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Toronto Ceramicist Alissa Coe Breaks Every Mould

The local maker of ethereal ceramics is committed to a “no formal training” approach

By Elizabeth Pagliacolo
Photography by Naomi Finlay

Balancing on a worktable, a porcelain sculpture resembling a giant curl of white tree bark awaits its final finish – a silver lining that should develop a warm tarnish over time. For ceramicist Alissa Coe, the process often points the way. “Ideas come out of the actual making,” she says. “It just is what it is.” One of the city’s most sought-after ceramicists, she conjured the ethereal dandelion spores that dangle above the Four Seasons’ reception area, as well as the hexagonal vases that line the shelves at Mjölk. “I’m drawn to elemental forms, sharp angles and clean lines. But at the same time, my biggest inspiration is nature.”

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The wood-like sculpture she’s completing now was made by folding a rolled porcelain sheet cylindrically and carving away at its skin with a wire loop. It was commissioned by James Robertson Art Consultants, the firm affiliated with many Yabu Pushelberg projects, including the Four Seasons. They’ve been fans of Coe’s work for nearly a decade, since she was one half of coe&waito, with Carly Waito. Industrial design classmates at OCAD, the two detoured into ceramics in their final year. “I didn’t want to sit at a computer, designing,” says Coe. “I loved the immediacy of ceramics.” The high-end porcelain market is a tough nut to crack, and Waito eventually moved on to painting – but Coe, after some soul-searching in Europe, returned to the craft in full force.

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Her approach to ceramics involves a commitment to “no formal training.” She has mastered both the pottery wheel – creating a hundred pomegranates, in various stages of growth, for a sculptural wall piece – and the mould, slip casting Luca Nichetto–designed coffee carafes with saturated colours and hand-carved lines. When it comes to her own vessel designs, she keeps the forms elemental and emphasizes the porcelain’s quality, whether smoothly elastic or translucently vitreous, in biscuit white. Porcelain, pure and simple, is in good hands.

Originally published in our Spring 2016 issue.


Categories: Local Act
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