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Amanda Shelsher's: friendly forms.

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THEY ARE QUIZZICAL AND DREAMY. THEY ARE SILENT, yet seem to have a tale to tell. They have small bald heads, long fingers and broad self-sup porting feet. They are an odd crowd of androgynous nudes that appear alien yet somehow familiar, like the half-forgotten people who loiter around the edges of memory. They are emblematic and engage us with their individuality and idiosyncrasy. They are the handbuilt porcelain and stoneware folk who populate the world of ceramic artist Amanda Shelsher.

The artist says of her figures that they "celebrate the intricacies of human nature and the relationships we have with each other; they look for an understanding of the self and the world around us". That is a tall order for any creative endeavour and few succeed; Shelsher is one of the successful few. Perhaps it is because she chooses to overlook the 'big picture' in favour of recognising and celebrating life's small miracles like birth, growth and regeneration.

Born in Western Australia, Shelsher is a full time artist, wife and mother. Her formative years were spent in the bush and forest of the hills east of Perth. At the age of 10 she was introduced to the joy of ceramics by her artist parents. Her creativity was nurtured and soon she was making and selling her own works at local craft fairs. Shelsher continued to practice and learn more about her art. She attended Curtin University of Technology where she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts--Ceramics) then went on to earn a Graduate Diploma in Education (Art--Secondary). She taught art in Australia, the UK and France, and travelled extensively before returning to Perth in 1998 where she commenced her journey as a full-time artist.

Since then she has exhibited in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Queensland, Alice Springs, as well as numerous galleries throughout Western Australia, and has won a plethora of awards. But Shelsher admits her greatest honour was being invited to participate in such prestigious exhibitions as Collect: International Art Fair, London (UK in 2006), SOFA Chicago (USA in 2004, 05, 06, 07) and Art Taipei, Taiwan, in 2006, represented by Raglan Gallery in Sydney. She is also proud to have her work shown at international art festivals and fairs in Seoul, Korea, and Florence, Italy, represented by FORM in Perth in Western Australia.

Her early works reflected the experiences of an itinerant artist/teacher. Then, Shelsher's unique figures were seen in concert with boats, birds and buildings to reflect the traveller's sense of freedom, exploration and connecting with different people in foreign places. Now, married with a husband, two young children and a house in the suburbs, Shelsher's life has taken a new turn and her current artistic expression adeptly reflects that change.

Her most recent population (and I use that word purposely as each figure is an individual, in body and spirit) reflects her current daily experiences. Her figures appear to be contemplating and quietly celebrating life in all its forms. Their open eyes and the slightly upturned corners of their mouths suggest either wonder or contentment. Their broad arms cradle small houses or nests, strong hands gently hold eggs or seedpods; all inspire thoughts and feelings on nurturing and protecting new growth. These folk are resolute in their reference to the interrelationship between humanity and nature.

Domesticity and being a full time wife and mother has taken the artist further along her creative path. Living in suburbia has heightened her sense of the beauty and complexities to be found in nature and in family life. Her work is born at home, surrounded by her family on a worktable in the lounge room with windows that overlook the garden. The intimacy of her living/working environment has sharpened Shelsher's understanding of the human need for connectivity with all aspects of life. This, in turn, imbues her work with a sense of joy and wonder. Discovering nature in the suburban back yard, and nurturing two children as well as her own muse, has seen this artist's unconventional figures evolve into iconic forms that communicate even more comprehensively than her earlier models.

In her latest exhibition, Garden of Curiosities, which was presented in the gallery at FORM (Perth, Western Australia) in June, 2007, Shelsher revealed how her new works remain as silent, genderless and enigmatic as her earlier ones. However, today's standing forms are accompanied by half figures and busts; all carry a 'thought' that is defined either by an object held in the hand or life forms etched into their 'skin'. These hand-built works are a combination of slab and coil technique. The artist uses a variety of clays, including earthenware, stoneware, paperclay and porcelain to model each figure. In some instances she will employ the sgraffito technique to sketch into a white slip. Scratching into this 'skin' reveals the hue of the clay beneath to produce delicate line drawings of plant forms or insects, a family home or magpies in full song perched on the rooftop. Her excellent drawings not only decorate the works, they transform the mundane into the magical and provide another level of visual and tactile satisfaction. The sgraffito designs also serve as a reminder to the viewer that all forms of life are interconnected.

The symbolism employed by Shelsher in her earlier work has morphed to reflect her current situation. The drifting boats have been replaced by stable picket fences, and city buildings by suburban houses. Her birds remain; either held in the hand or as separate sculpted pieces sitting in their own nests. They are joined by butterflies, banksias and other garden life forms, which have been etched into the surface of her folk. Shelsher's population seems to have evolved from dream searchers to fact finders and we have to assume, judging by the peaceful look on their faces, that they are more than content with what they have found. It is as though these clay people have learnt the secrets of the universe during their firing.

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It would also seem that the artist is comfortable and competent in her own life style and art practice. Her most recent work epitomises how a creative artist can reveal the complexities of life with concinnity in the most basic art material and simplest forms so as to be accessible to all. Looking back to her collection of 'mere mortals', the group name for those strange and wonderful figures exhibited eight years ago, we can see the genesis of this most recent crop of indomitable suburbanites. We can also note the steady development of a talented creative ceramic artist.

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Judith McGrath is a freelance art journalist who hosts the review website Art Seen in Western Australia located on line at www.artseeninwa.com.au. Contact: amandashelsher@westnet.com.au
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Author:McGrath, Judith
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Words:1140
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