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First Take 2021 Jury: Sculpting a novel understanding of art with Kristine Michael


It is often said that an artist communicates best (and sometimes solely) through their art — but in the case of noted ceramic artist and art academic Kristine Michael, her erudition encompasses both her thought-provoking sculptural artworks as well as the spoken and written word.

After all, besides being known as a notable ceramic artist, Michael is also an arts educator, researcher and curator. While she also works with textiles, spatial and set designs, it has been said of the artist that “clay and her engagement with its very tactile tangibility is her connecting point in the overall finesse of creation”.

Working as a practicing ceramic artist in New Delhi, Michael has plumbed the themes of nature, humanity and more to find inspiration for her pieces. At a symposium, she had commented that the creation of clay ceramic is like a meditation in a way, as we have “90,000 sense receptors per square inch of fingertip” and that “creating ceramic tunes you to this receptivity”.

Michael’s journey in the arts began young, with her mother being active in the theatre circuit in Delhi as founder of Yatrik Theatre. As she grew older, Michael graduated from the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, with a clear specialization in ceramic design and art, under the aegis of well-known Indian designer and sculptor, Dashrath Patel, the founder-designer of NID. But even after studying industrial product design over a six-year course, it was Michael’s sheer passion to work for clay that led her into a long study of non-industrial techniques.

Following her studies, she also worked at the ceramics studio of Garhi Artists Village, New Delhi, and in the UK. In the latter location, she found herself working with names like Alan Caiger Smith of Aldermaston Pottery and Janice Tchalenko at Dart Pottery, after she was awarded the Charles Wallace India Trust in 1992. Further, her formative creative years were also spent in Auroville and at The Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry with Ray Meeker and Deborah Smith, where she built a strong base in wood firing and stoneware glazes.

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From 1985 onwards, Michael had already been holding numerous solo exhibitions across India, as well as taking part in group exhibitions at the national and international levels. Today, she has held over 15 solo shows and her works in ceramics are in international collections in Austria, UK, USA, Pakistan and South Korea, such as at the Bradford Hall Museum, Clay Studio (Philadelphia), Icheon World Ceramics Centre (Seoul), and the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi), among others.

But her quest in the realm of academia also continued, when grants began pouring in to celebrate her young genius, including the Lalit Kala Research Grant, Junior Fellowship from Government of India, Nehru Trust Visiting Fellowship, Sanskriti Fine Arts Award, FICA Dalmia award for her PhD research, and the National Women\’s Excellence in Art award for 2021.

Today, among many noteworthy plaudits, she is a PhD Scholar at School of Arts and Aesthetics JNU in Indian ceramic art history and also Curriculum Leader of Visual and Dramatic Arts at The British School New Delhi.

It is interesting then that Michael’s journey of learning eventually took a turn into what one could call a symbiotic space, when she took up teaching, particularly the history and techniques of ceramics over the years in institutions such as the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, among others. Michael realised the lacunae of scholarship in the area of contemporary Indian ceramics by art historians. Her essays have been included in publications such as \’Mutable – Ceramic and Clay Art in India since 1947 (Piramal/Mapin), \’A Mediated Magic – The Indian Presence in Modernism 1880-1930\’ (Marg), \’The Art of Kripal Singh Shekhawat\’ (DAG), \’Treasures of the Albert Hall Museum\’, Jaipur, (Mapin), \’Devi Prasad The Making of An Indian Artist Craftsman’ (Routledge), \’Handloom and Handicrafts of Gujarat\’ (Mapin), and \’Jaipur Blue Pottery – A Tribute\’ (Neerja).

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Michael had once professed that she “wanted to teach about the Indian historical engagement with ceramics”. She began to explore unique and fascinating heritage avenues of research, “combining scholarly perspectives with a ceramic artist’s sense of what might have practical relevance”. These included topics such as how colonial trade practices, orientalist assumptions about Indian art, and the significant Western market for Indian designs in the 19th century helped create a new aesthetic and a basis for the present-day distinction between art and craft in the sphere of Indian ceramics.

But the whirlwind list of achievements is nowhere near finished. Michael has also curated some national and international exhibitions, including ‘Kindling Change’ for the Serendipity Arts Festival 2019 and \’Creation Re-Creation for Serendipity Virtual Festival 2020\’ and ‘The Art of Kripal Singh Shekhawat’ with Delhi Art Gallery and Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, 2018. She also curated the 19th Cent Ceramics Gallery at the renovated Albert Hall Museum (Jaipur). The retrospective exhibitions of ceramic artists also include Gurcharan Singh with Eicher Gallery and Devi Prasad at Rabindra Bhawan/Cymroza. She is currently curating PR Daroz at India Art Fair 2022 (Gallery Nvya) and Indo Korean ceramic and glass artists in \’The Human Spirit\’ for INKO Centre in 2022.

She has published widely on the history of Indian ceramics and was guest editor for the Marg Dec 2018 issue titled ‘Indian Ceramics History and Practice’.

With this heft of this keen eye for aesthetics and carefully crafted intellectual prowess, Michael is also a judge for Abir India’s First Take 2021, which she has called “an exciting process” thanks to the “amazing response of artists” who sent in thousands of entries.

She shared, “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, simply not much was going on in the world of art for some time now. But with this response, one can see how much hunger there is in new, young artists to showcase their work and find a voice, which is what is being given to them in this context. I am glad and honoured to be a part of that effort.”

Building on the quest to find one’s voice as a burgeoning artist, Michael also presented a message of experience to the upcoming lot, saying “Challenge yourself. Become a specialist in your medium, no matter how many years it takes — there are no shortcuts. Once you find your material, you find your voice and can communicate what you wish to. Talk about your own life and context, what moves and paints you. Go with your gut. After all, that is what art is about — sharing emotions.”

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