Clay has often been overlooked in the art world, partly because of the same reasons it is so attractive to artists! The underdog of the art world, clay is often seen as a subversive material, being cheap, natural, inexcusable and familiar to many.
Clay is an ancient medium, soft and sticky it comes from the earth itself, made up of broken-down pieces of flora, fauna, minerals and soil, compressed by time underfoot and seabed.
The first uses of pottery were Palaeolithic pottery in approximately 20,000 BC. These were pottery vessels from East Asia and were simple objects likely used for water.
Glazes are often added to clay works to transform the final piece. An impervious layer or coating for the clay, these come in many types, each lending themselves to different effects and finishes. For example, Ash Glaze is particularly popular in East Asia, produced from plant ash, whereas Salt Glazes have been historically popular in Europe, traditionally made from salt mixtures.
The use of firing clay by applying high levels of heat that harden the clay structure, as well as the ability and discovery to add glazes to a piece, allows artists freedom from certainty about the final product of their work. Picasso explored this through his ceramics though his work with thrown pots and transforming them in the kiln.
In a similar way, Joan Miro found excitement in the unpredictability of ceramics in the transformative firing process.
Clay has been widely used historically and in the contemporary art world, from Grayson Perry, Beatrice Wood, Hans Coper to Antony Gormley!