Five Questions with Elisabeth Vullings

16 November 2023

Elisabeth Vullings is a Kāpiti Coast-based artist who has been a finalist in the Parkin Drawing Prize four times, securing a highly commended award In 2020. The Kilns Project will open at Toi Mahara Kāpiti Coast District Gallery in early 2024 and will showcase Elisabeth's first foray into ceramics.

I caught up with Elisabeth and asked her five questions about the exhibition and the new direction she's taking with her work.

What can people expect from your exhibition?

My exhibition The Kilns Project explores the relocation of two beehive pottery kilns, built in Te Horo, Kāpiti in the early 1970’s by acclaimed potter Mirek Smišek. The kilns were sited directly in line with the proposed PP2O Expressway and therefore scheduled for demolition. Although the kilns were not registered by Heritage New Zealand, they were deemed to have significant historical, cultural, and architectural value and were therefore relocated and preserved. Since 2018, I have been documenting the relocation process and producing various art works (ceramics, paintings, and installation) based on imprints, fragmentation, and preservation. These will be exhibited together to give an overall sense of the site during the relocation process – which was a meticulous and labour intensive effort!

Ceramics are a new artform for you. What drew you to this particular practice?

When I started following the story of the kilns, I was drawn to the ceramics process, mainly because it all seemed like such a magical process that I did not really understand. There were thick, lustrous textures and glazes on the interior kiln bricks that had built up over years and I found them so fascinating. It prompted me to seek out some pottery lessons with local Ōtaki Potter Jennifer Turnbull….2 years later and I am now a member of the Ōtaki Pottery Club!

How does working in this way differ from your other artworks?

I love that you can take such a humble, malleable material in its rawest form and create a beautiful object from it. My paintings usually take months to complete, so to be able to create a finished piece using clay in just one week is very satisfying. I like to experiment with texture and glazes so it's always very exciting to unload the kiln and see the (often unexpected) results!

What inspires you as an artist?

I have a degree in Interior Architecture which really informs my style. I use a lot of precision linework and like to draw on architectural practices. On the flip side I’m also very interested in organic form and texture, so my work is about combining these two opposites to strike a happy medium. I also love to research, so after finding an interesting site or story I will begin to incorporate historical narratives into my work.

What’s next for you?

I have just completed another solo show that examines my Dutch/New Zealand identity through concepts of ‘home’ - memory, experience, and migration. My family (husband Rory and I, and our two children Charlie and Maata) are now planning to relocate to the Netherlands for 3 months or so next year so I can continue exploring this theme further!