Arts & Culture

Tessy Pettyjohn: Ceramics weird and wonderful

Images courtesy of Silverlens Galleries, R.C. Ladrido, and BPI Art Clips/Art in the Park 2021

Patterns, colors, and textures form an organic triumvirate of sculptural clayworks in A Light in Everything, Tessy Pettyjohn’s exhibition at Silverlens Galleries. It runs until 03 February 2024.

At first glance, the ceramic works remind us of natural life forms in the deepest ocean or the remotest forest. And yet, they only exist in Tessy Pettyjohn’s wide scope of imagination, brought to life through the alchemy of fire, clay and its minerals, ash, and glaze. And yes, in addition to decades of hard work, trials and errors, and experience that all helps an exhibition becoming a reality.

Bloom Field, 2024. Silverlens Galleries. Photo by RC Ladrido

Act of meditation

In forming the individual and highly detailed components of her work, Tessy Pettyjohn’s “rhythmic and repetitive movements” of hands and fingers result in a state of meditation that leads to an oasis of tranquility, for both artist and viewers.

Exploring nonfunctional clay forms in her practice, the exhibition consists of several works done mostly in 2023, with the first titled Radiance series, (2023) all made of high-fired stoneware and porcelain. The second is on a wall titled Bloom Field (2024), made of small bowls in shades of browns, and of different sizes. The third is titled For the Desert 1 (2019) and For the Desert 3 (2019); and the last, For the Birds and the Bees1(2023) and 2 (2024).

All in the details

The first three Radiance series are like flowers in full bloom.

Radiance 1: thin tubular petals with seashells at its ends; at the dark blue purple center, filled with cream rings of cream indented at the middle, like eyes staring forever.

Radiance 2: three circular rings of petal-like forms,  and in the center, shades of lavender  and, white made of tiny mounds, with holes at its end.

Radiance 3: similar to Radiance 2, with  creamy petals and specks of green-gray; at its center, a speckled purple glaze made of individual pieces of beans or seeds, with larger ones at the center and  becoming smaller nearest the petals.

Radiance series 1, 2, 3. Silverlens Galleries

Radiance 4, 5 and 6: complex forms reign in this series, and on each platter, there are over 35 pieces of individually-formed components, with the relatively bigger items at the center of each platter, and surrounded or filled with smaller and smaller works.

Radiance series 4, 5, 6. SilverlensGalleries

Each piece is “a community in itself, with many varied components affixed to a circular base.”  Each component is also unique. The colors of the glazes range from shades of whites and creams, electric blues, and vibrant greens and reds, producing a harmony of visual delight.

Details, Radiance 4, Photo by RCLadrido
Details, Radiance 6. Photo by RCLadrido

Stoneware vs. porcelain

Stoneware is pottery that has been fired at a high temperature, about 1200 degrees centigrade until it becomes glass-like or vitrified, and nonporous. Stoneware is usually opaque in color.  Porcelain, as described by Britannica, is vitrified pottery with a “white fine-grained body that is usually translucent.” Overall, the difference between stoneware and porcelain remains rather vague.

The artist

With a fine arts degree in painting from the University of the Philippines (1965-1969), Tessy Pettyjohn (b.1948, Manila) simply fell in love with pottery during her university days.  She also pursued interior design at the Philippine School of Interior Design, and continued with it at the New York School of Interior Design.

For ceramics, she did further studies at the New School for Social Research, New York. Residencies in Japan and China honed further her skills. Before long, husband-and-wife Jon and Tessy Pettyjohn have become part of an international community of potters thriving in their own communities. They have continued to explore the richness of local clay from different parts of the country, as well as pigments, and minerals for making their own ceramics and glazes.

The Pettyjohns. BPI Art Clips 2021 Episode 2

Delight in nature

It is Tessy’s second solo exhibition at Silverlens after Continuing Growth in 2019. Her first solo exhibition was in 1996 at the well-known Hiraya Gallery.

A snorkeling trip in Palawan exposed Tessy Pettyjohn to the diversity and complexity of underwater life, as well as the mesmerizing patterns of corals, algae, and rocks. Natural forms found in cacti, succulents, grasses, and flowers also captivated her. Living since 1980 at the foot of Mt. Makiling, Laguna, the beauty of nature has always been reflected in her art practice and exhibitions: Cornucopia (2010), Aianthous (2013), My Garden (2014), and Continuing Growth (2019).

Jon and Tessy Pettyjohn are considered the pioneers of Philippine pottery; it was in the mid-1980s when they finally started teaching and offering workshops for more than 20 years due to increased interest in the craft. Some of their students are now fulltime potters