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Emerging ceramicist Holly Phillipson uses clay to connect to the past

Square Holes have partnered with the Helpmann Academy since 2006 to provide insight into the evolving needs of emerging creatives in South Australia. In 2022 Square Holes further established this important partnership by joining the organisation as an award donor, debuting the Square Holes Award at the Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition in February. The inaugural winner of the award was Holly Phillipson, an emerging ceramicist interested in form and history.

For Holly, clay has been a passion since she was a small child, as she experimented through school classes with what felt like an exciting process.

“I’ve been playing with clay since I was a kid. We did art classes at school and in high school which introduced me to hand building and I really enjoyed that. I would always go in the art room at lunchtime to hand build pots,” says Phillipson.

“As a material and process it just comes naturally to me. I love that clay is pretty forgiving.”

That passion built over time as Holly started to learn more about the history of ceramics and engaging with both the form and function of the practice. Her interest lies in investigating the enduring role of clay throughout human history.

Collection of works by Holly Phillipson at the 2022 Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition, image by Thomas McCammon.

“What’s really exciting for me, is the long history of ceramics in human history. Pottery is used as a way of determining what date a dig is in archaeology, and I find the story of craft through time very interesting. So many different cultures invented pottery independently,” says Phillipson.

“I really like looking at old pots and figuring out how they’re made and what they were used for and asking myself, could that be useful today? I think that’s the most exciting thing about it for me, and having that connection to craft people through history.”

This tension between old and new is a driving creative force in Holly’s work, with her pieces bringing traditional shapes into a modern context. She says that this extends from her interest in formalism, the study of art by analysing and comparing form and style.

“I want to make things that are inspired by historical forms that fit in with a contemporary art space. But I also want to create functional pieces to be used in daily life,” says Phillipson.

After graduating from Flinders University in 2021 with a Bachelor of Creative Arts, Holly was one of 27 graduating artists from Flinders University and the University of South Australia to be selected for the 2022 Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition. On the opening night of the exhibition, Holly was named as the recipient of both the Lang/McKee Award ($5,000 cash) and the inaugural Square Holes Award ($5,000 cash). She says that accolades like this enable emerging creatives to move forward boldly into their creative careers.

“It (the award) gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities and my work and it gave me the courage to keep going. I’m really grateful for it because I would’ve really struggled without that money this year. It gave me a bit of security, and I was able to buy materials, pay for my associate program at the JamFactory, and book a trip to Alice Springs for The Australian Ceramics Triennale,” says Phillipson.

“It’s not easy to be an artist. In fact, it’s really quite scary financially going out into the art world. So, having that support is really important.”

As she navigates life outside her university bubble and as the world slowly re-opens after the advent of covid-19, Holly is starting to turn her sights to some of the cultural hubs for ceramics that she has long drawn inspiration from.

Holly Phillipson, Proud Prochus, photo supplied by artist.

“At the moment I’ve been looking at a lot of Eastern European pottery. I try and use forms that sort of relate to my family history, as a way to connect to my ancestors. I’m really interested in old Slavic techniques,” says Phillipson.

“I’d love to travel to Eastern Europe to learn those techniques from traditional craftspeople, because it’s pretty hard to research on the internet.”

Looking to her long-term future, Holly’s ambitions as a creative are decidedly humble and modest.

“Simply, my dream career is just making a decent wage from my craft. I just want to be able to make a living doing art, and being an artist. It may seem small, but I would love to just be able to spend five days a week on my own practice, in my own space,” says Phillipson.

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