Breaking the Mould

Whether creating delicate hanging works or those with solidity and heft, the diverse skills and vision of artist Jaime Jenkins allow her to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with clay.

Whether creating delicate hanging works or those with solidity and heft, the diverse skills and vision of artist Jaime Jenkins allow her to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with clay.

Jaime Jenkins is on a quest to find the perfect hue of yellow.

“I love this yellow,” she says of her woven clay basket that’s finished in a delicate yellow glaze.
“But I’m still trying to achieve the yellow I have in my mind.” The basket, with a unique capillary pattern, has a satin finish and feels like silk to the touch. Like many of Jaime’s works, it’s a remarkable object that defies expectations of what can be made with clay.

Jaime, 29, is a born and bred Bay of Plenty artist, whose ceramic works are garnering attention throughout New Zealand and beyond. Te Papa has acquired multiple pieces, she’s taken out major awards and collaborated with eminent artists. Her work is admired by collectors and fellow artists alike. She’s currently preparing to show at the Aotearoa Art Fair with Jhana Millers (her Wellington-based gallerist), who says people are already on a waiting list for Jaime’s work at the Auckland event.

Jaime’s hand-built pieces, and her glazing and firing techniques, are a combination of practicality and whimsy that push the limits of clay. A mixture of fragility, stability and strength, her work gently challenges her audience to ask: Is this sculpture or furniture, as it pushes away from the floor or grows out from a wall? Is it best described as a structure, a plinth, a surface or a ledge? What’s the function of this delicate chainwork?

Jaime with the delicately linked work, Forever Love  — one of her pieces that challenges perceptions of what can be created from clay.

Nature’s influence

Every day, Jaime makes the 20-minute trip from her Mount Maunganui flat to her studio that’s
built on family land in the Ohauiti hills. Her artistic practice draws on this natural world, taking
cues from heady sunsets, expansive Bay of Plenty skies, glittering Tauranga Moana coastlines
and the rustic setting of her bush-clad enclave.

“I’m surrounded by nature so that comes into my work a lot, and the ocean and coastline have always been a really big influence,” says Jaime. Jhana observes: “In her work you can feel the
flutter of leaves on the trees, dense and imposing rocks and cliffs, or the fade of the sky as day
turns to night.”

Jaime credits her love of nature to her rural upbringing on an orchard. Her Dad managed kiwifruit and avocado orchards in Matapihi, and her mum homeschooled the children (sometimes up to five at once), allowing for plenty of time to explore outdoors. Jaime is the third eldest of seven siblings, and her parents had an ethos of supporting those in need, so for most of Jaime’s early life, there
were foster children living with them. “We had room at home and capacity to help kids who really needed the support. All these children were my siblings at one time.” Perhaps it’s this compassionate upbringing and wonder at nature that gives Jaime’s sculptural forms a language that transcends the everyday. Regularly described as a ceramic artist, Jaime prefers ‘sculptor’ and when you spend time in her studio, you understand why.

“In her work you can feel the flutter of leaves on the trees, dense and imposing rocks and cliffs, or the fade of the sky as day turns to night.”
Studio in the hills

The Ohauiti property has a fruit orchard and a host of well-established native trees (with many more currently being planted), as well as stunning vistas out to Mauao and the western Kaimai Range.

Jaime is often outside her studio, gathering fired pieces from the neighbouring outdoor kiln shed.
It’s a curious structure, the geometric shape made from found materials that friend and architect Gerard Dombroski sourced and made for her. Essentially it’s a big chimney that sends the kiln’s
heat up and out.

She wanders out to the overgrown vegetable garden out front to pick verbena leaves, then returns
to make tea in a hand-thrown teapot, a striking blue and yellow artefact with a keen Bauhaus vibe. She pulls a mug from a stack of other handmade vessels — functional objects and dining ware in
a spectrum of earthy colours. There’s not one manufactured item in this studio. Jaime is a maker
who lives by the forms she creates. Art is an essential function of her life.

There are two generous rooms: a kitchen with a mezzanine bedroom and library. “I don’t live here
but sometimes I stay over,” she says, gesturing to the upstairs bedroom. Shelves line the walls and display works by Jaime and artists she’s collaborated with: a pair of painted plates that are fired
and rendered to perfection, a tall ‘pinched’ bud vase, ceramic painted leaves, glossy ceramic bells, bowls and vessels, forms and shells. It’s difficult to take in all the details.

There’s a wide table for art making. A potter’s wheel awaits. Jaime points out her favourite tool,
the red-handled slab roller: “It makes the perfect slab”. She credits it for transforming her larger
hand-built pieces — giving them more strength and consistency. “I also love this scorer,” she says, picking up a paintbrush stuck together with Sellys Knead It and pins. “I use it every day to score
clay, to adhere pieces together.”

A collection of finished works gather in one corner, works at various stages of progress sit in another. An assemblage that echoes the sycamore leaf drops from the ceiling. Fired swatches of clay line up along a ledge: ocean blues, sage greens, dense forest greens, multiple shades of yellow, mustard, ochre, milky whites, copper and sanguine reds. It’s a space that makes creative bones tingle.

Not so secret recipes

“Glazes are like recipes in cooking. I’m always on the hunt for a good glaze recipe,” says Jaime. “There are a couple that I’ve found to be really good bases; I have a good limestone glaze, I have
a purply one that I can add cobalt to that helps me move deeper into blues.

“I’m drawn to glazes and colours that have a richness and vibrancy to them. I really like people
to be able to be lost in the surface of the piece. Kind of like a large painting, you can get lost within
it — even if it’s just one colour, the glaze can break and change within a piece.” There’s also another similarity to cooking recipes — sometimes there are secrets. “I’m very happy to share my glaze recipes but not everyone is!” she laughs.

Some of Jaime’s glazes are reflective, liquid finishes like sun bouncing on water or dark stormy
squalls in grumpy purples. Others are shot through with bursts of red and fizzy whites, or are deliberately flat and matte and read as a large blocks of colour — stained with a deep forest green
or a bank of celestial blue.

The pieces work together to create a language that’s unique to Jaime. There’s an effortlessness
to them. Part of this is due to Jaime’s ease at taking risks, letting chance play its role, allowing imperfections to shine. “I like that with glaze there’s unpredictability and movement.”

Jaime herself presents with the same level of strength and fragility, and the confidence to leave things to chance. Standing at just under 6ft, she carries herself with the grace and stature of someone on screen or a catwalk. There is a delight and wonder to her, and the way she marvels
at the beauty of the world.

Jaime assesses fired work from her kiln — these tiles are glaze testers from her collaboration with Séraphine Pick.

At work with the scorer she has fashioned.

Finding the way

“I loved making things when I was young. I spent a lot of time building and arranging things, but it wasn’t until my mid teens that I realised that I could study art,” says Jaime. “I hadn’t done NCEA.
I had never written an essay before. I had an interview with artist Laurie Steer, who was at the time head of the art department at Toi Ohomai, and was also setting up a new ceramics course, and he encouraged me to enrol.”

Jaime says that the writing aspect of the course was difficult to begin with, but credits Toi Ohomai
for its support: “I was grateful for the English bridging class,” she says. “When home schooling,
Mum really wanted us to pursue things that interested us. I probably wasn’t that interested in writing so she didn’t push it.

“The smaller classes and the hands-on approach to learning was really great. It made sense for me
to work three dimensionally. I felt like I could express something that I’d not been able to previously with painting and drawing. I think it kind of fits my brain.”

She completed her study in 2011, then worked as an intern for Laurie in his Mount Maunganui
studio. In 2014, Jaime spent three months in London helping celebrated New Zealand artist
Francis Uprichard prepare for a show at Whitechapel Gallery. “I helped her make balata sculptures [South American tree rubber]. I also made tiny clothes and hats, and stitched hair onto all sorts
of humans and creatures. That experience definitely influenced my practice and expanded my
view of the world.”

This year has been significant for Jaime. She collaborated with renowned artist Séraphine Pick at Auckland gallery Michael Lett to create the exhibition Coloured Mud — an opportunity which says much about her technical skill and vision. She was a Miles Art Awards finalist and was awarded
the Tauranga City Council Award for her work Bell Tower (Blue), a hanging work made of chain,
cross bars and bells in a chandelier structure. She was also a recipient of prestigious Dame Doreen’s Gift, from the Blumhardt Foundation, which was a complete surprise. “They nominate two artists
a year and there are no strings attached to the $10,000 gift — I get to spend it how I like,” she smiles. “I have been needing to buy a kiln to fire larger pieces so I’ll use the money towards that.”

A group of diverse, beautifully hued works destined for the Aotearoa Art Fair.

Jaime outside her kiln shed at the rural Ohauiti property.

Making connections

Jaime takes care to always title all her works and exhibitions. “I love a good title because it adds
both clarity and mystery to a work.” Some of her titles are literal and others are more ambiguous: Break a Fig, Listening to Trees, Salt Pillars, On the Verge of Blue and Green Inside Blue. Whatever
their meaning and impression, they speak to the interconnectedness of everything.

She points to a delicately linked hanging work in cerulean blue. “This is probably the most romantic piece I‘ve ever made. Someone asked me whether there’s a meaning behind using the infinity symbol. That made me realise that I’m drawn to forms, not necessarily the meaning of them. I was like, infinity symbol? I was thinking loops!”, she laughs. “It probably deserves an equally romantic title, like Forever Love.”

This happy accident is the kind of good luck that Jaime is charmed with. So as for her quest to find the perfect yellow, we’re sure she’ll get there.

@jaimejenkins_ jhanamillers.com

Aotearoa Art Fair, 16–20 November at The Cloud, Auckland. artfair.co.nz @aotearoaartfair

For your chance to win two tickets to the opening night, follow @ourplacemagazine

Story by Phillida Perry
Photography by Adrienne Pitts