Artists

Kristine Michael works with clay in the manner a silk-worm works with its cocoon: pensive, soft and painstaking activity leading her through a series of interior voyages into recesses of the mindscape words do not dwell in.

The gauze-like translucency of her style, its compulsive affinity to light, the sheer transparency of her intentions lends her work an airiness that transforms the lump of clay in her hands into the very stuff of dreams. It is a transformation aspiring for altered states of being - for the material, for the form, for herself.

This is a lot to say about someone yet on the threshold of her explorations. But Kristine exhibits a maturity beyond her years. There is a sense of happiness in her attitude to the medium which is infectious and allows others to share her process and her space. From the impersonality of her training in the industrial ceramics at the National Institute of Design to the sensuality of her expression today has been a journey of learning to respond to all the unexpected stirrings of her persona.

This personalisation of the medium is what puts Kristine Michael in the small, select band of artists in the country working with clay who have managed to wrench the medium briefly beyond utilitarian toiletries and tableware.

The titles of Kristine Michael’s two solo exhibitions - Touch the Earth in 1985 and Spirals of Growth in 1987 - have been enigmatic as the works she exhibited in them, denoting a tendency towards a content beyond mechanics.

In Touch the Earth, we saw clay being put to a series of varied transmutations - from amorphous stone and rock forms in raku to flowering pots in glazed ceramics. The hand built, asymmetrical forms which celebrated the direct treatment of clay, throbbed with a vitality that released them from technique and invested them with the aura of a language.

It was the language of awe and wonder and delight of someone in the presence of the infinite canvas of nature and life - of seeing things bloom and grow and decay, of the fascination of germination, the fecundity of forms, of parturition.

The signs were all there. The subtle awareness of the unity of elements - of fire, water, earth and light; of the quest for essence. It was almost inevitable that her next exhibition would be called Spirals of Growth. It was natural for the spiral to release itself from being a graphic symbol in her previous work and take on an independent existence in the dignity of a form.

And from recognizing the spiral form as being at the core of creation to discovering the shells churned out on to an eternal shore as the source of all mystery was again typical of her inward style, her obsession with secret and concealed spaces, with dark, disturbing interiors gossamer smooth, with curling cocoons that cling to turbulent truths of life.

Kristine Michael’s pursuit of spiral forms to narrate her theme of growth is a happy one. At one stroke it synthesized an abstract idea with a sensual image and appealed to areas of our imagination. This time she was exploring porcelain and the delicate and speckled translucencies she succeeded in achieving in her shells, seeds and fronds was not so much an invitation to windswept beaches or soft, dense undergrowth or the bright summer explosion of seed pods spilling over with life, but a step out of naturalism into a realm of memories, desires and pain; into areas of the consciousness one approaches hesitatingly, on tip-toe.

Kristine Michael’s strongpoint has been her openness to the creative process. In pottery, she has exposed herself to several schools and techniques - from industrial ceramics to studio pottery to terracotta at the rural craft level to Delhi Blue to Jaipur Blue to her recent work in salt glazing and wheel thrown production pottery and fired housing with Deborah and Ray Meekar at the Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry. Besides, she has been involved with textiles and vegetable dyes with cooperatives in Assam, with communications workshops in Madras, with amateur theatre in Delhi and with graphics and design at many levels. All these are the experiences she kneads into the basic body of her clay work.

The present exhibition is a continuation of her series on spirals and we await with bated breath to be drawn once again into the vortex of a whirlpool that she herself seems to have learnt by now to emerge from every time with a smile.

Published in Art Heritage 8, 1988-89, pp. 126-127
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