Elements of Style

Photo by Michael Traister.

Photo by Michael Traister.

Simplicity can often be the most difficult thing for an artist to achieve. There’s always the temptation to take something a step further, add a little more this, a little more that. Suddenly, it’s a step too far. In her functional and decorative ceramics, Asheville ceramic artist Heather Knight displays a mastery of the art of aesthetic restraint, achieving dramatic impact with a careful, simple balance of the elements.

There’s no denying that texture is the star of her work: from the spikes of her urchin bowls to the undulating waves or pierced, tube-like protuberances on some of her wall tiles, Knight creates surfaces that captivate the eye and invite the hand. Her inspiration is simplicity itself: patterns and designs found in nature. Sea urchins, magnolia pods, pieces of coral, clam shells, pine cones — a basket full of found natural objects sits on the work table of her River Arts District studio ready to supply new ideas. She interprets their texture onto wall tiles, bowls, and other pieces, some functional, some simply decorative.

But it’s the color that really makes the texture stand out: pure white, except for some of the bowls, which might be painted on the inside with a single, bright neutral. That color comes from Knight’s material of choice: porcelain. “It’s the most expensive and most difficult to work with form of clay, but I love the results I get,” she says. It’s a “highly refined product,” fired at a higher temperature than most clay. While it looks delicate, it’s also more durable than many types of clay, meaning it’s OK to touch that irresistible texture Knight builds up on her pieces.

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Elements of Style

BY JOANNE O’SULLIVAN



Michael Traister

Simplicity can often be the most difficult thing for an artist to achieve. There’s always the temptation to take something a step further, add a little more this, a little more that. Suddenly, it’s a step too far. In her functional and decorative ceramics, Asheville ceramic artist Heather Knight displays a mastery of the art of aesthetic restraint, achieving dramatic impact with a careful, simple balance of the elements.There’s no denying that texture is the star of her work: from the spikes of her urchin bowls to the undulating waves or pierced, tube-like protuberances on some of her wall tiles, Knight creates surfaces that captivate the eye and invite the hand. Her inspiration is simplicity itself: patterns and designs found in nature. Sea urchins, magnolia pods, pieces of coral, clam shells, pine cones — a basket full of found natural objects sits on the work table of her River Arts District studio ready to supply new ideas. She interprets their texture onto wall tiles, bowls, and other pieces, some functional, some simply decorative.

But it’s the color that really makes the texture stand out: pure white, except for some of the bowls, which might be painted on the inside with a single, bright neutral. That color comes from Knight’s material of choice: porcelain. “It’s the most expensive and most difficult to work with form of clay, but I love the results I get,” she says. It’s a “highly refined product,” fired at a higher temperature than most clay. While it looks delicate, it’s also more durable than many types of clay, meaning it’s OK to touch that irresistible texture Knight builds up on her pieces.

Knight discovered porcelain while studying art at UNCA. “It’s one of the smoothest clays, and I really fell in love with it,” she says, even though her instructor really encouraged her to change clay bodies for better results in sculpture class. Her sculptures, she says, weren’t really working, and after she graduated in 2006, she traveled for a while and didn’t work in the studio for six months. When she returned and started teaching at Odyssey Center, the current direction of her work surfaced.

A lot of people, Knight says, assume her work is made from molds, but it’s actually all hand-built. She starts with a slab and adds all the textural elements, creating each one individually. Decisions about size and scale are instinctive, ensuring each piece is unique.

“It’s a very pared down approach to ceramics,” says Knight. That’s part of the appeal. Each piece has its own quiet strength, letting the lines and design speak for themselves. The unique simplicity of her approach makes Knight’s work stand out in a medium which is often more associated with earth tones, surface design and colorful glazes, and it’s gotten her a good bit of attention.

Not long after graduating, Knight opened a shop on the online art and craft marketplace Etsy. Within months of posting her work there, she was selected for features in several national magazines, including Interior Design, Thread, and Venus. Within nine months of starting, Knight was supporting herself as a full-time artist.

While many ceramicists depend on art galleries and craft shows for their market, Knight has found interior designers, museum shops, and art consultants make up a strong part of her clientele. Her work successfully straddles the line between artistic and decorative. It’s minimalist and modern without being cold or overly conceptual: just the kind of versatile piece interior designers are always looking for. In Asheville, Knight’s work is available at Woolworth Walk, and at her studio, the aptly named Element Clay Studio on the top floor of the Phil Mechanic Building in Asheville’s River Arts District.

Knight’s newest line of work is inspired by succulents: those little cacti with bulbous leaves and petals. Hens and chicks, jade plants, aloe, whose texture hints of the soft, lush material under the surface. Interpreted in white porcelain, the effect is every bit as dramatic as Knight’s marine-inspired textures: simple, striking, and oh-so-elegant.

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