Avital Sheffer


August 21 - September 4 2010

Working from her studio in the hills behind the small northern NSW town of Mullumbimby, Avital Sheffer creates the award winning, profoundly beautiful vessels that have been collected by numerous Australian public galleries and museums. In the five years since completing her ceramic training, Sheffer's extraordinary talent has also attracted recognition internationally with showings in the USA, Spain, France, Korea and an upcoming solo show in the UK, 2011. Sheffer's eloquent ceramic vessels are not made for functional purpose but rather, to initiate a contemplative response. The ambiguity of the works engages at an instinctive level; there is an emotional connection that belies their solid presence. The curious solemnity that imbues each piece stems from Sheffer's fascination with ancient Eastern Mediterranean cultures and an ongoing exploration of her Jewish heritage. "I am interested in the frayed edges of mythologies and language, where dialogue and cross-fertilization between cultures take place. The awareness of the earth as a great repository, an archive for the human endeavor, is part of my internal landscape."

Her career as a ceramic artist began quite by chance. Sheffer was born in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and later, lived and worked in a progressive border community in the western Galilee. It was a landscape rich with shards of past civilizations. Migrating to Australia in 1990, Sheffer maintains an ongoing engagement with the archaeological wealth and the history of her country of origin. During repeated visits back to her homeland she had become increasingly absorbed in the study of antiquities. Sheffer was particularly drawn to the ceramic artifacts, intrigued by the way in which the ceramic medium serves as a primary record keeper and could convey the numinous. "I knew that I needed to make clay objects, ones that hold stories, memories and secrets. It was to become a means to reconcile my dual world."

Sheffer's ceramics practice articulates a long, historic continuum. The works have a weathered feel, their porous tactility evoking the primal nature of clay, fire, water and time. Anthropomorphic in form, and often with a cleft at the base, some of the vessels have the semblance of prehistoric, female fertility figures. In the tradition of ancient ceramics, Sheffer painstakingly builds her ware with clay coils. From a predetermined base each piece develops gradually and intuitively to assume its idiosyncratic character. Following several firings and applications of dry glazes, the surface is clad with imagery and calligraphy, carefully developed and composed to visually integrate with the form it will inhabit. The vessel is then fired again, permanently embedding the silkscreen-printed artwork into the skin of the vessel.

Although inspired by the forms, patterns and colour palette of the archaic, Avital Sheffer's art resonates a thoroughly contemporary aesthetic and relevance. Utterly compelling, the Continuum vessels encompass a universal principle that transcends cultural dichotomies, offering instead, "a quiet conversation, suggestive of past and future collaboration and interaction."

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