John Heaney: Between the Vertical and Horizontal

By Hugonnet, Jas | Ceramics Art & Perception, December 2008 | Go to article overview

John Heaney: Between the Vertical and Horizontal


Hugonnet, Jas, Ceramics Art & Perception


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HEANEY DESCRIBES CLAY AS A WONDERFULLY expressive material, its plasticity and textural qualities enabling the expression of his thoughts and emotions. Like many ceramists his use of the material facilitates the input of many ideas that go beyond function. He sees the challenge of the ceramic form being its ability to draw people in to explore shape and texture and to encounter metaphor through a physical experience. Since graduating from the Australian National University in 2003 with three awards, Heaney has stayed focused, developing a conceptual thread through a number of forms that deal with the fleeting nature of existence.

The Sentential was the first form I encountered of his work in 2004. These stand alone vertical organic shapes expressed individuality while losing nothing of the clays quality in the process. In groups these repeated forms spoke of a collective but at the same time hinted at architectural elements of days past such as tiles and vents and somehow for me captured the essence of work. Ranging in height from about 200 to 400mm these forms were roughly two cupped hands wide at the base and tapered slightly to a gently rounded top. Heaney describes this early form as representing the human consciousness that is aware of both the universe and the separateness of one's own being from the rest of humanity.

The Space Time Series that followed saw Heaney introduce an interior and exterior through the creation of a portal in a round slab built form. In what would be a precursor to later forms, the series combined the use of a pedestal which elevated the round portal forms and visually increased their potential for suggested movement and mark making. Through the introduction of parts, Heaney began to push the idea of the influence of components on each other and their capacity to create dialogue. Scale became a key factor in this series where the mind's eye is the transport mechanism to take you to, in, through and around the work. Looking closely at this series the forms appear to be inflated with air and possess softness and malleability that belie the baked brittleness of fired clay.

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In 2005 Heaney returned to the vertical form creating a series of totems that focused on the grouping of elements that used glaze to create atmosphere and depth. This form of abstraction was influenced by Northern Australian burial poles and generated a specific focus on Heaney's own relationships with those who have past on. These hollow wheel thrown works have no opening so the depth to these pieces and the access for the viewer is in the glaze. When grouped, his use of black fired oxides contrasted with polished unglazed porcelain achieves a spatial effect at eye level through a simple repeated form. When placed in a space they work extremely well as markers and act as protectors marking a threshold. …

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