Milan / Marie Herwald Hermann
Following a colour-saturated exhibition in Detroit, the ceramicist has been shortlisted for the Officine Saffi Award in Milan.
WHILE WORKING TOWARDS her recent exhibition at Detroit’s Reyes Finn gallery, the Chicago-based ceramicist Marie Herwald Hermann returned to her throwing wheel for short breaks. The thirty vessels in the centre of the show, ‘And the Walls Became the World All Around’, stemmed from these moments of pause that the artist sought between creating the show’s sculptural objects.
“Thinking through clay, instead of sketching something on a desk, helps me understand the work,” Hermann says. Sitting at her wheel, vessels of different heights and scales began to appear, reminding her of pre-pandemic life when she would serve guests dinner in her handmade ceramic bowls. The artist eventually decided to exhibit the pastel-hued vessels lined up over a long dark green table alongside the show’s sinuous porcelain, stoneware, silicone and wooden pieces.
Growing up in Copenhagen, a city dominated by grey sandstone architecture, Hermann relished her visits to Thorvaldsens Museum with its unabashedly diverse colour palette. The artist decided to saturate her exhibition with the museum’s colours, relying on her memory rather than researched images. “There is a beauty in recreating something out of memory whether the result is completely accurate or not,” she says. As well imbuing her work with strong colour, she painted the gallery walls and doors with dark shades of blue, yellow, red and green – creating drama and contrast.
This September, in conjunction with this year’s Salone del Mobile, Hermann will switch the heightened colour of her last show for a toned down presentation of objects at Milan’s Officine Saffi. She is among the forty-five shortlisted artists in the ceramic arts centre’s namesake award, juried by an eminent international committee including Glenn Adamson, Elisa Ossino and Laura Borghi. Hermann is one of five Danish artists in a special curated section organised in collaboration with the Danish Arts Foundation. At the same time, Reyes Finn is publishing a catalogue looking back at Hermann’s work over the past three years.
The ceramicist first got her hands around clay at age ten and never stopped, but recently, silicone and wood have begun to call her. As opposed to clay’s civilisations-spanning archaic quality, silicone is a constantly evolving material. “We’ve had clay for 1,000 years in the same way, and we will probably continue to use it for another 1,000,” Hermann comments. “But, silicone is both amazing and strange with its unknown future and connection to the body.”
In her recent show, the orchestration of the two materials yielded a series of curious objects, lying somewhere between plasticity and firmness, function and decoration. ‘And the wall #4’ showed two vertical slabs, one in grey porcelain and the other in pink silicone, hung on top of each other, akin to two overlapped thick brushstrokes painted onto a wall. Gravity was in charge in ‘Two Clouds’ and ‘Untitled’, which both included a piece of circular silicone hanging from a stoneware hook that pierces through the skin-like piece.
Hermann’s sculptures allude to potentials of use with hollowed bulbous forms and mirror-like thin circular shapes. Her undergraduate education at the University of Westminster in the early 2000s focused on making utilitarian pieces. After working under the British master potter Edmund de Waal – whom she calls, “an amazing thinker of small objects” – and receiving an MFA from the Royal College of Art, Hermann began veering towards fine art. This recent exhibition allowed the artist to combine her interests in both directions while testing the conversation between materials.
The mysterious energy in Hermann’s work emerges from a play with narrative through her pieces’ likeness to everyday objects. “Spectacular parts of everyday life,” she calls simple objects that surround our daily routine. “Ordinary tools we eat or open doors with hold memories but we don’t always appreciate their functions … they’re just there.” Growing up with architect parents who gifted each other doorknobs every Christmas, Hermann has always had this consciousness for things and the importance of touch.
In this sense, her Detroit show attributed life to inanimate objects and orchestrated a story to draw in the viewer. Titling each piece with a suggestive name that occasionally starts with the word “and” hinted about a continuation, a network of characters silently waiting to be activated. ‘double’, which is a tall skinny mirror with a wooden frame and a silicone “glass” may not reflect the onlooker’s image, but the potential for imagination is infinite. ‘Untitled (green as the woods I miss)’ is a life-size green stoneware vase with an elongated torso and a pink tongue that sticks out of its narrow hollow.
Over the past year, the pandemic has taught Hermann to create the experiences she misses through her work. The sounds, people, and rituals she longs for have appeared in her objects’ colours, forms, and uses. “The noise I’d hear outside my studio or the conversation I used to have with a friend over a bowl suddenly stopped, so I needed colour,” she says.
Her studio, which she shares with her artist partner Anders Ruhwald, has various sized kilns as well as a small wood workshop where Hermann tests her newly-found interest in wood-making. Her Detroit exhibition closed last month, but its colours live on the studio’s walls, on which she ran tests before irreversibly painting the white cube gallery space. Test replicas of the show’s sculptures and some porcelain bits sit in boxes around the large studio, and more will join soon when she starts working for her solo exhibition in April next year at the Parisian Galerie NeC. “I don’t sketch – the throwing wheel is my testing tool,” she reminds me.