Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country.
Ayesha Aggarwal's plant-filled world of pottery and native florae
From a clay-covered, pot plant-heavy North Adelaide backyard, ceramicist Ayesha Aggarwal creates simple but eye-catching pieces inspired by native florae.
After a decade or so of resurgent cultural cringe, the kind of colourful Australiana that made Ken Done rich has enjoyed a gentle resurgence in recent years thanks to a new generation of artists like Aggarwal and Adelaide scarf queen Julie White.
“Australian natives are so weird – I hadn’t really seen anything like that before I got here,” she says. “I came to boarding school when I was 13, and just kind of stayed. I didn’t see so much of these kinds of natives, but I remember the bottlebrush and, although it’s not native, the jacaranda, and I just thought ‘What is this cool, weird plant?’ I remember those plants very vividly because of the colours.”
Aggarwal is part of a growing number of Adelaide artists embracing jewellery as a means to make accessible, small-scale versions of her work. “I wanted to make a version of the pots that was wearable,” she says of her first forays into ceramic earrings.
“That’s why I went with this vase shape – they’re just quite an elegant, easy shape for anyone to wear. My first prototypes were mostly kinds of different leaves, but were so heavy. It took a bit of refining; I always messed around with making jewellery as a kid, but never thought to make it out of clay before now.”
While her makeshift outdoor studio has its limitations (“Last summer I was trying to throw on a 45 degree day, but it was hard to know what was sweat and what was water from the clay,” she admits), the blurred lines between Aggarwal’s work and home space has afforded her the flexibility to continue to feel her way to the next phase of her practice.
“I feel like my work is entirely mood-based; it tends to dictate when I pick the colours. That’s why I have so many designs too – I’m no good at restricting myself,” she says, looking over the sea of unpainted pieces that cover a dining room table that evidently sees a lot more clay than food.
Like any good millennial, she sheepishly admits her botanical fixation has its roots in the generation’s obsession with houseplants. This, perhaps, helps explain how her designs have found such an enthusiastic audience.
Her work does have one important advantage over plant varieties whose Instagram clout is proportionate to their mortality rate. “You can’t kill them,” she laughs.
“That’s my vibe – plants you can’t kill!”