Q&A with Joseph Turrin

Q&A with Joseph Turrin
Joseph Turrin

We spoke with Sydney-based artist Joseph Turrin about his creative journey and the inspiration behind his colourful works.
You can view all of Joseph Turrin's works over here.

• Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself, your background and your journey to starting your creative practice?

I grew up in the idyllic country town of Dungog, NSW population 2500 people. My interest in ceramics was inherited from my parents who have a love of beautiful antique and contemporary ceramics which I was surrounded by growing up. Mum and Dad are also both very creative people so I feel it was inevitable I would fall into a creative pursuit.
However, my journey to starting my creative practice was not so direct - I started out completing a Bachelor of Science majoring in Anatomy and Pharmacology before taking a 180-degree turn and returning to study design not long after graduating. The pull to create and experiment more freely drew me to studying design at what was formally known as the College of Fine Arts (CoFA) Now known as UNSW Art & Design. Upon studying I took the subject of ceramics as an elective and really liked the medium of clay and the experimentation that is supported. This led to an internship of a lifetime with Royal Doulton in the United Kingdom as part of a university award which I was fortunate to win. This really confirmed my interest in ceramics. What an inspirational place the people and area of the Potteries in Staffordshire is. I have since worked in a production studio and now manage a community ceramic studio, Kil.n.it experimental ceramics studio. This has all given me a lot of insight, taught me a lot and given me an appreciation for the small but close-knit supportive community that is the ceramics community.

• Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Everywhere. Working in a community studio I see wonderful glazes and forms every day. Scrolling through social media I also come across amazing colour, forms, texture combinations in all different sorts of images from textiles, nature, illustrations and everything in between. Looking around at the environment is also a big inspiration, from the colours of birds to the colours of the sky, to designs and textures of buildings, gardens, packaging of everyday objects. I also have a love for the history of ceramics. 

• How did you develop your current aesthetic and what are the most significant aspects of it?
I would say I developed my current aesthetic through lots of trial and error and lots of experimentation. My practice involves hand building with clay coils (or little clay snakes) - I wanted to explore building bigger and this led me to using the technique of coil building. Coil length and creating texture to highlight the use of the hand led me to creating a scale like texture which has been a great sight for experimenting with breaking glazing and depth of colour in the glaze. There is something satisfying about seeing the piece grow before your eyes. The texture and forms are very organic with each finger mark highly visible.

• Could you tell us a bit about your creative process and the materials you use? Do you have the same approach to each work or do they evolve differently each time?
My process is somewhat sporadic if I have an idea or come across something that worked I will just start making or pursue that technique and see where it takes me. Working with clay there is endless possibilities from functional pieces to sculptural pieces and every colour of the rainbow is possible in both the clay body itself and the glaze you put on top. I love vibrant bold colours so creating or finding a new glaze that works is always fun. Every time I would say is different and, in a way, I am dictated by the clay. It has a memory so it may warp and change shape during firings and making. It’s kind of a lottery when opening the kiln to see what you will find.

Joseph turrin ceramics

• Have you always worked primarily with this medium or has your practice developed over time?
I have worked in other mediums having majored also in textiles at university. However, clay was the one that stuck. I have worked in different mediums of clay with slip casting with liquid clay and plaster moulds exploring this extensively when first starting out. Using porcelain slip to create tableware and sculptural pieces. I have not done this for a few years now, but I have been looking to get back into slip casting at some point.

• Could you please describe the current workspace/studio you create in?
I work at kil.n.it experimental ceramics studio in Glebe, Sydney. It is a one-of-a-kind community with lots of like-minded individuals creating ceramics. For me it is about the community. There is a wide demographic and it is always interesting. It is a great space to bounce ideas of each other.

• What is your relationship with colour and how does it influence your work? Colour is very important in my work as I tend to try and find something that will either highlight or compliment the texture which is created through the clay body. Now I am really looking at translucent glazes that settle in grooves and provide a contrast and depth to the textures and bring about shades to the colour itself. Bold vibrant colours are what I’m loving (unfortunately most are not food safe) so sculptural pieces it will have to be.

• Creating during the covid-19 pandemic is challenging. Have the events of the last year and a half changed your trajectory or affected the way you create?
Definitely the pandemic has changed my trajectory – it has caused me to rethink my priorities but also at times restricted my time in the studio. It has made me adapt to opportunities and explore new ones - at times my practice has been like an active form of meditation, but also at times just getting to the studio is an escape from reality and the pandemic world in which we are currently living. I was in the studio a lot during the second 2021 lockdown. However, 2020 was the complete opposite there was a time where motivation to create was very low but during round two with nothing else to do or nowhere else to go the studio became a refuge and a lot of making was done. I also had the added pressure of producing work for my first solo show which is opening this week at the SHAC (Southern Highlands Artisans Collective)

• What would be a dream project/collaboration you would like to work on?
At this stage a dream project has been realised in getting my work into the beautiful pépite collection. I would also love to one day see my work in a public collection. Any way we live to dream. Collaboratively there are so many talented people out there I would love to work with, possibly someone in a different medium. Maybe a combination of illustrations on the surface or even different materials to compliment or contrast the ceramics, such as glass, wood, textiles or metal.  

• What’s next for your creative practice? Do you have any upcoming projects you’re looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to my first solo show opening later this month. I have some new forms and glaze combinations which I have really enjoyed creating. Also, a big project I’m looking forward to is the finalist exhibition of the Bluethumb ArtPrize in which I was the inaugural sculpture prize winner. This will happen next year and I will be going big with all works a minimum 1 x 1 metre. The biggest I’ve ever created thus far.

Joseph Turrin