Open Studio #10 Lilly Buttrose & Jordan Gower
Textile artist and jeweller Lilly Buttrose and ceramicist Jordan Gower of Aburi Ceramics have been interweaving their personal and work life for just over 5 years, and their modest workspace in JamFactory’s Studio 10 reflects this relationship. Although their practices are individual, it’s the ability to bounce ideas off each other, deconstruct their thoughts through conversation and stay inspired through travel that keeps their paths closely intertwined. As fate would have it, both Lilly and Jordan are exhibiting in JamFactory’s upcoming exhibitions; Lilly in Gallery One’s Materials Matter: A Bauhaus Legacy and Jordan, in the Gallery Two exhibition, Synergy. We caught up with the duo to discuss what informs their art practice, how they stay inspired and what we can expect from their upcoming exhibitions.
Photos: Vanessa Heath
Who are you and what do you do?
We live and work as a couple, running our respective practices in a shared studio.
Lilly Buttrose is a textiles artist and jeweller with a focus on hand made, small batch production. Alongside this she has an exhibition practice, which primarily focuses on large-scale textiles works. Usually this is embroidered wall hangings, but also collaborative furniture pieces, including limited edition chairs and folding screens.
Jordan Gower currently works under the brand Aburi Ceramics, specialising in gas fired, tableware production for restaurants and wineries. The focus here is on limited edition and custom tableware for commercial clients. The name Aburi is taken from the Japanese culinary term meaning to flame sear, referencing both the context of making works designed for food, as well as the production method of using a gas firing kiln.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
The story goes… We met at university just over five years ago. Lilly was completing her BVA and I was doing my Honours year, after having studied at AC Arts. I had majored in printmaking and as luck would have it, UniSA’s print and textiles departments had a shared studio space. By chance though, we actually met through a mutual photographer friend who wanted to put on a group show at an ARI called Salad Days Inc. At that time we were both interested in exploring the sculptural/expanded aspects of textiles and print media, which really just gave us a chance to talk about process and materials – a kind of testing ground to see what resonated with us.
After graduating we secured a Carclew studio space, which we shared for a year, working collaboratively on some weird sculptures, as well as continuing to sharpen the direction of our own practices. It was that year we also both picked up a semester of wheel throwing at AC Arts, which was inevitably the catalyst for my time at JamFactory, as well as a skill that Lilly was able to utilise in exhibitions at Nexus Gallery and Urban Cow Studio.
We’ve actually worked together, either collaboratively or at least in close proximity since meeting and definitely share a lot of the same interests, which we’ve been able to explore through exhibitions and travel.
“…the natural environment has a huge influence on how and what we make. It’s kind of this pervasive undercurrent that drives our work and it’s reflected in our choices to maintain as sustainable a practice as we can.”
Tell us about your studio...
This is our second year in Studio 10 and we’ve really been pushing the commercial side of our work, engaging with stockists and restaurants in an attempt to gather momentum in our practices. It’s been around three years since we were at Carclew together – in the mean time I’ve undertaken the Associate program and Lilly has been a JamFactory tenant, sharing space with furniture makers and jewellers – but I think our current studio really has been focussed on workshop production. It’s setup for ceramic wheel throwing, basic jewellery making and small-scale textiles. It’s small and the walls are painted mint green, and although we both have our own workbenches, there are really no divisions. It means that if one of us has a large commission or an exhibition for example, then we can change how we use the space accordingly, getting the best out of such a small working area.
It’s actually been great to have so many different studios, both in Adelaide and overseas on residencies, to see what works for us and what doesn’t. We’d really love to set up a much larger studio/workshop in the next few years. It’s an idea we’ve been playing with for a while and the different studios have helped when trying to find the best workshop model that would account for all our interests.
You travel a lot, how does this influence your practice?
Of course we love travelling and we’ve been to a few places, both together and separately as artists, but really any chance to gain cultural perspective is valuable. We basically eat our way through new places, trying to find the best coffee shops and meet locals who run galleries or retailers. Whether it’s art related or just as personal time away, I think our travel has really helped to validate our own choices to make things and to understand so much more about the cultures that might influence our work. Japan has played a big role in this, as Lilly and I both share a strong interest in their design sensibility but really we just feel fortunate that we can actually travel as part of our practice and translate those experiences back into artwork.
How do you stay inspired?
This one goes without saying but working with such pared back materials as clay, metal and fabric, the natural environment has a huge influence on how and what we make. It’s kind of this pervasive undercurrent that drives our work and it’s reflected in our choices to maintain as sustainable a practice as we can. That being said, we're definitely city dwellers and look towards so many different things to stay motivated. Probably the biggest thing is the people that we work with and the professionals that continue to demonstrate that we can do what we’re doing. It’s collaborative projects and learning from each other - and having those conversations (which mostly occur at the pub) that keeps us switched on and keeps us thinking forward.
For me I’ve found that working with an incredibly skilled mentor has had a surprising impact on my work – and so it’s amazing to watch right now as Lilly is actually undergoing a jewellery mentorship with Claire Brooks, which has been part of her Carclew Fellowship grant.
“Whether it’s art related or just as personal time away, I think our travel has really helped to validate our own choices to make things and to understand so much more about the cultures that might influence our work.”
Where/how do you like to spend your time outside of your studio?
Any day we can get to yum cha is a good day and we’re lucky enough to live a five minute bike ride from the CBD, so any time off we try and make it out. I really enjoy cooking and Lilly and I have both been brought up with a mentality for local produce, which means you can usually find us swanning about the central markets and China town.
What do you enjoy most about your medium?
Lilly: I find that working across two disciplines opens up a really interesting dialogue about the actual materials being used. For me, making jewellery with silver has such immediacy, particularly in contrast to my much slower embroidery and weaving techniques, where I’ll literally spend hours making individual dot stitches to build up a larger surface. Generally though I love the subtleties of both mediums.
Obviously there’s a distinction between the apparent strength of metal and fluidity of textiles, but it’s great to use both and see the strength of fabric and delicacy of silver. Combining the two mediums has also enabled me to build a successful product line out of this really niche combination of weaving and metalwork and I think there’s a huge opportunity to broaden my skills through a multi-disciplinary practice.
Jordan: My path into ceramics has been anything but a standard art school education, so I've always looked at the material from way off to the side, not worrying too much about textbook pottery and the kinds of traditions that are associated with the medium – but at the end of the day I think it’s pretty amazing that I can literally take the sediment of over a thousand year old stones, shape it, put it in a box of flames for 10 hours covered in fancy powdered glass and then eat some delicious noodles out of a bowl shaped rock.
Lilly you are exhibiting in JamFactory’s upcoming exhibition Materials Matter: The Bauhaus Legacy and Jordan, similarly in the Gallery Two exhibition, Synergy. Can you tell us about your work for these?
Lilly: For this exhibition I’ll be showing two works, a new embroidered wall hanging and a collaborative folding screen that was made with furniture maker, Matt Taylor. The screen was originally made for a Worth Gallery exhibition, which was basically a chance for us to both explore different materials outside of our own studios. The end result is a contemporary timber screen with upholstered textile windows, which takes reference from East Asian traditions without becoming stereotypical to that style.
My new embroidery again is a chance to play with different processes. In this work the subject matter is an interpretation of a photograph I took whilst travelling – and the challenge was really about resolving this process of deconstruction and then reworking formal elements back together in way that reflects the original image in an abstract way.
Jordan: I’ll be showing a series of lidded vessels developed in collaboration with jeweller Danielle Lo. They’re almost call and response pieces from a project we started a couple of years ago, which was a set of lidded teacups and a canister that was produced as a Drink Dine Design Award entry. The works for Synergy take elements from the former project as a basis, but obviously aren’t restricted to any competition guidelines. We ended up making a whole series of components and kind of put them through this back and forth process of adding something or changing something – and of course this was influenced by the work we were already making in our own studios. In the end it allowed us to produce new objects that have a complimentary style between both makers, but also is distinct in highlighting the elements that belong to each artist.