In Her Tauranga Studio, Jaime Jenkins Finds Evolution In Clay

In a verdant valley of the Ohauiti hills on the edge of Tauranga, where orange blossom permeates the spring air, I find contemporary artist and ceramicist Jamie Jenkins, 30, making herbal tea in her weatherboard studio.

Inside, the light-filled space is divided in two; there’s a brimming ceramic workshop with clay forms in various stages of completion and a quaint kitchenette and living area equipped with a cast-iron gas hob for brewing tea or blanching her greens from the vege patch out front. Many windows frame the lush foliage outside, and in front of the kitchen window, a ceramic wind chime sculpted by the artist chimes in the breeze.

The artist’s shelves are laden with her ceramic forms, while larger stoneware works sit on the floor. There are woven-like clay structures that could be stools or tables in mustard yellow and mossy green and bold architectural structures in carmine red and cobalt blue. Stoneware is found in every corner and on every ledge, each with their own story — some made years before and many in the process of being formed for the Aotearoa Art Fair, where Jaime will be presenting a solo show, Fleeting Hour, for the first time, with her Wellington dealer gallery Jhana Millers.

“The work sits somewhere between sculpture and function, I like to let the viewer decide — you could sit on them, or not,” she says quietly, pointing to a deep blue, plinth-like form that could be used as a side-table or stool.

She gestures to a sage-green, woven form with a chalky-looking surface: “I fired this one upside down because I was worried it might collapse during the firing process, and I was left with this flatter surface — which I really like.”

Jaime’s process is often experimental, particularly now, as she is in the process of upscaling the clay works she hand-builds, which can often lead to complications in the firing stages and lead to longer drying times — that could be many weeks in the cooler months.

“I have often felt an urge to create my own ceramic versions of things, which has led me to make work that explores both sculpture and functionality," says Jaime Jenkins. Photo / Ginny Fisher
“I have often felt an urge to create my own ceramic versions of things, which has led me to make work that explores both sculpture and functionality,” says Jaime Jenkins. Photo / Ginny Fisher

She’s currently experimenting with adding more ‘grog’ to her clay to make the finished product more stable for functional use — grog being a granular material made up of waste materials that have already been fired and ground up like brick or rock, for instance.

The down-to-earth artist grew up locally in a large family and was homeschooled; every day, after school work was complete, she and her siblings would scarper for nature, building and decorating huts and exploring nearby mudflats.

Naturally, the land and the coastline in the Tauranga region has been an ongoing inspiration. For this new body of work, Jaime was drawn to rocky outcrops and coastal boulders… the edge of the earth where it meets the ocean.

“I suppose I am responding to my environment — the greens, ochres and blues, the meeting points between the sea and the land.”

The more geometric architectural works in this collection point to those sheer, dramatic faces common on the rugged New Zealand coastline.

Jaime’s standing as an artist to watch was solidified when she was picked up by Wellington gallerist Jhana Millers two years ago — and this year she was a finalist and section winner in the Miles Art Awards for her work Bell Tower (blue), 2021 — a sculpture that continues Jaime’s interest in how to create movement and sound through clay — a material that is usually motionless and silent.

Like her more recent chain-linked screens, Bell Tower (blue) was hand-formed and fired in one piece — quite a feat for such an intricate large-scale piece, the work also reverberates with subtle sound.

Jaime’s hoping the room-dividing installation she has made for the Aotearoa Art Fair might make the odd chink and chime, although she’s a little unsure just how interactive it might become once the space is full of viewers.

The artist’s first memory of working with clay was as a child, crafting a ceramic bear with her grandfather. “He always said I’d got my clay talent from him,” she grins.

Jaime went on to study ceramics at Toi Ohomai in Tauranga and holds an Advanced Diploma of Visual Art (Ceramics) under the tutelage of celebrated Mount Maunganui ceramic artist Laurie Steer.

Her artistic career began working with domestic ware — cups, bowls and other functional pieces, but soon she realised her interest lay more in pushing the material to its limits by creating larger sculptural works that defy the boundaries of what clay can be. She says her most impactful periods of learning were internships with other artists and potters.

Like most well-known ceramic artists, Jaime has spent time at Driving Creek — the pottery mecca in nearby Coromandel created by the late Barry Brickell — one of New Zealand’s most celebrated ceramic artists — and recently she collaborated with painter Seraphine Pick for an exhibition at Michael Lett titled Painted Mud, which saw Seraphine paint on Jaime’s ceramic works. In the more distant past, Jaime had a stint in the UK, where she assisted contemporary artist Francis Upritchard sculpt balata dinosaurs.

Of her recent work, she’s full of curiosity about what she can make with clay.

“I have often felt an urge to create my own ceramic versions of things, which has led me to make work that explores both sculpture and functionality. I would say I have developed my forms through years of working with clay and in doing so, encounter challenges that lead to problem-solving and experimentation. My forms are continuously evolving and I am sure they will for years to come.”

Jaime is currently experimenting with adding more ‘grog’ to her clay to make the finished product more stable for functional use. Photo / Ginny Fisher
Jaime is currently experimenting with adding more ‘grog’ to her clay to make the finished product more stable for functional use. Photo / Ginny Fisher

Her talent for glazing is evident in the subtle, natural hues she concocts — she shows me a selection of colour swatches — there are washed-out rose tones, cool sages, forest greens, acidic yellows and eggshell blues.

She picks up one of her ceramic shelves designed to hang on the wall — they are both sculptural and functional — a crescent-shaped shelf in lemon and blue has organic appeal, while the square altar-like forms could be shrine-like spaces that would look as appealing empty as they would holding a coveted object.

Jaime’s day starts at around 8am when she can be found rolling or preparing slabs of clay — most of her work is slab-built rather than thrown on a wheel.

Most days, she’ll sit at her table and make shapes with clay — vacillating between fluid and delicate shapes for the chain-linked works to the larger, more solid forms of plinths and stools, which require a more physical approach.

She enjoys making unique glazes by riffing on established recipes — Jaime says glaze-making is a bit like a chemistry experiment that sees her mixing raw materials such as silica and feldspar with oxides to create endless colour combinations.

The artist has her own gas-powered kiln, which is housed in a tin shed beside her studio. Gas heat brings a unique and rich element to the glazing process, says Jamie — a result of the chemistry of the heating process.

“Besides, there’s not enough power in this valley to power an electric kiln as all the houses share one grid,” she says as she shuts the shed door after discovering the remnant of a bird’s nest beside her kiln.

Back inside, as the spring rain starts to fall, Jaime boils up another pot of her favourite cup of Lemon Verbena tea and hands me a mug; she brushes her fingers through the windchime above the kitchen sink to demonstrate the sound it makes — a delicate chink, just loud enough to break the silence of the valley.

Leave a Comment