Joining us as a stallholder at Bazaar 2021, Ronel Koen is a ceramic artist and the creative brains behind the Swalō Ceramics brand located in the heart of Fremantle. Her practice is inspired by Nerikomi, a decorative process established in Japan that involves stacking colored clay and then slicing through the cross section to reveal a pattern, which can then be used as an applied decoration. Creating a range of unique and one-off ceramic pieces, including ring flower bud vases, bowls and vessels, Ronel is part of our inaugural Bazaar Incubator, a mentorship program for emerging makers in the first five years of their practice or who have never been a part of Bazaar.

Could you please tell me about your ceramic practice and the techniques you are most drawn to? 

Most of my work is inspired by and explores the principles of Japanese Nerikomi techniques. In Nerikomi, slabs of clay are layered, folded, and pressed, over and over until it creates a beautiful design or pattern. I am exploring creating very precise designs and patterns through the controlled layering and placing of colour-stained clay and then inlaying these designs into wheel thrown vessels. This inlaying process creates pressures, distortion and introduce movement into the pattern making every piece I create completely unique and visually dynamic.

Other than my exploration of Nerikomi, my practice is a study of the intricate relationships between aesthetics, form and function and my work aims to bridge the divide between function and art. Each piece is carefully conceptualised and created around a core narrative where each form follows this narrative. My work aims to return art, and the art experience, to everyday living.

Hummingbird Water Can & Vase

How long have you been making ceramic work and what is it about this particular art form that you love?

My intense and lingering love affair with clay started over 27 years ago as a young fine and applied arts student in South Africa. But as life often does, mine turned and wound into other directions, and for the past 20 years I’ve been building a creative career as a designer and art director, both in Australia and abroad. It’s a journey that’s been fabulously rewarding, but as with all great loves, that yearning for clay stayed with me and kept drawing me back.

I missed the physical rawness of the artistic process, the hands-on making, and the fact that clay forced me to slow down. How it just so shamelessly and unapologetically commands my attention. Ceramics feels relatable. It’s a tactile, primitive medium, where you can create strikingly beautiful work, that actually has a practical purpose. I see working with ceramics as an opportunity to push the boundaries of how we perceive art, and create pieces that cross the divide between art, and object.

What kind of products can people expect to see at your stall at Bazaar? 

I will be presenting a beautifully curated range of functional and decorative handcrafted ceramics. From high end, one-off Nerikomi designs, a range of unique ring flower bud vases, bowls and vessels, watering cans, incense burner to quirky little stocking fillers. There will be something unique for everyone and every price range.

You are part of our inaugural Bazaar Incubator, a program which mentors makers within the first five years of their practice. What has that experience been like?

It has been an incredible opportunity to be included in such a well-respected, iconic and coveted event that most small business like mine would otherwise not have access to. It will be a very important springboard for my young fledgling business which will help to introducing and connect products with my local community and market and increase awareness of my brand. The FAC has been amazing in offering support and reassurance and making me feel confident in gearing up my production and work for the Bazaar. I am so grateful for this wonderful opportunity.

Nerikomi Vase

Why do you think people should support local makers and buy handmade Christmas gifts?  

First of all, handmade products are great for the environment.  Most handmade products do not require large production facilities.  Instead, are made locally in small studios or small workshops.

Handmade is always unique, made by a real artist or person, which makes the product and the purchase very special. It gives you access to the maker and artist and nobody in the world will ever have exactly the same item as the one you have purchased. Each handmade item has a unique story behind it and by buying it you become part of the story.

When you buy handmade you directly support a local artist, which in return help in supporting traditional crafts and practices. By supporting these practices, you help pass them on to the next generation keeping the arts and crafts alive. But mostly, buying local shows the person that you are giving to that you care.

Bazaar – WA’s premier Christmas makers’ market – runs from 3-5 Dec at Fremantle Arts Centre.