We meet author of Clay and art devotee, Amber Creswell Bell, on a sun-filled winters day along a stretch of Sydney's most spectacular coastlines, Balmoral Beach. The sunshine seems determined to mirror Amber's disposition; it is sincere, convivial, and unapologetically optimistic...
You are an author, curator, expert on all things 'lifestyle' and art aficionado; tell us, what was the path that led you here?
The path was a somewhat convoluted one! Writing and the arts have always been my passions, and probably what people expected me to pursue - but instead I kept those things filed under hobby. I was blindsided by good marks and thought I should probably follow something more ‘lucrative' – so I studied Psychology and Economics at Sydney University, and then went on to have a corporate career doing various forms of consulting. When I turned 30, and with the self-awareness that that age brings, I realised that I was tired, stressed and unfulfilled professionally. So, I took the plunge, quit my job (thanks to a very supportive husband), and took some night courses to help me mentally change gear into the design world. I worked for a number of well-known creative people such as Jamie Durie, Nadine Bush, Lisa Messenger and the Arent&Pyke ladies before taking the plunge to go out on my own, creating my own ‘job’ construct around all the things I love most. The freelance art and design writing I was doing led to curating exhibitions, and all this passionate writing-and-curating-carry-on caught the eye of my publisher Thames & Hudson who offered me a book deal - and my first book Clay which came out last year. I am now 40 – so it has been a very rewarding decade. I truly subscribe to the notion that if you pursue something that your heart is actually invested in – you will succeed.
You refer to yourself as a “creative hustler” – can you expand on this for us?
This is the universal term I use to refer the all the varied behind-the-scenes business of working with creatives! It’s the introductions and networking, the mentoring, the publicity-garnering, the creative-brainstorming, the location-scouting, the artist-advocating and the platform-finding and everything else that goes on behind the scenes to help creative people refine their message and find their market.
What draws you to art, homewares, interiors?
From a very young age these things have mattered to me. I can remember being 7 or 8 and dictating to my mother exactly how things needed to be decorated in our home, and I always loved buying new linen for my bed, choosing paint colours, helping my parents select artworks, and specifying what should be planted in our garden and where. At times I do quietly question an industry where the raison d'être is to ensure things look ‘beautiful’, because I’m not saving lives, or solving climate change and wonder if I should be concentrating on issues more noble. But, I do understand that disharmony of surroundings can be distracting and grating. The way a colour scheme interacts, the way light works in a room, and the role of symmetry and visual harmony and good design all influence the way we feel – and that is ultimately important, and that probably satisfies my psych background.
Your book, Clay – other than being a treat for the visual senses – is full of inspirational ceramicists and their work. What was your selection process around who and what images to feature? Furthermore, how did you discover these local and international artisans?
(Thank you!). The way that the Clay line up came to be was a treasure hunt of sorts. I started with my favourite ceramicists, and I asked them who their favourite ceramicists were. I stalked local and international ceramic galleries, and I fell down endless rabbit holes on Instagram. At the end of the day, I aimed for a diverse cross section of ceramicists who were all using clay in different ways around the world, and who had a tale to tell about how they got there. Aesthetically, despite the diversity of styles – the imagery of their work came together beautifully and so harmoniously. I think all ceramicists seem to have an innate aesthetic sense for creating atmosphere with their work.
Ceramics have recently been the subject of a resurgence in popularity not seen since the 1970’s – what do you attribute as the cause for this?
The way we live now - things move so fast, and we increasingly live in a virtual, online, digital world, and everyday items are mass produced and often disposable. Universally there has been an observable movement in retaliation to this life toward that of slow living and mindfulness. I think the ubiquity of technology has made humans crave something more hand made, more special and more ‘human’. Ceramics is the most perfect vehicle to exemplify this.
Do you have a favoured era of pottery/ceramics?
I could not choose! I really love the current ceramics landscape and the creativity and confidence that is on show as the emerging artists find their feet. I can especially feel brutalist mid-century and Japanese influences filtering down into what I am seeing in galleries now.
What exhibitions have you curated recently? And what is your approach to curation?
Oh gosh – I curated 7 shows this year, and I have 11 upcoming so I am always in the midst of so much curation! My approach is to lead with my gut, and if I like an artist – then assume the art buyers will feel the same. I like discovering emerging artists, or unrepresented midcareer artists and giving them a beautiful gallery experience, introducing their work to a new audience who are able to see their work in the flesh.
There is a huge abyss between emerging as an artist, and being represented by a commercial gallery. There are so many talented artists who are not represented, but whose work I feel is extremely worthy of being on show in a gallery. A positive gallery experience goes a long way to building artist confidence and creating further opportunities for them. This involves having the works hung beautifully, a big opening night that celebrates their work, real feedback from visitors to the exhibition, and connecting them with passionate art buyers and other galleries. Traditionally I tend to curate more group shows, with a mix of painters and ceramicists – but next year I will be focusing on some big, bold solo shows.
Can you recommend any must see exhibitions on now, or opening soon?
- Joshua Yeldham at Arthouse Gallery.
- Tom Carment at King Street Gallery
- Doug Moran National Portrait Prize at Juniper Hall.
- Charmaine Pike at Defiance Gallery
- Alan Jones at Olsen Gallery
- Zoe Young at Olsen Annexe
Who are some emerging artists you currently have your eye on?
I love all painted works by Claudia Greathead and Holly Greenwood; the landscapes of Leisl Mott; figurative works of Mark Tweedie; ceramics by Ulrica Trulsson, Nicolette Johnson, and Jane McKenzie; and sculptures by Kenya (Basic Curate).
You recently returned from a trip to Japan, a culture rich with art, design & architectural history. Tell us, what was your most memorable sight &/or experience?
Japan blew my mind in every way! It was such a fabulous, energetic, aesthetically charming place to go, and I intend to go many times over. They really do everything better in ways you can only grasp if you have been there I think. One highlight was meeting Japanese Ceramicist Akio Nukaga, who was one of the artists I featured in Clay. He had an exhibition opening, and it was so great to meet him in his element, and to see so many of his beautiful pieces up close.
Must visit Japanese bar or restaurant?
- High End: MUST have the sushi experience at Sushi Sora, at the stunning Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo, overlooking Mount Fuji (and a drink at the bar afterward).
- Street Style: Lunch at Harajuku Gyoza. I’m still dreaming of it.
What &/or who inspires you most?
Almost anyone who is bucking trends and being innovative.
Do you have a daily uniform?
I love my block colours in black, white, grey and taupe. Tailored pants, a good white t-shirt and a denim jacket. And I am very partial to a stripe. If I am in gallery mode – black jumpsuit. If I’m going out – I can’t go past a full skirt.
What is your approach to style?
I like to be comfortable, and I prefer things to be simple, elegant and classic. I don’t particularly subscribe to trends.
Tell us about your home… I imagine with all the artistic content you consume all day everyday it must be hard not to take everything home with you!
My home is a light and breezy mid-century house, and it is true most of my wall space is groaning under the weight of artworks, many from my shows – and my shelves are full of ceramics. I have 3 young children, so while I do have precious things, I like to keep things feeling comfortable and not too uptight. Like my clothes, I try not to get too caught up in transient design trends. I have also created an abundant garden here – and I always have fresh cut flowers in every room.
What are you planning next?
I have a new book coming out in October 2018, which I am very excited about. This one is very beautiful, and of a ‘painterly’ nature.
Amber wears the Belle Silk Ruffle Top in Black and the Monroe Silk Skirt in Canary.