Red Deer ceramic artist Issy Covey is perfectly happy with imperfection.
While she once dreamed of creating a completely symmetrical casserole dish, Covey now purposely pinches, bends and twists her abstract works into weird and wonderful contortions.
Her organic-looking creations, on display until Aug. 21 at the Kiwanis Gallery in the Red Deer Public Library, sometimes come out of the kiln cracked, with unexpected holes, or crazed glazing. Each time, Covey is happy to go with the flow and work with whatever turns up.
Her idea is that asymmetrical shapes and uneven textures can create more visual interest from all angles.
“I have more fun with twisting pieces. When something doesn’t look like it’s twisted enough, I twist it some more,” said Covey, who believes that irregularity can often be more pleasing than perfection.
“I think I’m one of the few people who are happy to hear an air bubble popping while the clay is being pushed through the extruder,” added the artist. She seldom has a preconceived idea of what a finished piece is going to look like.
“Most pieces just evolve under my hands to be what they are.”
Her black-and-white cylindrical works are fired in a process called naked raku. Covey explains that the way a piece ends up, with cracks and sooty splotches resembling the Rorschach inkblot test, is almost completely random. “First you cover the pieces in slip, then you splash white glaze on them,” she said.
After being fired in an outside kiln and moved to a metal container lined with newspaper and sawdust to provide plenty of smoke, unglazed areas of the ceramic will turn black. “The glaze will sometimes crackle and sometimes it won’t,” said Covey, who considers any unexpected texture she achieves to be a bonus.
A series of her tall, square vase shapes are called Shades of Copper. Their iridescent colour is created with the use of ferric chloride, a variant of the chemical used in the production of mustard gas. “I have to wear a mask,” said Covey, who’s also created irregularly shaped wine decanters, digital photographic art works, and textured ceramic wall hangings.
Despite their abstract look, the wall hangings have representational names, such as Red Sky at Night and Cairngorm Vista. “I had to brainstorm with a friend to come up with them,” admitted a chuckling Covey, who added that the glazing patterns in the latter piece remind her of vegetation in her homeland of Scotland. “Heather and grey hills and dark skies.”
The artist grew up near Aberdeen, in a small coastal community on the North Sea called Newburgh. “I was the first one from our village to go to art college,” she recalled.
The swinging ‘60s had turned into the early ‘70s when she graduated from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.
While Covey had trained in textile design, she ended up doing what she said she never would — teaching art at a core-area school. The diminutive artist recalled with a laugh, that she was often the smallest one in the classroom. “It was a really tough school, but once you got the worst student in class on side, the rest of it was easy.”
After six years of teaching, she and her now-husband, Wayne, decided to pack their knapsacks and see the world. They were all set to go to Australia, but flew to Houston, Texas, on a whim because of a seat sale.
Better work prospects soon lured them to Toronto, where Wayne’s brother was living, and then Alberta, where Wayne got a job in the oilfield.
“We picked Red Deer on a map as a place we’d like to move to because it wasn’t too big,” said Covey, who arrived in the city in 1979.
For the last 21 years, the mother of two grown sons has been an advertising artist at the Advocate, where she puts her creativity to work daily designing display ads. “I like the challenge and the constant pressure of deadlines,” said Covey.
But she also enjoys the absolute freedom of creating her unique ceramic pieces through the Red Deer Pottery Club. “It’s completely different than working on a computer.”
The opening reception for Twisted: Works by Issy Covey, will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, July 8.