As light as a feather: the porcelain works of Paula Bastiaansen

Kerameiki techni/international ceramic art review - issue 46/april 2004

Porcelain forms by the Dutch artist Paula Bastiaansen are as light as a feather or an autumn leaf blown in the wind, as graceful as a butterfly, as delicate as the stirring feelers of an insect. This lightness and fragility, the movement, are the ideal Paula already aimed to achieve a long time ago when she studied at the Royal Academy of Art and Design in 's Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. Her teachers in the Ceramics Department would joke about Paula's dream. They did not believe it could ever be realized.

But Paula persisted in her pursuit.
At first she made bowls and amphorae; the thrown basic form was given a wavering, flowing character by the thin wing-like strips of porcelain at the top. Fragility and transparency are already discernable.
Nonetheless, Paula was not yet at all satisfied with the result. In 1995 she decided to stop exhibiting for a while and to devote her time to experimenting. She was particularly concerned with how to achieve the greatest effect of motion in a simple form.


Around 1997 she managed to realize her long cherished ideal in objects of almost intangible beauty.
The method she found, and which she still applies, is a combination of two- and threedimensional techniques: first the concept is drawn onto tissue paper, which is covered with plastic foil. On this, thin, occasionally coloured, strips of bone china are placed beside each other, overlapping slightly. After a carefully calculated drying time the whole is covered with plastic again and then the crucial moment - in one motion moved and unfolded into a cone-shaped stoneware mould. Subsequently it goes into the kiln and is fired in oxidation at 1260°C. This virtuoso, self invented method, requires extreme care and precision, and almost surpasses the boundaries of the possible. lt is a procedure in which the risk of failure is tremendous. One of the most nerve-racking moments is when she opens the kiln door: during the firing process there is always a danger of shrinkage, deformation and cracking.

Despite their ingenious creation, Paula's objects do not seem affected; they look as if nature herself has created them. Nature is dearly Paula's source of inspiration.
At first her objects remind one of shells, flower calyces, or fans that radiate a serene calm. Where the strips of day overlap, the forms have a sort of rib like a skeleton, or veins like a leaf. Often the form, which is usually not coloured, is accentuated by a rhythmical pattern of black or coloured spots or stripes.
Sometimes larger planes of colour are applied, or the entire form is monochrome, for example yellow or blue. When black and white strips alternate a fascinating graphical pattern develops.

But gradually the forms have lost substance. They look like they have been cut into shreds that have been swept in a circular motion.
In her most recent work these wisps look like groping tentacles.
Everything is in motion, sometimes in one direction, then in several, whereby the spectator is sucked into the abyss. Despite all this motion, this whirling, the final result is balanced and harmonious.

Often ceramic objects, especially when made of earthenware or stoneware, have a certain robustness, gravity, and a strong earthbound character. Porcelain generally appears lighter, thinner through its paleness and transparency. Nonetheless few porcelain objects are so slender and detached from the earth as Paula's. They look as if the wind could just lift them and blow them away. They look organic, yet are made by a human hand. They are simultaneously hard and vulnerable, and engage in a play with light and air. Their natural beauty is timeless, yet their swirling motion, particularly of her most recent work, makes them very much contemporary.


When asked about the recent developments in her work, she replied: "every new form is developed from the previous, and in turn carries the seed of the next in it".
Her aim at even greater sheerness and fluidity seems to be intensifying. At the end of the 90's she experimented with larger objects, but because they appeared more massive they did not meet her ideal of slenderness and lightness. Lately she is less inclined to use colours. The transparency of the natural material contributes to the delicacy of her work.

Paula Bastiaansen's porcelain forms are an extraordinary contribution to the development of ceramic art because she makes use of the possibilities of porcelain material in a completely original and virtuoso manner. Her small works of art are of great beauty.

Paula Bastiaansen was born in the village of Sprundel in the Noord Brabant province of The Netherlands in 1953 and studied at the Royal Academy of Art in 's Hertogenbosch. She has received many distinctions and awards for her work -the most recent being the Bronze Prize at the First Taiwan Ceramic Biennale held in Taipei (through June 13th, 2004). She lives in Sprundel and teaches at the School for the Arts in Roosendaal. Two upcoming individual exhibitions are scheduled for September 2004, one at the Carla Koch Gallery, Amsterdam and the other at the St.Joseph Gallery in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands.
Mieke Spruit-Ledeboer is an art historian and former gallery manager based in Oosterbeek, The Netherlands.