cans. The juxtaposition of both aesthetic and concept challenges viewers' perceptions of traditional Chinese drinking vessels.
Read more on My Modern Met: Smashed Cans Sculpted in the Traditional Style of Ming Dynasty Porcelain
Artist Johnson Tsang‘s surreal sculptures play with portraiture to reinterpret reality. Some of figurative sculptures appear to be made of unconventional materials, like liquid frozen in time. Most pieces, however, depict faces that, though distorted, are unsettlingly lifelike. The artist achieves this aesthetic by using “realist sculptural techniques accompanied by surrealist imagination.”
Read more on My Modern Met: Surreal Ceramic Sculpture Captures the Carefree Bliss of Falling in Love
Cleverly and comically named Calamityware,Don Moyer‘s series of plates puts a modern spin on the ceramic craft. Featuring blue and white ornamentation inspired by Chinese pottery, the plates, at first glance, do not suggest anything out of the ordinary. Upon closer inspection, however, one will notice the subtle presence of silly, Sci-fi-inspired details. Zombie dogs, UFOS, and city-roaming dinosaurs are just some of the hilarious motifs to make an appearance on the otherwise ordinary tableware.
Read more on My Modern Met: Hilarious Plateware Designs Insert Zombies and Calamitous Creatures in Traditional Ceramic Motifs
Inspired by the ancient Kintsugi craft, Korean artist Yee Sookyoung repurposes discarded ceramic fragments into experimental works of art. Using 24k gold, she affixes the mismatched pieces together, breathing new life into otherwise overlooked materials. This unique approach to object repair culminates in a collection of organic sculptures that reimagines traditional ceramic art.
Read more on My Modern Met: Korean Artist Sews Together Broken Ceramic Shards With 24K Gold
A true creative, Tim Kowalczyk finds beauty in unexpected objects. Kowalczyk is able to expertly craft ceramic pieces that emulate unconventional material muses ranging from dilapidated cardboard to tin cans. To the artist, reproducing these discarded items as ceramic wares is comparable to creating a poem. “I am able to sculpt, form, design and construct sculptures with sense of purpose, priority, and preciousness,” he explains on his website.
Read more on My Modern Met: Dilapidated Cardboard Mugs Are Actually Expertly Crafted Ceramic Sculptures
Artist Jon Almeda creates ceramic vases, gourds, and bowls that can fit on the tip of your finger. What started as an experiment to “see how small he could throw” has morphed into a newfound passion for miniatures. Each of his tiny clay creations measures only 1-inch, and demonstrates the artist's skillful, steady hand and incredible attention to detail.
Read more on My Modern Met: Artist Creates Miniature Hand-Thrown Pottery Small Enough to Sit on Your Fingertip