Art and ceramics studio 

63 Wilkins Street, Mawson ACT

Monika Leone - Ceramic Artist

From POTTERY IN AUSTRALIA,  December, 1998


A wonderful world of ceramics

Canberra ceramic artist, Monika Leone's recent Floriade exhibition at the Yarralumla Gallery in Canberra, blended the influences of her life in Italy, Egypt and Indonesia with the leafy, sunny suburbia of our National Capital. 



Twenty years ago I lived in Italy for five years.  Little did I know that the joy I got from discovering  the maiolica works of Faenza, Amalfi and Tuscany would take me on a fantastic journey through the world of ceramics. Italy in the late 1970's was a hotbed of urban terrorists - both right and left ring.  Against a backdrop of a wonderful artistic and cultural heritage, the atmosphere was rife with tension as men, and some women, committing horrible crimes in the name of revolution and political reforms. These were the days of the Red Brigades and their right wing counterparts. But everywhere there was also the sublime and exciting forms, shapes and textures of the creations of Michelangelo, Bernini and Leonardo. The contrast couldn't have been greater.
   Yet in the narrow medieval streets of Amalfi, Orvieto and Faenza, my love for ceramics grew steadily and solidly. I also loved the more subdued Tuscan ceramics with the emblematic, ubiquitous lily and the hook-nosed, profiled portraits of Renaissance lords and ladies.  I assembled a small, but wonderful collection of these, all of which my husband accidentally destroyed in one fateful house renovating incident. (Yes, we are still together!).
   My many walks through St Peter's Basilica also gave me a strong sense of the amazing range of Baroque marble works with their swirling robes, pedestals, prunts and over-the-top scrolls and angels. I later moved on to live in Egypt for four years where I fell in love with Islamic ceramic design. The intricate criss-crossing of geometric patterns and designs and the spidery calligraphy of Koranic quotations blended beautifully with the rich blues and golds on vases, platters and onion-topped Arabic coffee-pots. Ancient Egyptian pottery at Cairo's famous museum consolidated the historical connections of the Mediterranean ceramic history for me.
   I spent the next three years in Indonesia where the world of ceramics came together in a rich mix of Islamic, Indian, Chinese and Javanese artistry.  A holiday in Spain during this period introduced me to the beautiful, Moorish-inspired ceramics of the courtyards of Cordoba and Seville. Without knowing or planning it, my pottery influences were following the spread of our civilization from its middle-eastern cradle through North Africa, Western Europe to Asia and finally back home to the New World in Australia.
   In 1991, I began a basic pottery course at the ACT Potters Society. Although I had only intended this one-morning a week course as a form of relaxation, I got hooked.  It turned out to be a hectic and prolific year when I produced a huge array of different styles, colours and shapes - the influences of my years overseas were obviously still coalescing in my mind. 
  In 1992, I enrolled at Canberra's Institute of the Arts - a thrilling, productive and probably the most educational experience in my life. I enjoyed every minute there.  It was under the influence of teachers such as Janet De Boos, Hiroway Swen, Greg Daly, Alan Watt, Anita McIntyre and Tony Flynn that I studied many aspects of ceramics - from the varied ways of  making  pots to the many techniques of glazing and firing.
   Throughout my three happy years there I found 
that from the first moment I was drawn to decoration and lustre.  It was hard for me to leave a pot plain and often, to the teachers' dismay, I produced one gaudy pot after another. However, during a workshop with Pippin Drysdale I discovered the technique which has allowed me to express my personality - the application and use of maiolica, latex  and  lustre.  In fact, I still make up my zirconium-based glaze using one of her recipes from that time.
   In 1994, I graduated and set myself up at home. I built a well-lit, large and comfortable studio which is attached to the house. At the end of that first year I won my first award at the ACT Potters Society annual exhibition. Since then I have been as committed and as fanatical as ever about my  pots, squeezing in two young children and the other requirements of a busy family life. I do my throwing and firing in the studio, but I've pinched the dining-room table as my decorating centre where I have an amazing number of commercial underglazes, brushes, inspirational books, lustres and fettled pots. This gives me easy access between making children's snacks, housework etc. to throw on a few strokes. There is little eating being done at this table (sometimes exasperating my husband as I squash eight people at the kitchen table).
In the four years I have been working at home I have been developing my range, varying from demi-tasse cups to large comports. At first, the pots were a mishmash of colour and wild decorating, even clashing with each other. I am slowly developing more cohesive colour ranges with more thought-out painting.  Most of my work has pedestal-styled feet which are thrown on after turning the pot. I add a coil, throw the foot, cut it with a wire and roll the feet. I also add curly Baroque prunts, handles and nobs which are usually lustred. After the work is slowly dried, it is bisqued at cone 05, then glazed and decorated with commercial underglazes which I use as overglazes (usually Cesco and Walkers). It is then fired to cone 6 after which I add gold, white-gold and sometimes mother-of-pearl lustre and fired to cone 017. I use a small Skutt top-loading kiln which has served me very well. In September and October this year, I had an exhibition to tie in with Canberra's now famous Floriade flower festival. Brent and Elaine Owen, owners of the Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie which recently opened in Canberra's leafy Weston Park by the lake at Yarralumla,  have been very helpful and supportive since we met about three years ago. I shared the exhibition with an artist colleague who has great flair with silk painting and life-drawings of the female nude. Our show was titled "Barely Floral".  We did collaborative work on a largely floral theme, suiting both out tastes and celebrating the Floriade scheme. Buffy complemented my pots with silk hand-painted tablecloths, together with her range of gorgeous pen and ink nudes. 
Currently, I am working on a range of large works of platters, comports, urns, etc with much colour and lustre. 
     I am continuing to explore Australian wildflowers, especially the wonderful Sturt desert pea, and art deco themes - all intended to resonate with Mediterranean and Baroque colour, shape and movement. 
    I guess I've turned the full ceramic circle.

From POTTERY IN AUSTRALIA,  December, 1998

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