Kairava Gullatz has been working with clay for decades and has gained a bounty of experience in her years of formal training and exhibition in Germany and later here in Aotearoa. Kairava is well known as a talented tutor in this art form and has been teaching in Auckland for over 20 years. The infectious enthusiasm of her students and life on Auckland's wild west coast has provided her generously with the inspiration required to maintain her own creative practice.
When chatting with Kairava it is clear that gesture is an integral part of her personal expression. Her fluid arm movements and fine hand gestures tell a story as she speaks about her relationship with the clay, a medium that offers her not only a career in the arts but also a vital therapeutic outlet.
Kairava’s ceramic works are incredibly playful and rich in movement. Her hands can be seen all over her bird jugs from circular ridges as she works the clay upwards to the little dip which forms the spout... where a little finger sized beak emerges! As she speaks about her love of the sea we are reminded of her series of sculptural rock pools which perfectly mimic her hand gestures of waves heaving seaweed over coastal rocks.
When Covid emerged Kairava was overwhelmed by the now familiar combination of uncertainty and fear that confronted us all, in her words she was left “rattled”. The galleries closed doors, her pottery workshops ended and the physical distance between herself and her Mother in Germany weighed heavy on her heart.
It is in moments like this that a humble lump of clay can become trans-formative! While many of us were glued to the television awaiting news updates Kairava was at her potter's wheel deep in a hypnotic connection with the clay. She deliberately chose to work with porcelain due to its unforgiving nature, a material which required the absolute attention of every cell in her body as she spun and worked a raw lump into a tall, elegant and eggshell thin vessel. During this process Kairava was free from her conscious mind and able to see the hours through peacefully, often leaving the wheel at the end of the day feeling unburdened and light hearted.
These many bell shaped vessels are still lined up neatly on high shelves in her studio. Unglazed and unfired they sit surrounded by the richly coloured and textured works that are a signature of her artistic practice. They seem solemn. A snapshot of a time of isolation and reflection, one we all shared over a year ago now.
Kairava is now free to run her pottery classes and has enjoyed life back in her gorgeous sanctuary/studio. If you are lucky enough to visit her in the studio after a firing of her bird jugs you will be greeted by a symphony of delicate clinking sounds as the pottery cools and the glaze begins to artfully crack. We were thrilled to have this opportunity and to welcome Kairava into our Creative & Brave whanau.
Words and images by Tui Miller.