In conversation with Leela Chakravarti
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Leela Chakravarti and I’m a Potter (Ceramic Artist). I make mainly functional and some decorative pieces.
What is your background?
Before becoming a Potter, I was a Marine Biologist. I studied in Plymouth, spent some time in Canada and then moved to North Australia to study for my PhD. My research was based on tropical coral reefs and how to save them against the effects of climate change. I learnt pottery while in Australia, in my spare time, and soon started teaching classes, exhibiting and selling my work. After I finished my PhD, I decided to pursue pottery as a full-time career. I have since moved back to the UK and set up a new studio in Devon.
Do you always work with clay or do you experiment with other mediums?
I always work with clay but I experiment with my own glazes and firing techniques to give varied colours and textures.
Is it ceramics and the arts that inspire you, or do you pull inspiration from elsewhere e.g., nature, memory, imagination?
I pull inspiration from nature, in particular the marine world. I love rusty browns, greens and turquoise - colours that are warm, earthy and coastal. I particularly love classic forms but like to give them a contemporary twist.
Do you have a favourite piece of art and if so, who is it by and what is it?
My favourite piece of art is a tea bowl made by Len Cook in Australia. It is a beautiful, rustic, wood-fired piece of pottery, made up in the tropical mountains of Paluma rainforest in North Queensland.
Do you follow any rituals when you get in the studio?
I like to line everything up on my shelves in neat rows, whether it is freshly made pottery or fired work, ready to sell. That way I can look at each of my pieces and figure out what I love about them or what I may tweak next time. It also gives me a huge sense of accomplishment, which motivates me to create more.
Other than that, my work days consist of a lack of schedule, I work much better without routine and like to mix things up. This helps with my creativity.
How do you begin creating a new series of work?
New series of work always follows inspiration from older pieces of work. I build on ideas that have stemmed from outcomes of previous pieces. I like to think that my work evolves in an organic way. Inspiration may come from a particular reaction of a glaze to the firing, or where one glaze overlaps another forming minute crystals, a form that intrigues me or a texture or colour that I admire.
What makes a Leela teapot complete?
I love to have an overarching handle. To me, that makes one of my teapots complete. I think it adds a touch of elegance.
Lastly, what advice would you give to somebody who has just started working with clay?
When I started, I hated it. I found it difficult and I expected to make something fantastic straight away. After reducing self-inflicted pressure to create perfection, I started to enjoy it. Enjoying it allowed me to become better and better and find my own style. So, my advice is to enjoy it and practice as much as you can.