Good pottery is an argument between form and function. When done well, there is an intricate balance in the way it flows not only in its purpose, but also in its aesthetic.
When the two harmonize, you get something along the lines of the work produced out of Neil Liske’s Calgary studio in Bowness.
“I'm the local mud slinger,” remarked Neil.
“More specifically, I've worked in clay as a studio potter and sculpture with clay since I started in university in the '60s.
“I've had my own studio since 1971, and I've done a number of things just outside of production work and all that.”
Neil has found himself successful not only in the production pottery world, but where his true love lies is in the creation of sculpture and clay landscape.
“I prefer to do the more artistic kind of work. I did a lot of landscape work in clay. A lot of mural work.”
Some of his pieces span over 20 feet and one even holds presence at the naval base in Calgary.
“My graduate work at the university was more focused on sculpture than production work. So that's something that I've always been interested in.”
You can see the passion of his sculptural work translated into his production pieces. From mugs, to bowls, to lemon squeezers - Neil has a keen eye for the details that make his work aesthetically functional.
He speaks enthusiastically about the intricacies that go into making even just a simple bowl.
“They have a nice flow to them, which can become a very meditative process - it's getting the shape of the bowl so that there's a nice flow to it.”
“There's a nice relationship between the flow of the bowl and the foot of the bowl. Certain shapes, they can appear heavy.
“They look a bit like they might slump. It depends how that curve comes off the bottom.”
In addition to the physical shape of the piece, Neil uses a unique colouring in much of his work.
The location of his studio in Bowness, Calgary during the 2013 flood meant it was greatly impacted.
During the clean up efforts, Neil discovered that the silt the river left on his property made for an interesting colour when fired onto his pottery.
“I crawled under the deck to get something and there's this really fine, fine silt. If there's something that looks interesting, I'll run it through the kiln.
“I add something that keeps the particles, whatever is in that silt, in flotation because sometimes they settle out really fast. So then you're not really getting all of the particles on the piece that you're glazing.”
The resulting classic muddy green colour has become iconic in his work, and in the best way has made the most of a tough situation for him.
Talk about turning lemons into lemonade - or rather lemon-squeezers!
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