Each of Jennifer Lee’s ceramic vessels takes, on average, two to five weeks to craft by hand. Prior to their making, the Scottish-born artist also personally colours the unglazed, stoneware clay that she will pinch and coil into elliptical bands. From those bands, Lee builds fluid forms using tools that she has also crafted by hand. By the time that it takes to craft a single vessel has come to an end, trace of Lee’s hand is both nowhere and everywhere at once. In Pale, Shadowed Speckled Traces, Fading Elipse, Bronze Specks, Tilted Shelf, the work for which she was recently awarded the 2018 Loewe Craft Prize, Lee’s devotion to her craft, the time and patience it demands is made abundantly clear. The ancient Indian technique and the metallic oxide-flecked clay Lee discovered recently after colouring it 30 years ago and from which the astonishing work was wrought speaks to as much. Her considered practice also gives voice to the central concern of the Loewe Foundation’s annual initiative, now in its second year: craft is not the sole province of times and techniques past, but is a vital form of expression deeply rooted in a sense of modernity.
The London-based ceramicist was selected as the winning entry from a pool of 30 artisans from 18 countries working across ceramics like Lee, as well as jewellery, textiles, woodwork, glass, metalwork, furniture, paper craft and lacquer. All works are the subject of an exhibition now showing at London’s Design Museum to coincide with London Craft Week. Other finalists selected include French textile artist, Simone Pheulpin, for her work Croissance XL (XL Growth), a work composed from dense unbleached layers of industrial cotton secured using countless pins. The Japanese potter Takuro Kuwata was also shortlisted. His work Tea Bowl – a glazed vessel layered with platinum and steel warped by the firing process – delights in commingling traditional forms with radical practices to produce unexpected forms. Both received special mention from a distinguished jury comprised of leading figures from the worlds of design, architecture, journalism, criticism and museum curatorship. Included amongst them was the industrial designer and architect, Patricia Urquiola and the winner of last year’s inaugural edition of the prize, the woodworker Ernst Gamperl.
Lee, an established and widely-exhibited ceramic artist whose work is present in over forty public collections around the globe, was described by Loewe’s Creative Director, Jonathan Anderson, as “a landmark in form”. Anderson, a noted fan of craft in its many forms, conceived the award to recognise the importance of craft to modern culture and to change perceptions around the idea of ‘craft’ itself. The prize also acknowledges the oft-overlooked work those artisans whose practices are not only central to prolonging the lifespan of various forms craftsmanship around the world, but to the practices of the house itself (Loewe had its beginnings as a collective craft workshop founded in 1846). The recipient is also bequeathed with a €50,000 cash prize.
The Loewe Craft Prize will remain on display from May 3 – June 17. The period for presenting submissions to the third edition of the Loewe Craft Prize will begin on June 20, 2018, and is open to any professional artisan aged over 18.
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Loewe