The queens of clay

Four local female artists are reshaping ceramics.

Silvia Dotto
“My passion is actually food and not the pottery, and the reason I do the pottery is because of the food,” says Silvia Dotto with a laugh. It’s how the artist visualizes serving and framing up that food that drives much of her work—richly hued, Old World–inflected bowls and serving dishes that can stand on their own “even after all the wonderful food has been devoured and enjoyed”, she says. Dotto is self-taught. She started off with night courses in London, and when she came to Vancouver she took on an apprenticeship. After a couple of courses here and there, and two or three years working with two local potters, Nathan Rafla and Kathryn

Youngs, she now finds herself focused on pieces for entertaining at home. Dotto says her work is “rustic elegant, a little modern with a bit of today and yesterday, and a lot of detail. Lots of the bowls in the stores, you turn them over and there’s no finishing.” Look for the decorations that Dotto presses into the clay to create the signature medallions on her work, from a lady’s belt brooch from the 1800s rescued from the Thames to a piece from an old jewellery box given to her for her confirmation. (Prices range from about $30 to $300.)

Where to find the line: via or 604-251-0909

Gailan Ngan
Gailan Ngan has been making pottery for 10 years, but her work in clay began when she was a child in the studio of her father, well-known ceramics artist Wayne Ngan. “My sister and I were slaves in the summer. We had to load, sweep, and carry pots around,” says Ngan. She learned how to throw in her early 20s and then went on to the Emily Carr Institute to experiment. “Slowly, very slowly, I’m getting more and more simple, just paring it down to the essential. I used to do more surface decoration,” she says. Ngan explains that her focus is the surface and the form: “Glazes themselves are quite intricate. If you look at the glaze, it has depth like pond water, cracks, fine lines.” The simple beauty of bowls has her attention right now. Her “wobble bowls” have no foot or handles, and they rock gently without spilling. Several can be stacked to look decorative and sculptural, so they needn’t be hidden away in a cupboard. Ngan says that her influences are becoming fewer and fewer, with friends, family, food and eating, and travel giving her work a playful aspect. Her palette is serene, with glazes in white, grey, yellow-green, black, and blue. (Prices range from $18 for a small wobble cup up to $420 for a set of five nesting bowls.)

Where to find the line: Bombast (27 East Pender Street), Small Medium Large (334 West Cordova Street), and Crafthouse (1386 Cartwright Street), as well as through her annual Christmas open studio (December 2 and 3 from noon to 5 p.m.), 898 East Georgia Street, or via

Tanis Saxby
Tanis Saxby’s undulating white-porcelain vessels may take shape on a potter’s wheel, but ceramics isn’t the only area that influences her work. “I get very inspired by the old sculptors [Franí§ois Auguste René] Rodin, [Henry] Moore, and [Constantin] Brancusi, as well as the potters from the past like Hans Coper and Gordon Baldwin.” What explains her reluctance to fit into any one category? The radically different places she’s studied might help. After apprenticing with a carver, Saxby went to the University of Victoria and then on to the Kootenay School of the Arts. Last year, she was selected for a residency in the south of France with A.I.R. Vallauris (the very place Pablo Picasso carried out his works in ceramics), where she also exhibited in a solo show at its gallery. “I’m definitely inspired by nature and always trying to get that natural look in my clay work where I’m not trying too hard or not enough.” Saxby is currently complementing her craft with studies in photography and the use of light and shadow. “I use a spotlight to shine on it [the work] so I can sculpt it so the shadows will be the way I want them,” she says of her pieces, which are sometimes textured but mostly silky-smooth. “The shadows around the piece are as important as the piece itself. It’s also another reason why I have minimal surfaces, white surfaces, so the shadows will come out stronger.” But perhaps what most sets Saxby apart is her concentration on the interior space of the vessel, shaping its lines as carefully as the outside form—and making it more like sculpture in a room than a functional bowl. (Prices range from $150 to $1,400.)

Where to find the line: via

Jasna Sokolovic
Before coming to Canada, Jasna Sokolovic pursued architecture for several years in Yugoslavia. What she discovered, however, is that she preferred urban landscapes, faí§ades, and décor to what she was studying. War interrupted her education and eventually took her to Canada, where she first took courses in visual arts at Concordia University and then moved to Vancouver and attended the Emily Carr Institute. “As soon as I came to Canada, I got involved with clay and was playing a bit with functional pottery, but I was always trying to marry my architectural interests with sculptural ceramics,” explains Sokolovic. “[Painter and sculptor Friedensreich] Hundertwasser is a great influence, and [architect Antonio] Gaudí­. Basically this kind of work is architecture but sculptural and playful.” Sokolovic’s creations have an interesting duality: “It’s playful but also at the same time if you look closer, there is a dark side of it. I think it’s a mixture of sculpture, painting, and illustration.” Emotions and memories play a large role in the shape of her work. As an extension of the more fine-art-oriented pieces, Sokolovic is exploring the idea of 3-D wallpapers and has a small jewellery collection of pendants, bracelets, collars, and cuffs. But she’s best known for her ceramic wall blocks: ovals, squares, and rectangles that, even though they are fired, look more like whimsical, ethereal abstract paintings in soft hues of pink, brown, yellow, and blue, with shots of red. (They run about $50 to $500.)

Where to find the line: 1375 Railspur Alley on Granville Island or