by Catherine Milner
Born in Reykjavík, Iceland, Haraldsdóttir’s works are inspired by Nordic pattern and folklore. Her family was originally from a small village on the Snaefellness Peninsular called Olafsvík in the shadow of the celebrated twin peaked glacial mountain that inspired Jules Verne’s novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
The patterns on her ceramics echo the distinctive black and white designs of Icelandic woollen garments, rugs and tapestries, inspired by snow, nets and other crystalline and geometric forms.
Having graduated with a Masters degree and the Silver Medal for Architecture from Glasgow School of Art she studied at the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin before practising professionally as an architect in Reykjavik, Edinburgh and London.
She turned to ceramics as a way of creating ‘small architecture’ in a hands-on manner in response to the bureaucracy and meetings with lawyers, legislators and engineers that comprises much of an architect’s day-to-day life.
‘I have now worked as a ceramic artist for longer than it takes to become an architect’ she says. ‘Clay has replaced steel and glass, but I still work as I was trained; pieces are planned and drawn before they are made and made as they are conceived.’
Her sculptures are mostly built in stoneware clay and painted with slip; black on stoneware or sometimes white on lava stone. This is then scraped back to reveal the base material in two-tone monochrome patterns, occasionally joined by a mid-tone painted slip to create more complex geometries. The scrape marks are visible, and the surface is a plane of shallow relief, like an elaborate braille; the tactile nature of Haraldsdóttir’s work is important – they are an invitation to touch.
‘The works are a conversation between the pseudo -perfection of geometric pattern and the tactile impurity of hand-manipulated clay’ she says. ‘They are not sterile and porcelain-perfect but visceral mini monoliths, which have layers of complexity built into superficially simple constructions.’
She deliberately creates warped planes through careful pattern cutting and jointing of would-be flat slabs so that vessels become subtly off-kilter.
The strong patterns on them tend to anaesthetise first impressions that they are organically shaped and made from organic materials but the play of light, even across matt surfaces belies a more expressive form.
People are generally afraid of handling ceramics but Haraldsdóttir’s works invite quite the contrary reaction. She creates cushions of clay that sometimes encapsulate loose clay beads that create ‘roulette wheel’ sounds when held and handled.
‘Some of my pieces are ‘participative ceramics’ she explains;
‘I am particular about the cuts and punctures I make in my vessels. Letterbox openings allow the soul of each piece to come and go as they please.’