According to ceramic artist Cheryl Lucas, she likes a challenge. Her biggest and most constant challenges are her ideas.

Her work varies between technical commissions, exhibition work and domestic ware.

After the earthquakes in Canterbury, Cheryl was commissioned to replicate chimney pots for historical buildings in Canterbury. The process required fastidious detail and had many elements of trial and error. Hoisting a flue weighing 55kg onto the top of a roof in the wind had its stressful moments.

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Cheryl works with two electric kilns in her Lyttelton studio.

“Early on I decided I couldn’t fire an oil kiln and have a child. So I bought an electric kiln and decided it was me who was in control of what ended up on my work, not the kiln. I was no longer going to able to rely on the effects of fire. Whatever happens in the firing process is because I’ve done it and it depends on whether I’ve got the chemistry right in the glazes. It completely changes how you look at things.

“Environmentally, an electric kiln is a much better way to go. Sometimes I can glaze a piece and fire it right through, avoiding the usual bisque firing. Occasionally I’m not happy, so I’ll reglaze and refire, layering it up until I reach the desired effect.

“Electric kilns provide an oxidation environment. This is the opposite of the smoky atmosphere you get with oil or gas. It’s certainly more predictable using an electric kiln for firing but you don’t absolutely know what’s going to happen – what will come out the other side.”

Cheryl’s current exhibit The Firing Line was recently on display at The National gallery.

“I started off by thinking about how we build into the environment. Gun emplacements have always interested me. The idea that you’re hiding, but you’re also on the lookout. I started thinking about the whole concept of baches and bunkers and bolt holes, all these people wanting to hide. I was curious about people protecting themselves.

I quite like the idea that some pieces have got legs; they’ve got movement in them. They’re almost running away. They’re not based on anything any particular. Just “out of here”, Cheryl says as she taps her head.

Cheryl’s eponymous work – ‘Royal Muntin Ware.Ref.No 6.3/2011’ (now in the Christchurch Art Gallery collection) which includes miniature road cones – quickly turned from a single art piece to a modest charitable movement.

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“After the installation was shown in The Dowse in Wellington, everybody wanted a road cone.

“I decided for every cone I made, I’d donate $5 to the rebuild of a local museum.”

Each cone is a tricky process that involves detailed work on a pottery wheel – which means there are often errors. Only one in four cones ends up making the cut.

“There’s an awful lot of stuff in my studio that I ought to just chuck out. I keep work and I say ‘one day...’
“When you’re building a sculpture, there’s a line between something that exists, and something that is about form and composition, how one thing fits with another. I have an inability to make stuff without an idea, without a reason for being.” Is that a good thing?

“Well it’s certainly a trauma for my head. On another level, it is what fires me up. I’m never the same. My work is always different. It’s certainly what keeps me going.”

In DetailJoshua Brosnahan