Issy Parker

In Artist Profile Issue 54, Elli Walsh wrote on Issy Parker's burgeoning practice, 'built,' in Walsh's words, 'on a bedrock of surrender and control.'

Having recently graduated from the National Art School, majoring in ceramics, Parker is searching for her own frames of beauty. As a young artist of Australian and African American heritage, she re-examines the ostensible ‘primitivity’ of the ceramic mode – one of humanity’s oldest artforms. Experimenting with textures and patterns on functional forms, Parker playfully prods Western ideals lodged deep within art, both historically and presently, and within one’s own perceptions of beauty. ‘My ideas of beauty are not conventional scopes of beauty. I’m inviting a new conversation – lumps and bumps are beautiful’, she explains. Each form celebrates irregularity and individuality, valorising the ‘imperfect’ as perfect.

For the artist, each work is a transmission of energy, embodying a play between intent and submission. Her works are fashioned from a robust knowledge base of medium and technique, glazes and firing methods, which sees her foraging for clay or harvesting materials from her local environs (you might find her scraping rust off an old chair in the backyard). The unpredictability of the firing process collides with the control of the artist’s hand, emblemising the creative process at large – a dance of power and passivity; formation and destruction. She explains, ‘My pieces allow a deep surrender for what will be’ – a fitting trope for ‘surrendering to the fluctuations of life’.

These works materialise – in Parker’s own words – ‘what makes me, me’. Growing up surrounded by African art and motifs, within a familial and friendship circle of artists (amplified by her father owning Parkers Art Supplies), she creates simple forms that are tethered to cultural identity. Travelling has also been a formative influence for Parker: a year spent teaching in Africa (where textiles were piled to the ceiling at local markets); the colours of the Mexican dessert lined along the water; the Batiks of Indonesia or Malaysia; the rich traditional cottons and silks of Laos or Sri Lanka. These experiences moulded Parker’s pursuit of honing her own language through colour and pattern. 

The small scale and functionality of Parker’s pieces serve as a ‘metaphoric lesson’: to be open, to be usable, to be a container. Their functionality allows them to be present in day-to-day life as both utilitarian objects and aesthetic artworks. Pressing a cup to one’s lips or cradling a bowl in one’s hand fosters intimacy and sensuality, breaking down the distance between viewer and artwork. The vessels indeed become players in their owner’s personal life through feeling, holding and touching, gradually etched with routines and memories. ‘Practicality is exciting for me’, says Parker, who desires for her ceramics to be ‘used and loved and worn’ – a humble destiny.

This essay was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 54, 2021.
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