Reflecting the Reef

Pottery by Leela Chakravarti, Townsville
Our May/ June artist in focus, Leela Chakravarti, has glazed herself a successful career in pottery. IMAGE: Supplied

“My inspiration comes from the ocean, its colours, creatures and the beaches it shapes. I am also in love with the intricate details and textures of coral reefs and micro-life that live there.”

Leela Chakravarti never considered a full-time creative career until she was studying her PhD. Originally from a small village in England, Leela studied marine biology, drawing her to the warm tropical waters of Townsville.

“I spent long summer days back in England roaming the countryside each year, mesmerised by the swathes of green and gold fields and magical oak forests to explore,”Leela said.  “We would go on family holidays to the coast. I would spend hours collecting shells, sea glass and odd-looking rocks and I loved peering into the rock pools filled with weird and wonderful creatures.”

“After spending some time in freezing Canada doing research I moved to tropical Townsville to start my marine biology PhD.  Flying over the Great Barrier Reef, I knew I would love North Queensland.

Pottery created head space

“I joined a weekly pottery class at the North Queensland Potters’ Association a year into my PhD. The intensity of doing a PhD doesn’t leave mind space to do much else, so it was important for me to set aside time to be creative and I thought pottery sounded like fun!

“I had painted and drawn in my spare time all my life. But the feeling of clay spinning on a wheel in a wonky lump was so alien and opposite to the precision you can get from holding a pencil or paintbrush. The feeling of being able to make something functional and also a piece of art, from essentially mud, really appealed to me.

“I knew I was hooked when I began to fall asleep thinking of pottery forms and wake up thinking of my next glaze combinations. The need to keep experimenting – with glazes, with textures, with shapes – has definitely stemmed from my science background, and I’m so grateful to be able to transfer these skills to pottery.”

Swapping Science for Art

Although she completed her PhD, Leela has pressed pause on her science career to pursue pottery.

“My pottery teacher Edward O’Brien sat me down one day and told me I should seriously consider my future career as a potter. Initially I laughed it off – it was nice to hear, a compliment. But I put a few of my pieces for sale on Etsy and they sold! I put some more on and they sold too! I entered some vases into the Biennial North Queensland Ceramics Awards and I was accepted as a finalist! With a few more months of encouragement from Edward I started teaching evening pottery classes and I started selling at the Cotters Markets on Flinders Street.

“In the meantime, my PhD in marine biology was going well: I was working on an exciting project, trying to find ways to save coral reefs against the devastating effects of climate change. I had unofficially accepted an excellent job in Melbourne for when I finished my studies to continue my research.

“The moment I decided that I was going to be a full-time potter was sudden. Although my heart had already decided many months back, my head took a little while to catch up. I was worried I would be giving up a great career in science. I called my family, I told them that when I finished my PhD in a few months’ time, I would be a full-time potter. They were so happy for me. I told Edward and he was so proud of me. Since then I have never looked back.”

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I love how this coral-carved teapot and sugar pot duo turned out! I'm excited to announce that they'll be for sale from 7pm this evening (AEST) in my Etsy shop! A lot of work goes into these and I'm so happy to share them with you . EDIT: only the teapot is available, my dog just knocked the sugar pot off the table and the top broke off . . . #potteryteapot #teapot #sugarpot #leelapottery #leelachakravarti #oceanpottery #oceanceramics #handmadeceramics #handmadelove #townsville #supporthandmade #supportlocaltownsville #townsvilleshines #ihavethisthingwithceramics #australianceramics #australianpottery #coralreef #coralpink #teapotgift #potterygift #coralpottery #rusticpottery #teatime #potteryvideo #studioscenes #hightea #afternoontea

A post shared by Leela Chakravarti (@leelapottery) on

Leela’s background is a big influence

“My love of the ocean is reflected in my coral carved teapots and cups, and experiments with melted glass on clay. I make pottery fisherman’s cottages that remind me of home, assembled from rolled slabs of clay.

“As a marine biologist, I am very aware of human influences on the ocean. I would like my art to promote a love for the ocean and its occupants. In an energy inefficient, plastic age it’s easy to forget the consequences of our actions. As individuals we can all make a difference, however large or small, to change our ways and make the world a better place for the future. I would hope that through my artwork I can convey this message.”

2019 Strand Ephemera (26 July – 4 August)

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