Clay Canvas: Helen Vaughan + west elm
Known for her use of Sgraffiato — scratched marks and patterns in clay — west elm collaborator Helen Vaughan developed a collection of decorative ceramics that embrace her home in South Africa…
What inspires you?
My roots are deep in South Africa. I am inspired by South African landscapes, botanicals, colour, texture and the human condition. I am a potter, printmaker, painter, textile designer and jeweller and am inspired by the cross-pollination of all of these disciplines.
How would you describe your work?
The mark of the hand embraces my philosophy on creating art. With my original formal training in textile design, pattern, rhythm and texture, and their relationship with colour, is embodied in my work. The pieces normally have a decorative function — candleholders, wall art, bowls and plates for display…
Your patterns are very unique. Tell us about how you design your pieces. How are they painted and glazed? What inspires their palettes?
Each piece is treated as if it were a blank white canvas. The surface is textured with rough sponges, embossed with textured cloth and scratched into with a sharp tool to make my signature line. This technique is referred to as sgraffiato. Once fired, the piece is given a wash with oxides to accentuate the texture, some areas are given a coating of glaze for colour and shine, and other areas are left matte. Colours are inspired by nature — especially the flashes of red, orange and green highlighted against the barren landscape of the West Coast of South Africa.
Where do you like to work?
I have two studios, one in Observatory, where production takes place. The other is a tiny one in the roof of my home, which is the think tank where new ideas germinate.
Who are your favorite artists and designers?
Paula Rego, a Portugese painter and printmaker. Her attention to detail and dedication to the narrative is inspiring. I am currently following Dutch designers, especially the work of Hella Jongerius. I admire the diversity and experimental nature of her work.
What’s your approach to decorating?
My approach is fairly eclectic. I tend to be a bit of a magpie and would rather not eat for a week to save for a piece of artwork.
Tell us about your collection for west elm. How did it come together?
These pieces evolved from pieces already in my collection. The shape of the candleholders was from a desire to create something quite generous and substantial. The wall pieces tell a story — a day in the life — an African narrative.
SHOP HELEN VAUGHAN + WEST ELM