Reduced shapes as a counterpoint to the complexity of his expressive glazes are one of this Danish ceramist's themes. With "Horror Vacui," he refers to pottery from the Greek geometric period.
Questions Reinhold Ludwig
Art Aurea: What was it that sparked your interest in ceramics in the first place?
Morten Løbner Espersen: I always liked to draw and paint as a kid, but when I was a teenager I did my first night class in ceramics. I realized that working with a three dimensional material was so much more rewarding for me.
AA: Did you have any role models? And, if so, who influenced you the most?
LE: I have had many along the way. My grandfather who painted and encouraged me to do the same, my first teacher in clay, who taught me to just keep on centering the lump of clay even when results seemed far away. Some teachers and various artists that took my breath away: Bernard Pallisy, Axel Salto, Hans Cooper, and George Ohr among others.
AA: For a long time, you created eminently clear-cut, unsophisticated shapes that served you as a kind of "canvas" for your complex, multi-layered glazes. Do you want these objects to be regarded as works of art, or should they rather be used primarily in everyday life, for example as flower vases?
LE: To me works of art are many things. Maybe all human attempts to make art is art. It is very important for me however to make a distinction between poor art and great art. My cylindrical vessels are art works - with or without flowers. Function as such doesn't remove the artistic dimension. Lack of quality does.
AA: You say that you risk an object's complete destruction by your glazes. Why?
LE: I do it to obtain true beauty. When I strive to make a large complex surface and vibrant colours in my work, I often refire my work, trying to achieve that extra depth, the magic. But clay can suffer technically from several firings and at some point the vessel break. I take this risk because no result is better than a mediocre one.
AA: "Horror Vacui" (fear of empty space) is how you christened one of your vessel series. What does this mean?
LE: When I started this relatively new series of work in 2010 I had been hand-building cylinders for some 15 years, and wanted to challenge myself, using the plasticity of clay to my advantage. I was trying to get a more three dimensional depth in the surface than I could create with my glazes. The name I gave these pots refers to Greek amphorae that are covered in intricate geometric designs, and in my version I chose an archetypical vessel and covered them with a three dimensional ornament.
AA: With this approach, you are distancing yourself entirely from the vessel shape, this archetypical ceramic shape, and act as a sculptor. How did your buyers and collectors react?
LE: I like to see myself as a potter who makes sculptures, if you want, pots, if you want. Labels are not important to me. Both the "Horror Vacui" and the cylinders are empty, open containers. I am in debt to the history of ceramics. It is my background. I find many fascinating pieces and humbly make some more. I work with both the cylindrical sculptures and the complex "Horror Vacui." To me they represent different voices in my schizophrenic self, the restrained Danish aesthetics and the pompous baroque French I adopted when I studied ceramics in Paris. However, it took twenty years to process the French influence. Collectors continue to appreciate and support my work.
AA: Some of the younger ceramists, particularly in Europe, have a strong desire to relinquish the vessel-shape and create sculptural objects instead. Is that really advisable?
LE: The best advice to give any emerging artist, or at least what I tried to when I was a professor in Gothenburg, Sweden, is to be true to yourself and not to follow trends, trust your visions and ideas; all great artists always have a great sense of the time, and suggest a new path for us to walk. It will be different again.
AA: How do you see the current situation of artistically created ceramics? Why are there so few discerning galleries that showcase exquisitely crafted ceramic objects - in a time when art objects are traded at exorbitant prices? And why aren't there more art galleries that dedicate exhibitions to ceramics?
LE: There is a lot of interesting artistic freshness going on today in fired clay, but my guess is that there are exactly as many good galleries as the market can support.
AA: Which do you think are the countries where the most exciting developments of the potter's art can be observed nowadays? And can you give us some names that you consider important?
LE: I look most often to the US, the Netherlands, Norway and Japan. Matt Vedel, US, Floris Wubben, NL, Marit Tingleff, NO, and Takuro Kuwata, JP.