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Embracing life’s cracks

April 29th,2024 | Arts & Entertainment

Chelsea-based ceramicist, Paula Murray, created work she is referring to as “Made in China”, which she worked on during a three-month stint as an artist-in-residence in Jingdezhen, China, known as the “porcelain capital of the world.” Photo: courtesy Paula Murray

Ceramicists like Paula Murray spend their lives shaping clay, but the celebrated Chelsea artist says that clay has in fact been the force shaping her life for the past 40 years. 

After a highly international career – including most recently an exhibition at the prestigious Salon Révélations at Le Grand Palais in Paris and an artist-in-residency in the “porcelain capital of the world,” Jingdezhen, China – Murray is having a homecoming of sorts, exhibiting a large survey of her work at Galerie Montcalm in Gatineau until May 19.  

The exhibit, entitled “Mes mains, mon cœur” consists of unique ceramic vessels, wall compositions and installations created over the past few years. 

At the centre of the exhibit is an interactive installation that Murray says is intended to be interacted with throughout the exhibition, as she invites visitors to leave their imprint on a piece of clay and place it in a large, circular grid on the gallery floor. Altogether, the fragments will generate “a visual image of the way in which small actions are all linked together,” Murray explains. 

The theme of “Mes mains, mon cœur,” according to Murray, is “change, and our response to what life brings us.”

“I’m interested in clay because I think it speaks to transformation… it records every fingerprint and everything done to it; it has an energy,” she explains.

Part of her process is creating ceramic pots, which she points out are often thought of as representative of the human body, and then setting up a form of tension that causes the pots to crack. 

“This allows me to explore the metaphor of ‘fracture,’” she explains. “When we come into the world, we are smooth and perfect, but then life has a way of cracking everything. It’s about how we embrace that, and how we go about healing.”

Murray knows first hand the kind of transforming effects life can have: She was studying science at Ottawa University in the 1970s when she made a “serendipitous” discovery that, she says, changed the course of her entire life.

That discovery was clay and a studio space that allowed her to explore her budding interest in pottery, ceramics and sculpture. For many years she says she has felt compelled to share her inspiration, running art camps for children from her home on Meech Lake and recently helping establish a ceramic studio at La Fab sur Mill in Chelsea. 

One of her installations titled “Passing Through” speaks to the trauma of homelessness, which is a reflection of Murray’s interest in exploring how people, individually and collectively, respond to trauma. Taking four days to install, with the help of friends Andrea Rowe and Allison Wood, Murray describes “Passing Through” as “19 porcelain cones symbolizing individual souls [which] are magically suspended in a web of linen thread between earth and sky.”

Anyone wanting to better understand Murray’s evocative and refined artwork can find the artist at Galerie Montcalm from 2 to 4 p.m on April 21 and May 5. There will be a guided tour with sign language interpretation on April 28 and a closing reception on May 19, which will highlight the collaborative work created during the exhibition.

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