Vilma Henkelman’s ceramics are an exploration of life in clay. They are about connecting with the world’s most basic material and being in the moment.
Of all artistic media, pottery is the most down to earth, literally. Wet clay – traditionally moulded by hand – is shaped into utilitarian objects, often vessels used to prepare or store food: containers made of earth, holding what the earth brought forth.
For Vilma Henkelman making ceramics is about communing directly with the earth. In an interview she once even simply stated: ‘I am clay’. At the pottery wheel she exerts concentrated pressure on the material with her hands and sometimes her entire body. It’s direct, physical work that results in organically powerful forms. They bear no trace of hesitation or doubt. They are perfect without being flawless in the mechanical sense of the word.
Signing her works all over with the imprint of her thumbs, Henkelman drills down to the essence of the primordial matter. She often refrains from using glazes, in order to underscore the clay’s strength and vitality. Tactility and a certain stillness go hand in hand.
Henkelman opened her own studio in 1969, and for the first few years she focused on functional objects like pots and vases – mostly sturdy and timeless pieces with a minimum of ornamentation. Later on, she enlarged these shapes to monumental dimensions, often as big as a person, and over time these transformed into autonomous sculptures. In recent years she has come full circle and has returned to the ceramic archetypes of her early days, the Japanese tea bowl, or chawan, being one of her favourites.
The work on display at the WorldExpo in Dubai dates from Henkelman’s formative period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In it she boldly explores extremes in shape and material processing, finding freedom in the limitations of her medium of choice.