Vital Clay

2 December 2023 – 27 January 2024

Wednesday – Saturday

10 am – 4 pm

Make, Somerset

‘Working with clay involves all the senses to some degree: the smell of the earth; the sound made by the ring of a high fired piece; and the sense perhaps forgotten by the majority today, and conspicuous from its absence from our culture—the tactile response.’—Dan Kelly


‘Vital Clay’ celebrates the work of acclaimed ceramicists, Akiko Hirai and Dan Kelly, whose practice reveals a physicality of form and fluidity of surface texture, with the intervention of the maker’s hand tempered by the wilfulness of the clay and the alchemy of the kiln. For both artists, vessels act as containers for historical reference and conceptual enquiry. Through the language of clay, they embrace the elements of shape and form with a vigour and originality of vision.

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About the Makers

Akiko Hirai
Akiko Hirai’s vessel forms focus on the interconnectedness between maker, the object and the viewer. Hirai’s moon jars push her material to its limits, with the originality of her process evidence of the unstable and unpredictable nature of clay and fire itself. Inspired by the moon jars of Korea, which embrace cracks, stains and chips from years of use, Hirai intentionally references the human condition through the making of her vessels with the shifting outcome of color, the scarred and disrupted surface, and the scale and generosity of form as unpredictable as the vagaries of life experience. Her poppy pod vessels are thrown on a wheel using a unique blend of Raku clay. Once dried, the subtle intervention of the maker’s hand achieves the final finish, the dust of ash on porcelain the last trace of earth and fire.

Hirai was born in Shizuoka, Japan where she studied cognitive psychology at Aichi Gakuin University. After moving to London, UK, she studied ceramics at the University of Westminster and Central St. Martins, University of the Arts London. Hirai’s work is included in permanent collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, UK; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK; and the Keramik Museum, Westerwald, Germany. Internationally exhibited, her work has featured in the exhibitions: ‘Things of Beauty Growing,’ Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CI (2017); the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK (2018), Pioneering Women,’ Oxford Ceramics Gallery,’ Oxford, UK (2021), ‘Modern Made: Modern & Post-War Art,’ Design & Studio Ceramics (2022), Mall Galleries, London, UK; and ‘On foot: An Exhibition Curated by Jonathan Anderson,’ Offer Waterman, London, UK (2023). Hirai was shortlisted for the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize in 2019.

Akiko Hirai, Poppy Pod Plain, 2022. Photo: Gian Paul Lozza; Akiko Hirai, 2022. Photo: Catharine Garcia

Dan Kelly
For Dan Kelly, throwing on the wheel is a source of endless possibility. Through the intervention of the potter’s hand surface indentations, slashes and folds reveal the hallmarks of Kelly’s practice. Gestural decoration and textural finish together with the originality of the thrown form suggest a sensuality and profound sense of the human. The minimalist decoration of dark metallic oxide brush strokes adorns most of Kelly’s pieces while his white porcelain pots are left virtually untouched with only dark glazed interiors. The rich surface depth of Kelly’s grey-black palette results from the layering of oxides and refiring achieving subtle, satin-like exteriors.

Kelly grew up in London, UK, and trained at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, University of the Arts London. English Studio Potter Colin Pearson was an initial influence, who encouraged him to develop his throwing technique. Following this, Kelly continued his post graduate studies at the Royal College of Art, London, UK, where he graduated in 1979. Afterwards, he received support from the Crafts Council with a grant to help with establishing his workshop and studio. Throughout his career, he has taught at several institutions and held various technician posts until he became Artist in Residence at Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham, UK in 1988, where he went on to teach. He now holds teaching positions on several degree courses at the City Lit Institute, London, UK.

In 2007, Kelly received the Queensbury Hunt Award at Ceramics Art London, and in 2022, was longlisted for the Brookfield Award at Collect Art Fair. He was most recently a finalist for the 2023 British Ceramics Biennial Award. His work has been widely exhibited, with recent shows including: ‘Explore,’ Contemporary Ceramics, London, UK (2016); 50 Years in the Making,’ Bedford Boys School, Bedford, UK (2019); ‘Vessel’, Galerie Metzger, Germany (2019); and Collect Art Fair, London, UK (2022 and 2023). Kelly’s work is also featured in private and public collections, including: The Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands; Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, UK; and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK.

Dan Kelly, 2018. Photo: Georgia Stoneman; Dan Kelly, DEUCE VESSEL 1, 2022. Photo: Sarah Hogan

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