Marjo Postma | Visit in the studio at EKWC
Marjo Postma, Zonder Titel (2019009), 2019, detail
Visit to the work centre
Just 6 minutes by train from Tilburg, the village Oisterwijk is located. There, I visited the European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC) to talk with artist Marjo Postma in her residency studio. In 1984, Postma won in 1984 the Prix de Rome, the oldest and most generous prize for talented artists and architects in the Netherlands. Marjo Postma mainly works on paper, using pencils, ink and watercolours. Currently, she is delving into the possibilities of clay and glazes during her three-month residency at the EKWC. The impressive presence of large scale ovens and all-around technical support opens up a new way of working with an unfamiliar medium for the artist.
Diving is no longer necessary
Marjo Postma is inspired by nature. The first thing I notice when I enter her studio is a newspaper print of the famous ‘Wildlife photograph of the Year 2019’ by Yongqing Bao, pinned on a large pin board. The humorous photo shows an encounter between a Tibetan fox and a marmot. It is not the only playful gesture in her studio because next to this image, experiments in clay and porcelain adorn the studio wall. On a table lies an unfinished work covered by a damp beach towel with colourful tropical sea creatures.
The beach towel is a playful nod to what inspires Postma the most. Especially the aquatic world speaks to her imagination. As a child, she used to watch Jacques Cousteau, the French ocean explorer. His subaquatic adventures sparked her interest in the shapes of submerged sea life. Over time, she gathered a large collection of inspiring and colourful images of underwater flora and fauna. She uses these directly and indirectly to create her work. Now, these images have become like a mental library for her. She tells me: “I used to travel a lot, I saw a lot, I used to dive a lot. The images are now all in my head. Scubadiving is no longer necessary.”
As she guides me through her work process, I come to understand that Marjo Postma is an artist who puts trust in her materials. She truly tries to understand the media that she works with, and this understanding is exactly what guides her in her work process. During my visit, Postma shows me different samples and experiments. We talk about clay and the patience that is needed to let the work dry. We talk about the glaze, the colours, the sizes – all practicalities that shape a sensible conversation about new works in which exploration, play and inquisitiveness have a major role.
Postma tells me she never works with a plan, because her approach towards her work is very intuitive. This fits very well when working on paper, but working with ceramics is a different story. Working with ceramics requires planning, because the end result only comes to life after an intensive process of drying, firing and glazing.
Looking for a similarly intuitive approach towards this new medium, Postma started on a small scale. By rolling with her hands long strings of clay the artist found a way to handle the material so it resembles a line. This process became easier once she started to use a clay extruder. The strings, long and flexible, look like grey clay worms. The strings allow themselves to be attached in various ways. By slowly building the lines of clay up into a vertical shape, tower-like objects were the result. The work became in Symbiosis and that is exactly what Postma was looking for: a way to incorporate her drawing-like spontaneous approach into ceramics.
Over time, her towers grew bigger, which made the drying time longer, and the glazing processes more complex. A glazed tower that left the oven was called “perfect” according to one of EKWC’s technical assistants. But this was not satisfying enough for Postma, as she prefers her glazes to appear alive (“I like it to look a bit dirty”). The colours of her ceramics after glazing look like they are pulled straight from the sea bed. The glazed surfaces have a mottled appearance, with deep dark tones in varying hues and combinations of grey, green and blue. This gives her sculptural works a facinating appearance, with each tower having its own characteristics.
A moment frozen in time
The strings of clay were at first pliable and adaptable, allowing Postma to create coiled lines. By softly draping these lines like a tangled rope, gravity drew the clay downwards. However, the moment the clay is hardened by firing, the work becomes fixed, creating a gesture of a captured movement and a trapped spirit. The towers resemble living creatures that are frozen in time, they are static and jet at the same time organic. It is this contrast that makes Marjo Postma’s work speak and breathe freely from underneath the surface.