“I take pleasure in noticing how bees build and how a feather is constructed,” says ceramic artist Fenella Elms. It’s a fascination that is translated into her work: intriguing, tactile wall pieces created in porcelain twisted into sinuous curves that shift with perspective and alter with the light. The making process is a dialogue between Elms and her material, “showing off, challenging and questioning” porcelain’s contradictory qualities – it is both fragile and permanent and is transformed from wavering softness to solid translucency in the kiln.
Works such as the swirling Fungal Form (£6,000) and linear Green Ladders (£5,500), for example, are composed of numerous, wafer-thin ribbons of clay that push porcelain’s delicacy to the limits, but it is the Flow series, made up of a multitude of small porcelain discs layered into sweeping, undulating relief patterns, that has become Elms’ best known body of work. Each disc is made by hand then attached to porcelain backing sheets before or after firing in a special kiln that is heated from the bottom. Panels measuring up to 65sq cm are fired as one piece (she attaches the discs to the backing sheet with porcelain slip while the clay is still damp), while anything larger is assembled post-firing using ceramic cement.
And it is these larger pieces that are proving most popular with her bespoke clients. Recent commissions include a series of five framed highly textural panels (similar commissions about £16,000) in two-tone grey/green for a client in Moscow, and Thames Flow (from £7,000), which combines her ceramic technique with a patinated brass “river”, made by specialist metalworkers, flowing amid the grey-stained porcelain. “I really enjoy working with other craftsmen to make the components that bring my work together,” she says. “And working to commission is the most stimulating way to create: requests lead to new ways of making and, as a maker, pushing boundaries is what keeps me bouncy.”