Laurie Melia: The Ceramicist with a Thing for the Feminine
I came across Laurie's work while scrolling through my discover page on instagram a couple of months ago. It's how I find a lot of artists that I'm interested in, and Laurie was no different, except she was. She not only gets to spend everyday doing what she loves in her studio, but she is a full time artist in a world that seems pitted against the female artist. Maybe it's something in the water in Australia, but Laurie's work is feminine, fun, and fleeting. Every shop update, she almost immediately sells out of pieces, and her Vulva Vases are a topic of fun controversy across the world.
I reached out to Laurie over instagram (or slid into her DM's) to chat about how Australian culture influences her work, what humor can do for feminism, and what it's like to be living the dream.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: So tell us a little bit about yourself!
Laurie Melia: I am a ceramic artist living and working from my home studio in Perth, Australia. I have been practicing ceramics for three years and I’m still learning all the time! I’m very lucky, sometimes I still can’t quite believe the response I have received to my work, and I have the Instagram community to thank for that largely. They’ve been so supportive and enthusiastic!
PT: Can you tell us how you got started with ceramics?
LM: I initially started out with polymer clay, which I consider a gateway clay. Polymer is great because you don't need any specialist equipment to get started but I knew I wanted to progress to ceramics eventually. So, my sister and I decided to take a short summer course on Ceramics at TAFE. It was just a once-a-night course for a couple of months but by the end of it I was totally hooked and knew that it was the medium I wanted to work with from then on.
PT: You create many items; animal necklaces, vagina vases, personified vases, sculptures, jewelry stands, and more. Can you tell us about your practice? What gets you into the studio? What does a typical day look like to you?
LM: It’s very rare for me to go a day without some time in the studio; my studio is at home so it’s always there ready for me to get to work -- weekdays and weekends. I don't have a typical day really, I'm not a very routine orientated person so sometimes I will be in the studio very early, if that’s when inspiration hits. Other times I will fluff around all day and end up working all night instead. I like to be spontaneous with my creative process, I have new ideas all the time and I like to get to work on them as soon as they pop into my head. I don't spend a lot of time drafting things on paper; when I get a new idea I get a very impatient energy to get it made.
PT: We are super into the vulva vases. What inspired them?
LM: Thank you! They are a natural progression from my previous work. My first ceramic pieces, and the majority of my pieces, were nudes and different representations of the female form. I did feel a little bit nervous initially with sharing the vulvas, they were very personal and they weren't hiding behind any humour like some of my other work. I wasn't sure what the response would be but I was so happy that people embraced them so lovingly and enthusiastically.
PT: What do you have to say to people who view these creations as offensive?
LM: It confuses me. I do understand that a lot of people are not comfortable with their bodies, or naked bodies in general, and that’s not my place to judge, so I try not to. I was very self-conscious about my own vulva when I was young and I wish I could have seen more representations (and acceptance) of the differences in vulvas back then. This was before the Internet when you had to search through the ‘sealed section’ of Cosmo to try and get any information. And it wasn't very good information.
PT: Would you consider yourself a feminist?
LM: Yes, my personal values are 100% in line with feminist ideology, but I don't talk about it in a political context enough to feel like I’ve really earned the badge. If I have any voice on that platform it’s through my art and I know a lot of my audience identify as feminist and connect in that way with my work.
PT: What has been the greatest outcome of these ceramic pieces? What has been the greatest challenge?
LM: To me the greatest outcome is the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve had to pieces like the vulvas. It means the world to me to hear all the positive feedback and to be a part of girls just celebrating girls and supporting girls. It’s really wonderful and it’s given me confidence where I may have been lacking it before.
PT: You’re a young independent businesswoman and artist. How do the business aspects influence the art aspects of your life? And Visa Versa?
LM: I am definitely an artist first and a businesswoman second. I still struggle with the business side of it; it doesn't come naturally, I’m not very savvy. I don't have a business model or anything like that, and I’m very grateful that my approach of just making whatever I want is working for me. I know there are pieces I could just sit down and bang out 100 of because the demand is there, but I really hate working that way. It’s not worth it to me if I don't have the freedom to explore new ideas because all my time is taken up making things just because they sell.
PT: If you had advice for someone starting out in the industry, what would it be?
LM: Be honest in your art and don't be afraid to share it. Simple advice but its a good place to start.
PT: Could you talk a little bit about the Australian artistic community? We’re located in the United States, and from an outside point of view, it seems like female creatives in Australia are so supportive of one another, like there’s a relationship and support system running through your culture.
LM: Yes, Australian women are definitely supportive of each other in the artistic community! Perth is a very small city so you do a few markets and you know everyone. I think its important to be supportive, especially when we are talking about art that’s celebrating women, its important to encourage each other to be courageous to make and share…and just generally go forth and prosper.