Astrid Dahl (1976-)

Artwork by Astrid Dahl


“Hand-building vessels using the coiling method, is a slow, meditative process. Without the aid of a wheel, one relies solely on one’s hands: intimately shaping the clay, sculpting it, and working against gravity to achieve balance.

My love of working with clay and creating forms began at the Technikon Natal in 1995, when I met my ceramics lecturer, Hendrik Stroebel. ‘Hennie’ was a passionate and motivational mentor to us students, and his love of form and design continue to inspire me to this day. He encouraged us to explore and create, using clay as a Visual Language. I recall one session in particular, when a group of Zulu women came in to teach us the traditional method of coiling clay — that was when I truly found my vocabulary.

I graduated in 1999 with a degree in Fine Art. Together with two friends, I moved to Nottingham Road in the Midlands of KwaZulu Natal, to take up work in a bronze casting foundry. There I crossed paths with the ‘design guru’ Neville Trickett, who introduced me to the work of German photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932). Seeing his botanical photography was a pivotal moment in my career and sparked an evolution in my journey with clay.

Taking my cue from Blossfeldt’s monochromatic prints, I decided to work with white clay, as it creates a pure canvas on which light and shadow can “shape” the piece. This approach also captures the essence of the flora which inspired it. Although I start with a drawing, the piece continues to transform throughout the making process. In a very real sense, clay has a life and a will of its own.

I continue to look to the more unusual and abstract forms found in nature, particularly orchids. These shapes have inspired individual pieces which are multi-faceted, allowing space for growth and interaction. The process of coiling from the bottom up, creates an exciting challenge where one must work with (or against!) balance, tension, gravity — all of which magnify the incredible beauty and potential of form”