Avital Sheffer

The Generous Vessel

December 2 - January 30 2017

Above us the galaxies dance out towards infinity. Underfoot is ancient clay. * 
An Avital Sheffer vessel resonates a palpable presence born of its primordial substance and her visual articulation of a profound understanding that embraces the natural, corporeal and spiritual worlds. "There is a universal artistic lineage which touches a place that is beyond time and cultural dichotomies," says the now internationally acclaimed ceramic artist. "The integration of notions of utility, aesthetics and divinity in vessel-form is as ancient as conscious existence."

The title, The Generous Vessel, has a metaphoric underpinning. With anthropomorphic and symbolic intent, long elegant necks stretch heavenward to receive an etheric bounty that can be stored and shared in contemplative response. As in prehistoric ceramic artifacts, the vessel is also a rich depository of the history, art and stories of humanity. "It is about the vessel's ability to communicate the past with a relevance for the future. The richness of integration is the well I drink from," imparts Sheffer.

Experiences garnered last year when journeying through southern Spain prior to an Australia Council residency in Barcelona, and then further travels in the Caribbean and Central America, inform Sheffer's latest body of work. "I was looking to study the cross-cultural aesthetic in the ceramics of El Andaluz and the Mudéjar periods. I wanted to immerse myself in the manifestations of the Spanish Golden Age where the three great religions lived together in an amalgam of cultures and collaborated in the fields of science, philosophy and the arts. The poems of that period are the songs of my childhood and are where some of the ancient texts on my vessels originate," she reflects.

In Barcelona the abundance of libraries and museums provided a treasure trove for research. Profuse with intricate calligraphy and iconography, the medieval illuminated manuscripts that Sheffer discovered in the National Library of Cataluña engendered new imagery for the skins of her handbuilt vessels. For her, the motifs applied to the surfaces are not simply decorative but relate intimately to the individual forms. Tantamount to Moorish Spain, pattern is celebrated as ‘the geometry of the infinite'. The Islamic artistic tradition of low relief carving and the use of projecting tiles to afford even more surface for ornamentation inspired Sheffer to introduce three-dimensional surfaces onto her vessels: "The buildings of Arab medieval Spain and the Modernist architecture of Barcelona impressed upon my psyche - the walls are whispering if you just listen."

"Repositories for the lived experience, my ceramic forms express a continuity and interconnectedness between the earth and the human body," continues Sheffer. Like draped fabric swathing the body, appliquéd and incised bands undulate across her vessels, amplifying the elegant flow of contour. Sheffer describes them as "promoting movement within the stillness of the works". The handles' shapes and their negative spaces are also designed to compliment and "play" with particular patterned areas of the body. Around the necks of certain pieces, tiny golden beads gleam warmly against the porous texture of the layered dry glaze surfaces "like jewels in the desert".

The Generous Vessel exhibition is "an ode to timelessness". It is the expression of Sheffer's journeying into an Iberian past where convivencia - the co-existence of humanistic values - had given rise to an era of enlightenment and unprecedented cultural achievement. "In Spain I experienced a strange sense of coming home," Sheffer confides. "A precious gift and opportunity that will feed my dreams and imagination for a long time."


* John O'Donohue, Anam Cara

Avital Sheffer has been a member of the International Academy of Ceramics since 2009. As of 2004 she has held twenty-nine solo exhibitions in Australia, USA and the UK, including a touring show to Regional Galleries across Australia. Her work has been presented at Collect, Art London; SOFA New York & Chicago; she was Artist In Residence at the Israel Museum, Archeology Wing, Jerusalem 2011. Sheffer has participated in numerous invitational group exhibitions and has been a presenter and demonstrator at several International Conferences. A finalist in many competitions including the Blake Prize 2011, she won The Border Art Prize 2008 and the Josephine Ulrick Award for Excellence, Gold Coast International Ceramic Award 2005. In 2006 and 2008 she received Australia Council Grants for new work and was recently awarded the Australia Council Artist Residency in the Barcelona Studio for 2016.

Her ceramic vessels are represented in the selected collections: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Powerhouse Museum, Sydney; Museo de Cántir, Argentona, Spain; Jewish Museum of Australia; Artelier d'Art de France, Paris; Manly Art Gallery; Bendigo Art Gallery; Art Gallery of Ballarat; Southern Downs Regional Art Collection, Stanthorpe; Gold Coast City Gallery; Shepparton Art Gallery; Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Port Macquarie; Tweed River Regional Gallery; Grafton Regional Gallery; Ceramics Victoria Permanent Collection; Brisbane Grammar School Art Collection; Russell Berrie Foundation, USA; Charles Bronfman Collection, USA.

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