Shaun Hayes on the contradictions of clay

The work of ceramicist Shaun Hayes is a finely balanced feat of contradiction and contrast, on several intriguing levels. His new show Single Use is a continuation of his career’s primary idea: the intertwining of everyday disposable objects with traditional ceramic forms. Or, as he puts it, “Creating sculptures that are both indicative of contemporary throwaway cultural issues and the timeless nature of ceramics.”

The result is a series of ceramics that are at once playful, satirical and loaded with meaning. “[The exhibition] merges single-use objects and transforms them into vitrified ceramic vessels intended for multiple uses, working as a contradiction to their intended initial use.”

Yet Hayes, who lives near Canberra, is careful not to venerate traditional ceramics over the disposable ephemera of everyday life. In fact, he takes a strikingly critical approach to his own medium.

Shaun Hayes, Going Global, 2023, midfire clay, glaze and lustre, 25 x 20 x 12 cm.

“Ceramics are made to be used multiple times; however, they are discarded once damaged, the initial purpose is utilised, or the item has faults,” he explains. “This creates waste with enduring environmental costs—in some ways similar to single use plastic. Earlier in my career the idea of ceramics being a sustainable or natural medium seemed more plausible—now I see ceramics as one of the first industries where society began to forever negatively impact the environment around us.”

Another key element to Single Use is the ongoing influence of Chinese ceramics, partly linked to Hayes’s time spent in the country over the years. And there is a certain irony at play here, too.

“The Chinese influence is hard to get away from when referencing historical ceramic vessels. Funnily enough, China is also now the biggest producer of plastic products in the world, creating a full circle of influence within my work.”

Single Use
Shaun Hayes
Stanley Street Gallery
18 September—7 November

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith