Tamlin Blake is a multi-media artist whose works revolve around cross-cultural South African symbols of wealth and status, and more recently, what constitutes and underpins each individual’s sense of belonging and identity. Working primarily with textiles, the artist’s work spans tapestry, beadwork, and now with her Drilling for Water series, Tamlin has entered the realm of ceramics.
In Drilling for Water, Tamlin speaks out about water scarcity issues in a series of beautifully abstract Half Squares. We spoke with the Riebeek West artist to find out more about her process and what inspired her latest artistic series.
What was the inspiration behind the Drilling for Water series?
Drilling for Water II is a series of three Half Square ceramic works. The inspiration for the Drilling for Water series came from water scarcity issues in the small village of Riebeek West, where I live.
Riebeek West is on the slopes of the Kasteelberg in an area known as the Swartland in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The village is surrounded by wheat, wine and olive farms and has been classified as a drought disaster zone.
Recently, we had a borehole put in on our property, which involved a lot of effort and mud, and lots of celebration as we discovered that we have a strong water force beneath our property! But with this water source came many questions about our responsibility as to how we use it.
Many people who live in the Riebeek Valley don’t believe people should use boreholes, while others do. There is this incredible visual contrast across the valley of a patchwork of green-versus-brown that announces who has borehole water and who doesn’t, which heightens this tension and emphasises our responsibility about how we use the water source we’ve accessed.
This issue of water scarcity has been very much at the forefront of our lives over the last two years. The heat in Riebeek West has always been notorious, with 42 degrees in the shade expected – but this summer it was much worse. There was a constant haze. The sky was never crystal clear. Everything was dusty and blurred. The pixilation in the Drilling for Water series captures that lack of clarity. The water diviners pinpointed our water source to be right beneath our driveway. The trucks they use to drill down to the water are huge – we had to take down a pillar on our property so that it could get in.
The Drilling for Water series is about that day. The central focus of ‘Drilling for Water II’, specifically, is an abstract of the big red water-drilling truck they used to bore deep down into the dry earth to reach water beneath our property.
What is a Half Square?
Half Square is a ceramic art product born out of collaboration between fine artists and skilled ceramic artisans. Developed by Yellowwoods Art, the BEE enterprise is named Half Square after it’s triangular tile format – a repetitive modular unit both beautifully simple and easily scalable. Select artists are offered the extraordinary opportunity to create something that transcends their original medium, on an architectural scale, working with an irresistibly vast colour palette of more than 170 custom glazes.
Artistic collaboration is integral to Half Square; with designs commissioned from select artists and designers, to be translated into ceramic relief artworks by highly trained ceramicists. This co-creation ignites an interesting dialogue, giving artists the opportunity to create something that transcends their original medium and expression, and inviting the skill and artistic interpretation of artisans in the ceramic rendering process.
Custom ceramic colours are created through numerous combinations of quality glazes and pigments, offering the artist or designer a vast palette with the finest of nuances and gradations possible.
Tell us about your process when working on the Half Square concept.
I worked on the series concept for a few months, without any expectation or deadline, and then threw it into the pot of concepts at Yellowwoods Art to see if something would come of it. The process was a play space, which I enjoyed. For five to six years I’ve worked predominantly on tapestries woven from recycled and hand-spun newspaper, so I saw this Half Square design as an opportunity for me to use a new medium as a creative break. Each tapestry typically takes me a month and a half, so the conceptualising of new work happens slowly and irregularly.
I love putting puzzles together. I’ve made a considerable amount of beaded and tapestry works, and they’re both combinations of pixels, and putting puzzles together. So working on a Half Square felt right. I puzzled out this Half Square design behind the scenes for a few months. Many things informed the process: I used photographs of the water-drilling truck in our driveway, designs, sketches, Photoshop-manipulated images, etc. I wanted to see how Drilling for Water series would look pixelated and blurred and the results of that process translate into the result of the finished Half Square mosaic.
Can you take us through each work in the Drilling for Water series?
Drilling for Water I is installed as an asymmetrical triptych in Nando’s Corlett Drive, Johannesburg, South Africa. It is grey, watery and still.
Drilling for Water II is in Nando’s Chadstone in Australia. There’s more movement in this one, with the emphasis on the water drilling truck boring, the water rising, and the atmosphere of hazy heat and dust.
Drilling for Water III emphasises the truck and mechanics of the borehole drilling process and is in landscape format. It plays with the idea of the flow of the water, not so much going up, but around. The third one is still a concept that will be made when commissioned for a site-specific installation.
Find more by Tamlin on her website.