Julie Keyes studied at the Pratt Institute, New York, before establishing her own studio. Over the past two decades, Keyes has created an extensive and diverse body of hand painted ceramic art.
Her work has been exhibited in solo shows in the American Craft Museum and the American Folk Art Museum, sold in Henri Bendel, New York, and Harrods of London and is also held in corporate and private collections around the world including the White House.
OTIUM Q & A
What sparked your interest for ceramics?
When I graduated from art school I quickly saw a distinction between painters and craftsmen. Painters rarely strayed from canvas as a medium. I was living in Marblehead, a coastal town in Massachusetts and there was a recession. I had to think practically to earn some money and create something that people would want to buy. My art had to be useful. I didn’t expect it to take off in the way that it did.
Did you consider your environment an important part of your work?
Everything I create relates to my life. Marblehead was a town with roots in both commercial fishing and yachting. We would hang trout around the kitchen and this was where my first fish sketches emerged. My ceramic art appears very instinctively, it’s not hard to find my theme as all the animals and stories are part of my childhood or near to me.
You are fearless with colour. What is the inspiration behind your inimitable style?
I look outside for colour. People tend to resist bright colour and be very pragmatic and low-risk. I don’t seek perfection; I want to let my hair down and colour in my spirit, be light and beautiful. I want people to look at my work and relate to its childlessness, its recklessness – and smile. Colour is about awakening your senses.
Is there any art style that influences your work?
Inuit art – I find it fascinating the way Inuit artists tell a story from the centre of a canvas outwards to the edge. I now work with the same notion and that is why you will often see my protagonist in the centre and the story around the edge. It was a Eureka moment for me in terms of my ceramic work – namely, working from the inside, out.
Can you tell us a little about your process designing for Otium?
Firstly I don’t ‘design’. My version of what art is works best in a circular pattern so I’m driven to make it happen on a plate. I draw the plates on site after months of toying with stories and pictures in my mind. I have a workroom in my head and collect details from something that has caught my eye in passing or a particular thing that I cherish and want to replicate. For Otium, my elephants were a giant, hilarious circus troupe performing for an audience. They really came alive to me.
The Pomona line is quite different to Sanna and Elefant. What was the background to this design?
Funnily enough, this was originally inspired by my mother. I wanted something for teatime. Joyful, pretty, abundant but teatime-pretty that I could imagine in a cottage with an old stove and a beautiful wooden table. My mother was very playful – this was all about abundance and happy homemaking and that translates to evening entertaining with excess. This is what I love about creating a range for tableware: the style can be completely reinterpreted in different settings.
OTIUM by Julie Keyes
The Sanna tableware line delivers whimsical sea still lifes, alluding to the simplicity of past generations and forms found in prehistoric Inuit art.
Taking inspiration from worldwide festivities, the light, bright circus troupe of the Elefant Collection evokes fun and a sense of the carnival.
Hand-decorated porcelain with clusters of grapes and warm-season harvests, the Pomona Collection celebrates the fruits of life.