You may recall that we recently wrote about Cape Town artist Lucie de Moyencourt and her hand-painted ceramic shells. We featured a mural – the vivid blue and white Cape Tree of Life at Bosjes Wine Farm – she had collaborated on with fellow Capetonian and ceramic artist, Michael Chandler.
For our next Meet The Maker, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into Michael’s work to see what makes him tick…
Michael’s passion for reading, drawing, painting and nature started at a young age.
After completing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Cape Town, he entered the world of auctions, cataloguing silver, artwork and ceramics for several years before launching his own studio, Chandler House.
Here are a few questions and answers to give us an insight into Michael’s world…
1. Michael, what drew you to ceramic art?
I think the thing that I love about ceramics as an art form is that it is often a useful thing. A plate can be used in the kitchen or at a family lunch, but at the same time, it is a glorious flat object onto which one can paint, draw and scratch. It’s where the mundane and the decorative collide. I also love that the technique has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Working in clay today connects us with the ancient world of yesterday.
2. What inspires you?
History, nature, the night’s sky and hairy men!
3. Why is blue and white your usual go-to colour palette?
True blue (the colour of fired cobalt on porcelain) is a rather magical hue on the colour spectrum. For one, there are not many things in nature that are this shade. In fact, other than a few rare animals, vegetables and minerals, the colour is only seen in the natural forms of the sky and the ocean. Add some sea foam or some fresh nimbus action, and you can already start to feel the joy inside bubbling up. The combination of blue and white makes me happy at a very deep level.
4. What is your creative process?
Each mural is very personal and so I like to sit down with a client and really understand what they want to see appear in the final panel. As I studied Art History I like to make extensive use of symbolism and metaphors in my work in lieu of captions, text or the explicit. Long lists of flowers, animals, fruit and other natural elements are drawn up and I then set about creating a cohesive image that incorporates them all. After the sketch has been approved and signed off I begin the long process of painting the mural. Using different concentrations of cobalt pigment, I create an image using darker lines and softer washes.
Once I am happy with the image, I pack the tiles away into special trays for transporting them many miles away to be glazed and fired at very high temperatures. The tiles are returned to me beautifully packed albeit in a complete jumble. I sift through them looking for cracks and unforgivable defaults before ordering them and setting them aside ready for installation.
When the mural is ready to be installed, I work closely with a trusted tiler to have the mural set up against its destination wall, ensuring that each tile is in the correct position. After the tiles are grouted and wiped down, a bottle of ice-cold Cape bubbly is in order to celebrate the mural in its new home.
5. What does your average day entail?
My average day involves coffee, sketching up proposals, answering emails, dealing with artists, hanging up new work in my gallery and store, designing new homeware, deliveries, collections, cuddling my fluff-puff puppy, post-work walks on the mountain, pizza, wine, friends and lots of social media in between!
6. What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a ceramic mural for a private home. The house used to be the home of a pair of famous 19th Century botanists and the panel of tiles shows the home along with many of the plants named after them. I have managed to weave in some other stories relating to their herbaceous careers as well as some personal details of the patron who commissioned it. I love the mix of architecture, horticulture, history and storytelling.