United Kingdom native Nicholas Lees is an academic, a teacher, and a philosopher. But above all else he is an artist.
This is highly finished work — almost engineered in initial appearance. It is at once restrained and performative. Yet the interior forms — indeed the way in which all surfaces and edges are revealed as you move about them — create something that is endlessly fascinating, endlessly changing and endlessly informative.
These vessels are strikingly formal and unhesitatingly call for prolonged contemplation. They are thrown on the wheel and then lathe turned by hand, a process requiring a high degree of patience and skill. While each is handmade, the making almost vanishes in his process. At first glance they look as if they might be machined from some sort of advanced robotic digital program. While Lees admits that he has never been completely comfortable with a gestural approach, he still strives for a sense of the handmade in every work. Look carefully and the signals of the handmade are all there, albeit subtle. He is not trying to fool you.
What he is really intent upon is achieving a sense of wonder. A certain degree of movement of the fins can occur inside the kiln during firing. This can also be a hint that these are not precisely machined objects, identical in every respect to those that came off the lathe before and after. None of these pieces can be construed as machined objects in any serial or industrial sense. Unlike many ceramic artists, Lees is unwilling to philosophically embrace the happy accident on a regular basis. While he has learned to accept certain as yet uncontrollable ceramic processes, he still wrestles with them at times. “I like to know what I will get out when I put things into the kiln.”
The artist is blithely unconcerned with labels. “I don’t care whether someone thinks I’m a modernist or postmodernists or whatever.” While his interest in materiality and form could be attributed to modernist traditions, he is also a teacher and an academic. He has the integrity of a true truth seeker to consider such artistic attributes as well as everything else and seek to engage his students and his ceramic art with ideas that are not strictly derived from traditional or even experimental ceramic research and practice. His materials are porcelain, space, light and curiosity. Nicholas Lees is continuing to push the threshold of manipulating clay and representing the idea of three-dimensionality to new possibilities.