Ceramist Bruce Rowe’s studio in Reservoir, Melbourne, is far from typical of someone who works with clay. Yes, there’s a pile of clay waiting to be transformed into a light, a planter pot or even a sculpture. But the steel benches are pristine, almost surgical. The display shelves that include everything from ceramic hooks to miniature ‘structures’ of buildings are placed precisely. The studio, named Anchor Ceramics, could easily be taken for an architect’s office, with prototypes of models beautifully arranged. Not surprisingly, Bruce Rowe started his career as an architect, before establishing the business in 2012 with life and business partner Claire Hatch, who has a background in arts administration.

While Rowe’s ceramics have become popular with architects and designers, his ceramic ‘structures’ as he refers to them, whimsical structures of columns, arches and stairwells, are highly coveted amongst his growing fan base. Rowe’s last two exhibitions at Hub Furniture and Lighting in Sydney and Melbourne, sold out in minutes. This writer already has his eye on a charcoal black ceramic staircase earmarked for a future exhibition. “I love the idea of a staircase. You’re not exactly sure where it leads to,” says Rowe, who initially graduated in architecture from the University of Western Australia. One of his earliest memories of working on site (after graduation) as an architect was the advice given by one of the bricklayers who was constructing a wall. Rowe detected that one of the bricks was not perfectly aligned. “I recall that he said that it was more important to look at the entire wall rather than focus on one brick. It’s the entirety of the work that matters,” says Rowe.

The transformation from architect to ceramicist wasn’t planned but somehow morphed while working with award-winning practice MAKE Architecture. Architect Melissa Bright (director) was searching for a specific pendant light for one of her domestic projects. “I remember seeing a ceramic bowl turned upside down resting in the dish rack. Someone in the office said that’s the type of light we’re looking for. It was definitely a sign,” says Rowe, who still produces ‘The Potter Light’ today in a variety of muted earthy tones.

And unlike a dish, there’s a hole in the top to string a light bulb “There’s no ‘make up’, just the true and honest material of working with clay,” he adds, who initially started experimenting with clay even before he moved from to Melbourne from Perth. “I started by creating these sculptural installations that were often driven by a certain noise or a quality of light,” he adds.

Anchor Ceramics, a name suggested by Hatch, seemed appropriate for the new venture. The name, which covers his commercial designs, implies a safe haven, a means by which ships dock in a harbour. “It seemed appropriate, given I grew up near the beach,” says Rowe.

Rowe initially came to this writer’s attention after seeing his wall sculptures displayed on the walls of The George, a new restaurant and bar designed by Hecker Guthrie. These delightful ceramic scenes not only have a strong architectural quality, but also a level of artistry, with the deep crevices, arches and staircases reminiscent of the surrealistic work of Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. Others who might be architects, or writers such as myself, may even see the architectural lines of the late Guilford Bell, in particular, his use of arches to create a Mediterranean sensibility.

Rowe, along with his team, is also forging a name for his ceramic tiles. Recently, his irregular-shaped tiles were used as a display in the window of Hub’s Melbourne showroom. These white glazed tiles, constructed into a wall, were of irregular size and just off being perfect. There was a rustic quality that clearly showed the maker’s hand. “You could say that the bricklayer’s comments still resonate with me today,” says Rowe, who works closely with Hatch and other members of his team in the design process. “You get a gut feeling when something is going to work. It just says something that can’t always be explained,” says Rowe, who feels the latest ceramic hooks, with a slightly tarnished finish, will respond well in the market place. “In the studio, there’s a constant conversation about materials, tone and form,” says Hatch. “Being surrounded by great people certainly drives this process,” adds Rowe.

Words by Stephen Crafti.


Anchor Ceramics can be contacted on 0413 085 537.

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