Denise Porter-Howland, aka Eleventeen Ceramics, pays homage to the abandoned and revered through her clay designs.
Denise Porter-Howland’s world is wicked and wonderful, the underbelly of any good fairytale. From her home studio in Grey Lynn, Auckland she crafts surreal apple cores, ears and ashtrays. Highbrow fashion pieces, such as a ceramic Prada shoe that could be straight out of Carrie Bradshaw’s wardrobe, mingle with stray eyeballs and gnarly teeth.
“I would say most of my art is purely based on a feeling,” Denise says. “Through ceramics I allow the objects to tell stories of memories, sadness, abandonment and beauty.”
These feelings form the body of an ornament range, as well as functional homeware pieces that are both sculptural and for the everyday. Stocked in shops such as Naaytu and Company of Strangers, alongside commissions on her Instagram, you’ll want to run, not walk, to get your hands on one of her fabulous designs.
When and how did you start making ceramics?
I first began making ceramics in Melbourne around seven years ago. Before that, I was interested in creating hanging sculptures in plaster. I liked how the porous nature of plaster allowed me to keep carving and altering the form, but this also meant I was continuously challenged by its fragility. I felt committed to making pieces to last lifetimes, so clay became a perfect fit.
Walk us through a typical day in your life.
Working from home means I don’t really have a typical day – often on Sunday mornings I can be found working in my studio still in pyjamas. I begin with 25 minutes of yoga daily to ensure I set my intention for the day and get off on the right foot.
A lot of your pieces celebrate abandoned and discarded objects, such as banana peels, cigarette butts and apple cores. Why do these motifs continually resurface in your work?
I consider every object has a place and a history, even when we think about the space in which a given object occupies. There are thoughts and processes that become part of our automatic living.
I chose to purchase this banana, I chose to consume it and now it is my choice where the skin ends up. I take the bruised, abandoned banana skin and I recreate it so that it is beautiful and glossy and clean and worthy of a gallery space or mantel. It can represent many interpretations: the cigarette butts often evoke strong emotions, personal history – disgusting debris. It really is up to the observer to inject authentic meaning.
What’s something you wish more people knew about ceramics?
There is quite a process to making ceramics and many variables to consider. The beginning construct must be well executed to avoid cracking, the clay shrinks at each stage and the glaze must fit the clay for a desired outcome. My practice is hand-building, it’s slow and demands patience but I also feel a gentle sense of control.
How long does a single piece take to make?
When I take an order for a specific piece, I will allow three weeks to produce the end product.
We love that you’re a bit of a shoe fanatic, are you more of a sneakerhead or a heel gal? I love both sneakers and heels. My go-to shoe would be my Balenciaga 3D-printed slides; they go perfectly with absolutely everything.
What’s the story behind the name of your company?
Eleventeen Ceramics is my brand name for the objects and collectibles range. The word Eleventeen came about when my youngest son Arjun was learning to count – he was convinced that it was truly a number. When I exhibit, I usually go with Denise Porter-Howland as it’s a little more serious.
You explore a lot of big fashion names in your art, from Prada to Miu Miu. Is this out of reverence to these brands or scrutiny?
I love the idea of taking certain coveted items such as a Gucci sock, a Prada mule or a Miu Miu bag and recreating my own ceramic version. It’s my way of paying homage in an art form. Whenever I am duplicating a logo, it is always very obvious that it is intentionally hand-done and imperfect. A mix of humour and tragedy.
What’s been your favourite piece you’ve ever made?
My most favourite piece would be the Nike Air (Taxi) Jordan, it’s such a handsome shoe. But then there is also a wave dish I made a couple of years ago, all the different glazes collide and react. It was quite experimental, like a beautiful accident.
Do you have any exciting developments in the works?
This year I am honoured to be a Scape artist in Ōtautahi. I am feeling super excited about the challenge of making a public outdoor art piece on a large scale. This opens to the public on 25 November.
Interview by: Caroline Moratti. Photography: Babiche Martens