Sandra Bowkett is one of those artists that the more you find out about them, the more in awe you are of them.
Sandra is a ceramicist living in pristine woodland near Tallarook in central Victoria with her partner, producing cups and bowls in porcelain and decorated with oxides. Her work is simple and elegant, comfortable in its handmade origins.
She counts as one of her biggest achievements to date the successful building and firing of her own wood firing kiln, and “arriving at the point after many ‘phases’ where I feel I am working in a way that is an authentic expression of myself through my craft.”
Sandra grew up in country NSW, and was introduced to ceramics by her art teacher at school, which she continued to study at Caulfield Tech. Working briefly for a large production pottery firm in Healesville, she decided that was not for her and left to pursue her own ideas on making.
After travelling overseas, a Diploma of Education, and more travelling, she returned to Australia and set up her own studio in Melbourne, with visions of the Turkish kilims that she’d seen driving her imagination.
Then, a trip to India in 1988 became a turning point in her life – while wandering around Rajasthan, she came across a potter’s yard, and in the corner of the yard was a massive pile of spherical water jars. For someone whose Western training valued the pursuit of individuality even more than skill, the sight was astonishing and the effect was profound. From that point on, her whole outlook on repetition changed, as did her own ceramic practice.
She felt the need to create stronger connections with the potters of India. Her first attempts didn’t go smoothly. When trying to facilitate a women’s ceramic workshop outside Delhi, the women were unenthusiastic and the product development didn’t happen how she intended. The experience made Sandra realise then that they didn’t need her – they had all the skills they needed from traditional practice producing functional items and were happy in that pursuit.
It is that tradition and its concentration on one thing to the point of great artistry in that thing that gives it immense appeal to Sandra. She also believes that part of the inherent beauty of functional items is their honesty, and these ideas have been a big driver of Sandra’s own work.
It was for these reasons that she knew there would be other potters in Australia who would benefit from what these traditional artisans had to offer.
So she persisted.
Slowly, over a period of ten years and a huge amount of travelling, Sandra has built a strong cross-cultural community. With the help of young Indian craft advocate and entrepreneur Minhazz Majumbar, they have forged Crosshatched, an overall concept and flexible structure for continuing craft exchanges between the two countries.
Sandra’s images of India are wonderful, evoking all the rich colour and often thought-provoking sights of the place (you can check more of them here). I asked her how serious she was about photography, and how it fitted in with her ceramics practice. She told me, “In the past I had briefly considered photography as a career but I do not think I am predatory enough, and the desire to make objects is strong.”
“However I live in a visual world; in India at every turn there is the picturesque, the unusual or exotic, and after many trips there I need to be in a certain mindset to take a picture. Sometimes I do not take my camera out with me so as not to be distracted by the possibility of a great shot, but just enjoy the moment.”
Sandra has achieved a massive amount over the last decade; I for one am looking forward to hearing more of her stories soon and seeing how these cross-cultural traditions impact on contemporary craft.