Clay takes me everywhere and I am a happy follower


I’m Jessica Merle, a ceramist and maker of things from Durban, South Africa.

For me, clay has such a corporeal and almost fleshy existence, offering up a deeply material and process-based ground for my work.

I obsess over my white stoneware and terracotta clays like they’re living participants themselves, and both of them ask something different of me. Right now I’m focused on creating functional wares that bring utility and art together. I want to make intentional, beautiful, usable objects that can be treasured forever.

The physical messiness of being human is an intriguing thing, and I find such repulsive beauty in the spillage and detritus of our bodies and nature. It is fascinating, then, that these very remnants are what create the magic on the surfaces of saggar fired pieces.

Like many humans around the world, the future of our planet is a question I mull over daily. How might our world look one day? What will humans be willing to do to survive? I find myself in imaginary worlds built on impossible genetic refraction and splicing, a human fusion and coevolution with nature.

My love of nature and desire to live a more sustainable life has certainly influenced my ceramic process. By choosing to saggar fire my work I can cut out the second, higher firing necessary for glazes and be a little bit more eco-friendly in my studio.

I had the privilege of studying ceramics at the Ceramics Studio at UKZN, Pietermaritzburg, under the guidance of Prof Ian Calder, Prof Juliet Armstrong, Michelle Rall and Susie Dwyer. My colleagues and I received traditional ceramics and glaze chemistry training that also significantly incorporated indigenous ceramics knowledge. This is where I first fell in love with smoke firing and saggar firing, and I cannot emphasise enough how this teaching studio changed the course of my life when I made my first pot there as a first year in 2010.