Karen Banks - Karen Banks Ceramics
Karen Banks is a ceramic artist who expresses her love of the natural world and the vessel forms created by nature, by producing handbuilt pieces with an organic quality, marked by the elemental forces of fire and smoke.
My inspirations come from the natural world, and the beauty in found objects. Unearthing pieces of broken ceramic particularly interests me, made of clay which comes from the earth, to end up returning to the earth to be discovered like a piece from some historical jigsaw. I set out to create a sense of the unearthed and ‘found’ in my work. I enjoy the unpredictability of smoke firing, it enhances the organic and natural quality of the individual pieces. No two pieces are ever the same, only similar, as if part of the same ‘family’.
The vessel is a constant theme for me, as is the relation of the inside to the outside. I am interested in the contrast between the aged and weathered textures of the exterior walls of objects such as pebbles and shells, and the silky smooth interiors when exposed. For me, the experience of touching the vessel is as important as taking in its form. The curves of my large vessels are accentuated by the burnishing and polishing processes I use. With the small vessels, it is all about the contrasting tactile experiences, and the tension between their apparent fragility and ability to balance.
I handbuild from a mixture of stoneware and porcelain clays, using a combination of pinching, pressing and scraping techniques for the small vessels, moulding and coiling for the large vessels. I burnish with gemstones and pebbles, and then low-fire at 950C so the walls remain porous.
I prepare the vessels for smoke firing using a range of resist treatments to aim to control the intensity and distribution of the smoke – course clay slip, liquid wax, copper wire, sand, string and organic materials such as fruit stones all have their different roles. For some pieces I will rely purely on the intensity and direction of the smoke and flames. The smoke firing is carried out in garden incinerators using a mix of newspaper and garden cuttings. Once cleaned, the burnished areas are polished with beeswax.
I am based in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, and work in a small shed at the bottom of my long garden.