national Arts Festival Banner

Friday, September 21, 2012


(Clay dog on a chair)

Midlands ceramic artist Trayci Tompkins will present new work at this year’s Witness Hilton Arts Festival. She appears with Di Erasmus and Coral Spencer in the Three Non-Blondes exhibition. 

With her latest series of sculpture pieces, ceramic artist Trayci Tompkins is working her clay into new directions; engineering skills in slab built forms, sculpting theatrical figurines using sausages of clay whilst capturing moments of expression with her quirky clay dogs on chairs. 

Created alongside her tactile hand-coiled vessels with random effects from the smoke and Raku firings, Tompkins is currently enjoying the intimacy and story-telling ability that clay sculpture brings. ‘It’s been a wonderful journey for me to bring together past skills in theatre design and characterisation, experimenting further with clay and its possibilities,” she explains. “It’s also exciting to feel my hands work more freely with the clay whilst letting go with the colourful stories as they play out in my head. 

“The dogs are not created to represent specific breed types,” she continues “ … rather more of an expression of character, personality and quirkiness that one tends to relate to in our pets. My very energetic aging Doberman, Frankie, has spent much of winter sprawled out rather comfortably on the studio couch, shifting only to chase the occasional train that passes by, so it’s little wonder my work has taken on a whole new angle. It is in recognition of the absolute joy our animals give us, the often cheeky liberties we allow them and the common bonding that occurs between us and our four-legged friends that I choose to celebrate.” 

With inspiration gleaned from everything around her, it is little wonder to learn that Tompkins credits an image on a friends Facebook page for her first ‘dog on couch’ creation. “Originally I was inspired by an image post by a friend in the UK of her dog Leroy. Having met Leroy on my last visit abroad, I knew instantly his bold assertive and utterly charming character needed to somehow push me in a new direction with my work. I had been working on a series of theatrical mannequins for Hilton arts festival last year and really enjoyed combining my previous skills in costume design, pattern cutting, and shoe making with my love of characterisation and all things theatrical.” 

Constructing the chairs in clay meant that each one had to be designed and built using flat slabs of textured clay. Each piece is hollow with the occasional air hole strategically placed to allow the air to escape in the firing. The dogs are constructed from a hollow ball of clay rather than carved from a solid lump – adding to the technical skill needed to take these clay creations to the extremely unforgiving high temperatures of their ‘stoneware’ firings. 

“This year, the theatrical figurines have ‘removed the mask’ and have become studies in body language and personality. Much like the traditional clown portrays emotion, expression, and exaggeration, the figures are a celebration of our humanness. Inspiration is  gathered from important events and people in my life, my emotional responses and growing understandings, coupled with an interest in ancient philosophy, a dash of English poetry and the works of William Shakespeare … wishing that I’d paid more attention to it all in Drama school. 

“Never certain whether a piece will survive the three kiln firings I need to subject them to; I have learnt to become drawn in to the ‘making’ rather than the ultimate end result,” Tompkins adds. “Often you will find me having a chuckle with my clay dog as he emerges looking goofy or caught up philosophising along with my clay figure ... who is built always from the feet up! Odd as it may seem, I always start with the boots and work up from there. The face is the one of the last pieces to be made. A face gives the work his /her personality and I would rather be guided by the language and story that surrounds the piece before giving something so solid as a lasting facial expression. Constantly pushing boundaries in my skill with this medium of clay I am rewarded with new and fresh approaches to its ability to endure. The high stoneware firings are not a typical choice for ceramic sculpture. Complex clay pieces tend to warp, crack, bend and blow, which makes for a whole lot of excitement and nervous tension in the end result. I guess I don’t like boring and predictable!” 

Three Non-Blondes featuring Trayci Tompkins, Di Erasmus and Coral Spencer can be found in the history room in the main theatre during the Witness Hilton Arts Festival.