Last Friday evening, I was excitedly hurrying into the city during peak rush hour to catch the opening of Derek Au’s work at The Clay Studio in downtown Philadelphia. American-born of Chinese descent, Au lives and maintains his studio in Jingdezhen China, a region historically known for its ceramic traditions.

Derek Au, “Tin Bowl”. Porcelain, 2.75″H x 4.75″D, 2012.
Au’s pieces are made from delicate slabs of porcelain that he creates sympathetic to sheet metal patterns often found in tableware or more specifically, metal holloware. Pieces are perfectly celadon-glazed to create exceptionally functional tableware that at first glance do not appear to be something that one dines upon everyday. The imaginative display the curators of this exhibit envision actually employ silk-screened “stream of consciousness” quotes from the artist on the gallery walls surrounding the work; one of these quotes implies how one should not feel these ceramic pieces are intended to be “only for show” – but rather insists that one promises to interact with Au’s pieces at daily mealtimes.
Derek Au: Installation view, The Clay Studio, opening night on Sept. 7th, 2012.
Photo: P. Sullivan

Further, the most wonderful feature of seeing this installation in-person is a quote from Au where he speaks about an aspect of his career and life, prior to committing himself full-time to his life and work as an artist. One can only sympathize with Au’s past situation and in most circumstances, agree whole-heartedly as makers, designers or artists as to his decision:

“Years ago I spent a few months at The Clay Studio as a regular paying member. I had just quit some horrible (but high-paying) Internet start-up job, which had me living for almost eight months in a hotel in King of Prussia. One day I just packed my bags and left. I rented an apartment on South Street and walked to The Clay Studio almost every day. Didn’t even fire anything while I was there. Just throwing every day. No intention of making art or a statement, just throwing. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life.”Derek Au

Derek Au can be viewed through September 30th, 2012 at The Clay Studio located at 137-139 North 2nd Street in downtown Philadelphia, PA.

Except where noted, images are courtesy of The Clay Studio, Philadelphia.

Posted by:artdoesmatter

Patricia Sullivan is a metalsmith and studio artist – living in the suburbs of Philadelphia across the great Delaware River in Southern New Jersey for the past 12 years. She spent seven years prior, living in both New York City and the Hudson Valley, New York, studying at Parsons School of Design, moving onward to receive a second degree (post-graduate) in Fine Arts/Metals at SUNY New Paltz. A Philadelphia native, Patricia was exposed to the arts and music of this region since a young age, receiving her first Bachelor's degree at Temple University in Philadelphia before her sojourn to New York began. Patricia has exhibited her artwork nationally. Recently, Ms. Sullivan was one of only thirty-four artists worldwide to exhibit her work at the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design as part of being selected for Metalsmith magazine's prestigious annual "Exhibition in Print - Moved by Metal."

17 replies on “Honesty and Elegance of Derek Au

  1. “No intention of making art or a statement, just throwing. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life.”

    This is the secret isn’t it? This is what runs my practice – and what I tried to share with my students. Ideas about making some kind or art or statement will usually kill creativity. Au’s exquisite pieces are a brilliant testament to honest artisanship.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

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  2. Hi Patricia: thanks for sharing. I visited Jingdezhen China some years ago and did not have the chance to know more about local artists like Derek. I hope I will have the chance to see his works one day.

    Btw, I have been following your blog but it seems that your posts did not appear under the reader. That’s why I missed your post. I just came across something and thought of you…

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    1. Thanks Denise – Derek’s work is truly something spectacular to view, in-person. Likely I wasn’t in your WordPress reader b/c I’m overdue for adding a newer post soon. I’ve been busy in my own studio recently making new work, but I plan to add a new review about the arts here in Philly in the next week or so! Thanks again so much for visiting my blog.

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    1. I agree – as artists we all tend to overthink what propels us to make, and truly, should not allow our head to get-in-the-way of making. Thanks so much for your wonderful comments, gentlestitches!

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