The Bold and Beautiful Ceramics of Elnaz Nourizadeh
If you haven’t heard already heard of Elnaz Nourizadeh, allow me to introduce you to the woman behind your new favourite ceramics brand. Elnaz grew up in Tehran, Iran and discovered her love of clay early on. In 2013, she relocated to Melbourne to pursue a career as an artist and dived into the Australian art scene with her bold shapes and brightly decorated pieces. Between a tightly packed work schedule, studying and teaching night classes, Elnaz somehow found the time to catch up with us to chat about her process, the ideas behind her work and her experience of transitioning from Iran to Australia.
Please tell us about you and your life with ceramics. I started to play with clay when I was just a child. My parents noticed my interest in making things and arranged a ceramic course with one of Iran’s leading ceramic artists, Maryam Salour, whom I continued to work with in her studio after my lessons finished.
I began my professional life as a ceramicist and pottery teacher four years before I moved to Australia. During my first week in Melbourne I found a studio in Sandringham called Le Studio Art Space where I set up my business.
These days I’m studying a Master of Fine Art at RMIT so I’ll be in a more academic environment for the next couple of years.
What draws you to clay? Back in Iran, I tried sculpting with other materials like wire, papier mache, metal and even textiles but clay was always particularly special to me.
I love working with clay because it makes me calm. It taught me to be patient and changed my life.”
Can you please tell us about your childhood? I grew up in a northern suburb of Tehran (the capital city of Iran), really close to the mountains. I have one older sister and two brothers. My mum and dad work together, they make handmade lampshades.
You moved to Australia from Iran in 2013. How did you find this transition? Moving to Australia held a lot of challenges for me. I was far from my family and the English language and cultural differences put a lot of pressure on me. From a professional point of view, I had lost all of my artistic and professional network and had to build my business from scratch. I wasn’t sure at first if my style of work, with its bold colours and irregular shapes, would suit the taste of Australians.
Saying all that, my experience of moving to Melbourne has been a very positive one.
The people here are helpful and kind and their strong support of small businesses and art and culture (which seems to be a natural part of being a Melbournian!) has really helped me to handle the challenges of my relocation.”
This month is our ABANDON issue. What comes to mind when you hear this word? The first thing is my family, then my friends and my memories.
What kind of ideas do you explore in your creative process? I like to explore the art of painters like Miro, Picasso and Bacon, and Matisse’s paper cuts. I find inspiration and ideas for my ceramics in their work. I also like Henri Moore’s sculptures for their simple and natural figures. When I’m making, I’m always thinking about balance and harmony between the shapes, as well as making each piece unique.
How is pottery different in Iran than in Australia? Iran has a very long history of art and culture, especially in the area of ceramics and pottery. You can find pottery in most places there and in some of the cities, like Lalejin in Hamedan Province, ceramics and pottery are the main industry. I easily had access to different techniques and materials for a cheap cost when I was learning, but there was less diversity in the styles, colours and techniques. The Iranian pottery industry is mostly focused on functional pieces with traditional glazes and designs. In Australia, I have better access to materials from all over the world as well as local ones.
What does a typical day look like for you? Family life is really important for me, I always start my day with breakfast with my husband followed by 15 to 30 minutes of morning meditation. It’s really hard to talk about a typical day at the moment as I have started to study again!
The days I am in my studio have almost a fixed routine – turning on some music (normally classical) and cleaning all the mess made from the night before which helps me to start fresh, my own kind of Zen meditation. Next, I’ll check all of the pieces made the previous day, changing their shape, trimming, fixing the handles or sanding if needed, before throwing 5-20 new works. If I have enough pieces to load the kiln I’ll also do this. I normally check my emails and read and research for an hour or two in the afternoon before going back to my ceramics – adding glazes, practicing sculpting new forms or trialling new materials. Some evenings I’ll have students. My husband and I cook dinner together two or three times a week.
When I’m at uni though life is a little different – I spend most of my time researching and practicing my sculpture technique.
How would you describe your aesthetic? Liberal forms, designs and colours, and clean and perfect execution. I pay attention to details and accept accidents as a part of the process which add more to the final work.
Where do you go to feel inspired? Galleries and walking along the beach at sunrise are the main places but I also get inspired by sitting on the couch reading and looking at famous artworks.
You use a lot of bright colours and bold, interesting shapes. What draws you to these? Colour has been a part my life since I remember.
When I started making I didn’t want to be like other ceramists in Iran using only the traditional blue in my pottery.
Availability of other colours in my teacher’s studio helped me to choose my own colour palette. I also like to spend time on changing the shapes of my ceramics because I believe that is what makes them more personal and special.
You were mentored by leading Iranian ceramicist, sculptor and painter, Maryam Salour. What was this experience like? What lessons did you learn from Maryam? Maryam studied ceramics in France for many years before returning to Iran to set up her own studio. Initially I began helping her in the studio, cleaning, wrapping and whatever else she needed and in return Maryam taught me ceramic and sculpting techniques and also how to believe and trust in myself as a female artist in Iran.
What kind of smells and tastes take you back to Iran? The sour taste of fruit and the smell of leather and lilac have a strong connection to my memories back in Iran.
What were some of your reasons for leaving Iran? There were so many different reasons, but the main one was my husband. We were together for three years before he moved to Brisbane to study. After a couple of years being far from each other we decided to get married. He found a job in Melbourne and I followed him there from Iran where I was sure I could have a better life and career as an artist.
Do you ever go back? If so, what is this experience like? Yes, I do go back to Iran, almost once a year to visit my parents and my family. It is really hard to say how my experience is, I find and feel a lot of cultural and social differences. I can see that I miss my family and friends but I’m happy to live in such an amazing place.
What are some of the things you love most about Australia? I easily can say almost everything.
I love the kind, friendly, open minded and relaxed people and native Australian plants and flowers.”
I love the lifestyle and good coffee in Melbourne – if only we had snow in winter and cheaper avocados then I could say that here is really heaven!
What does the future hold for Elnaz Nourizadeh? I think getting my MFA will really transform my life in a way artistically. I’d like to exhibit my pieces in NGV and many other galleries around Australia and the world.