I'm going to start by admitting that yes, my dog has an Instagram account. Which happens to be how I discovered The Fired Vessel, a minimalist tableware range designed and built by Belfast-based ceramist Claire Muckian, who apparently has a soft spot for Italian Greyhounds. As soon as I saw /TVF's range of pale blue beakers, speckled vessels and earthenware coasters, I knew we had to feature the brand on Loti. Claire ended up being one of the first artists we contacted about doing a feature on our site, which we're very excited to present to you here...
How did The Fired Vessel come into being?
The Fired Vessel came into being primarily out of necessity - but happily so! I graduated art school almost four years ago and since then I have been seeking a balance between making art, undertaking international artist-in-residences, showing work in exhibitions and working for blocks of time in office jobs to support myself and my work. Exasperated with office work, I took some time to really examine and utilize the skills I have gained over recent years. Alongside my art practice, and life in general, I decided to make a commercial element to my work that was more accessible for a wider audience, and that’s how The Fired Vessel came about.
Can you tell us about your studio?
My studio is in a bright, spacious old linen mill in Belfast city centre that I share with my fiancé photographer, a florist, graphic designer and one of those ‘gr8 escape’ exit games. I love that my neighbours come from all sorts of backgrounds.
…The studio is very important to me. I am fascinated with the psychology of the studio – a place where work originates, a private space, a stationary place from which you send out objects into the world. For me it is important that it has a busy flow and is full of odd things that inspire at the right moment. It is in this interaction, association and play are where bright ideas lie. My studio conditions occupy a middle ground between needing to have some chaos and industriousness and the material reality of working with ceramics, which requires a degree of order and organization.
What are some ways you motivate yourself in or outside of the studio?
On a practical note, I try to do focused physical production work in the studio and prefer to leave administration and research for the evening time. I love listening to podcasts and music while I work. Sometimes I turn them off though and I allow myself to become bored and out of that comes play and strangeness, and hopefully interesting work…
I use Instagram as an extension of the studio and as a tool for looking, viewing, and thinking out ideas about form, volume, display and multiples. It functions as a neutral ‘anything space’. I do it mostly for me, but it is such a joy to see people’s response to what I am doing which is always surprising and encouraging.
What has influenced your aesthetic more: where you come from or where you've traveled? And how?
Overall, I don’t see who I am or the work I make as a direct product of where I come from. Of course, I am proud to be Irish and Ireland is so diverse, beautiful and inspiring. I would say I have accrued my aesthetic sensibilities over a long time by going through life with alertness and mindfulness, looking and listening but not just that – seeing and hearing as an observer. It is this looking outward towards new influences whether that is travel, literature, film etc. that has influenced my aesthetic. My mind is not great at retaining small informational details but I have a remarkable capacity for remembering an image, colour, scent, sound, feeling… my world is connected to the visual and to the senses. I think that is what makes me a good artist and hopefully now, a good craftsperson/designer.
You started out making intricate ceramic sculptures and now you have a tableware line, where functionality is equally as important as aesthetic. Was it a natural transition? Do you feel like one approach informs the other?
There was a huge amount of learning involved in making this new functional work. I didn’t realise how crucial to the overall success of a perfectly finished functional object lies in the careful finishing of the tiniest details. When I really began to get involved with this project, I understood that this was not going to be as simple as I had first thought - the line of a curve, an undulating edge, how the curve meets a flat surface, this or that join, the tension of the ceramic skin, how the glaze meets the clay… it goes on and on. And in considering all of the above, it has to look easy and effortless. It is in these tiny little details where I discovered I really had a lot to learn.
Both disciplines are very separate as they have different intentions – the functional work is just that. My artwork is aspirational, strange, less controlled and deals with complex, associative elements that interest me at a particular time. I adore both types of work for their own merits.…My functional work informs my art practice technically and my art practice informs my functional work by giving it a soul, a backbone and a more complex raison d'être.
Your ceramics and stoneware are completely hand built, without any machines or wheels. What is it about surrounding oneself with truly handmade objects that's so important? What quality do you think it adds to our lives?
I believe that good handmade objects have a greater perceived value associated with them that a machine-made object with the same function may not have. They bring a warmth; a connection to a maker and skilled craft tradition; a quality of material; and they also offer a neat and tidy solution to our modern needs…. Lately, I have been coveting some beautiful Kaikado tea caddies, and if I had to say why I like them so much, it’s because they are objects that sit with you for life and continue to bring something new each day, inherent in their pure materiality and quiet, simple beauty.
What's next for you?
I hope to put The Fired Vessel through a craft/design business start-up programme, as it’s in a good stage to benefit from business advice and mentoring… I’d also like to work on continued material experimentation, like trying out different clay bodies and glazes. I’d like to see the line grow and mellow into its own identity, to have its own unique feeling, language and flow.
Photos by Christopher Heaney