Meeting Xanthe Somers
How long have you been making ceramics and what brought you to it?
I studied Fine Art at the University of Cape Town and my final body of work had ceramic incorporated into it. Since then it has been an on-again off-again relationship. For 2 years in London I had a shared studio space with a communal kiln but my ceramics are very experimental and large in nature- the place had fantastic ceramicists but mostly making functional bowls and plates- so my weird and hopefully wonderful towering shapes needed to find a new home. I finally took the plunge at the beginning of this year and bought my very first kiln and moved into a private studio space in a vibrant creative building- Peckham Levels.
Who or what inspires you?
Coming from Zimbabwe with a background intrinsically linked to colonial conquest- my inspiration as an artist and a maker comes from examining colonial legacies that have been rendered invisible within the everyday. I came to London to study a MA in Postcolonial Culture at Goldsmiths which has been a huge influence on the reasons behind my work as a whole. Due to this, I try to create ceramic sculptures of domestic objects, such as mirrors, lamps, vessels and re-empower their meaning, their scale and their functionality- to obscure normality. My sculptural forms aim to bring to life the slippage that occurs in the spaces between the material and the imaginary, to fracture the habit and convention that dictates how we understand the everyday. And to bring art and contemplation into a home setting.
My sense of colour is very much influenced by Zimbabwe. I like everything I make to have texture, materiality is important to me - whether this is through layered colour, chunky clay, building techniques or brushstrokes. The pieces sometimes go through the kiln up to four times to get the look I am after.
Do you have a large collection of objects / artworks? If
yes, from which artists?
I do have a collection of artworks which I adore- I appreciate contemporary African art especially. Most of the works I own have been swapped with other artists such as Anna Van Der Ploeg and Siwa Mgoboza. My house is mostly littered with old or failed vases of my own- to my housemates dismay!
Can you share a bit more about your making process? Do you draw before working on clay or is it spontaneous?
The ritual of collecting clay, sculpting and then painting is one that developed a close and visceral connection with the ceramic medium. However, the more I explored the more I found it was a medium that stretched far further than the realm of the functional and I now call myself a ceramic sculptor.
I draw loose sketches of the shapes I want to make but mostly it changes in the hand-building process. I try not to get too attached to pieces, as being very experimental in nature, I have to get used to cracks and breakages!
What's next for you, bigger and bigger pieces?! What would be your
Yes, bigger and bigger! My dream project is making pieces that really do carry social commentary and purpose as well as function. I would like to focus on bringing contemporary ceramics into the fine art realm and developing my voice as an artist.