From orthotist to ceramicist, for artist Melinda Solly it is not such a big step.
While orthotics and ceramics are vastly different career paths, Anglesea artist Melinda Solly works successfully in both fields. For three days a week Melinda makes braces, callipers, and foot orthotics, to help people with injuries and disabilities; and for the other two days a week, she works in her studio, creating ceramic pieces such as pots, jewellery, and lampshades from fine translucent porcelain under her new label, Fragility.
Inspiration board in Melinda’s studio. Photo: Artin Geelong.
In 1993, Melinda graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics and pursued a career in orthotics. Although her job satisfied her need to “make things” and help others, she yearned for a creative outlet and turned to ceramics eight years ago.
Working with clay seemed a natural choice for the self-taught artist who grew up in an artistic environment surrounded by pottery and woodwork created by her parents, Geoff and Jill Giles.
“Mum made ceramics but it was more earthy looking pottery, not fine porcelain,” Melinda explains. “Years ago I went to the Paddington market where I saw all this nice porcelain work and I realised I really wanted to do that. I feel like it is in my blood after all those years watching Mum do it.”
Through trial and error, Melinda has been exploring the potential of this challenging medium. She is fascinated by the translucent qualities of fine porcelain, the way the light shines through the clay with a soft luminous glow. She often carves designs into the clay, making the porcelain as thin as possible to enhance the translucency. But it is a delicate balance: too thin and the clay will crack or collapse – too thick and the translucent effect will be lost. Her experimental approach does come at a cost: she has pulled many misshapen or broken disasters from the kiln, but with persistence she has been able to refine her technique.
Sometimes Melinda uses doilies to emboss the surface of her pots to create texture and translucency. She pushes the doily into the surface of the clay and during the firing process, the fabric burns away, leaving the imprint of the lacy pattern on the pot. Many of Melinda’s pieces are unglazed to maintain the pure white of the porcelain and are simply polished, although she does love the blues and greens of the ocean and occasionally uses these colours in glazing.
As the cracks reveal in this pot, Melinda’s experimental process pushes the porcelain to its limits. Photo: Artin Geelong.
Melinda is not only interested in the quality of light but also the shadows cast from the intricate patterns in clay. The patterns on the ceramic lampshades are inspired by the organic twisted shapes of the local melaleucas, the Moonah trees, and the intricate shadows formed as the sunlight shines through them. The lampshades are made in collaboration with her father who makes the wooden lamp stands from recycled timber.
The beauty of nature provides Melinda with inspiration, as do memories from her childhood. Different motifs on her pots reflect images from her years growing up on the coast: seeing moonlight shimmering on the ocean, making cubby houses in the Moonah trees, and playing in the Anglesea sand dunes.
Given Melinda’s orthotic background, it comes as no surprise that Melinda’s new series of ceramic pieces involve feet! She has been creating relief imprints of baby feet on thin sheets of clay, which are then mounted in framed glass.
“The foot prints mould was taken the same way that I do foot orthotic moulds,” Melinda says. “They were just a plaster cast, then l started to cast them in porcelain. I hope to make the cast thin enough to make a night light or bed side lamp. Another project to keep working on!”
Melinda has also made a collection of delicate baby bootees, pushing porcelain to its limits to render detailed crochet patterns – even the ribbons are made from the clay.
Like her label suggests, Melinda’s ceramics encapsulate fragility – be it the medium itself, the environment around her, or items and memories from the past. She won the ‘Most Creative Work’ prize at the Anglesea Wildflower and Art Show in 2011 and recently exhibited in the Surfcoast Arts Trail.
Melinda Solly’s Fragility ceramics are available from Eagle’s Nest Art Gallery in Aireys Inlet and Tastes Lifestyle in Lorne. Melinda’s jewellery is stocked at Ballyhoo in Geelong and Guns and Roses in Anglesea.
You can see more of Melinda’s work on her website www.fragility.com.au