Lucinda Mudge’s sell-out solo show last year at CIRCA gallery in Johannesburg was ominously titled Kill You, Eat You. The title was inspired by a local Knysna news story in which an Afrikaans boy band from Joburg were attacked at Knysna Heads while making their music video. One of the attackers shouted, ‘I will kill you and then I will eat you.’ It is this sort of “cacophony of influences” — news reports, collage of music, fabric patterns, found images and poems — which catch her attention and end up “flung together” as the visually rich narratives on her extraordinary, large hand-coiled vases.

Detail from ceramic work titled 'If you're feeling guilty its because you probably are'
Detail from ceramic work titled 'If you're feeling guilty its because you probably are'

Between raising a family Lucinda has miraculously prepared 20 magnificent new works for her first London show in May. Titled The Wolf is Always Near, she draws inspiration from art history, cartoons, pop songs, fabric designs and Art Deco vase patterns. The result: "a whimsical collisions of the popular and refined, the mundane and the elevated, the violent and the beautiful". I spoke to her in December at her Keurboomstrand studio. 

Where was your first studio and what was the first ceramic piece you made? My first studio was our small spare room in our London flat. Together with my brother James we designed a single bed that could be turned on its side to function as a desk for me. I made a series of slip cast candle sticks. Funnily enough, I still work from a bedroom in our house in Keurboomstrand.

How would you best describe your work? My work is obsessive. It consumes my life and has every part of me in it.

You’ve chosen to live and work slightly off-grid, yet still manage to stay tuned and tap into our uniquely South African narratives. Do you think being an ‘outsider’ in Keurboomstrand has an influence on your work and the way you view the world, or do you still feel just as much a part of the fear and loathing? Living here is essential to my creativity. However, it must be said that I moved here from London, and I feel connected to that world through my experience there. I have travelled extensively and I feel that I am connected through the internet. However, here my work and life are extremely private. I find that liberating. Living in a small town is very interesting on so many levels…

I found my voice when I moved back to South Africa from the UK.

After graduating from Michaelis School of Fine Art you moved to London with your husband where you worked for Ralph Lauren as a photographer. You also signed up for ceramic classes. What attracted you to the clay more than say photography as a your medium for documenting these narratives? Yes, my first classes were really just studio time, not classes as such. I had always enjoyed making pottery as a child. There is something addictive about making ceramic pieces, and there are few things that can be more rewarding than opening the kiln after a successful glaze firing. The glazed surface of my ceramic work is very alluring and can’t be achieved through any other medium. Once out of the kiln the result is final.

The surfaces of my works are textured with marks that are made when the clay is still wet, and this all comes through to the final piece, making them glisten in the light. Very, very beautiful. This is offset with the dark side — there can be no other creative medium that is quite so unforgiving against poor craftsmanship as ceramics is. I come from family of craftsmen and engineers, my father was a furniture maker, and I grew up to be very capable. I take great pleasure in producing a big vase because of the hours of work in each one. The vases I make are unique and they are mine. I am quietly very proud of my achievements.

At first glance, the shapes, intense colours and intricate detail remind me of ancient Ming vases. Yet on closer inspection there is this Bitterkomix-like humour, whimsical but also dark and sinister. Who or what has/have been the greatest inspiration for your work? My work is not inspired by any one person or thing. It is a cacophony of influences flung together with great urgency. A collage of music, fabric patterns, found images and poems.

How would you best describe yourself? I value being alive. I am family centred. I am determined and led by my own sense of urgency to create. I embrace the lighter side of life. There was a period in my teenage years in which our family suffered great personal tragedies — one after the other — and in the years after that I made a conscious decision to move forward with what can only be described as a bold sense of positivity.

Favorite icon? The mermaid. I often use the African Mermaid, Mami Wata in my work and she is often paired with a snake. I have taken on the snake as a symbol of fear.

An important life lesson? Gratitude. Gratitude on every level. I feel it every day.

'Yesterday is history tomorrow is a mystery'
'Yesterday is history tomorrow is a mystery'

The vase is familiar, homely and sturdy, yet at the same time, due to the nature of clay, quite delicate. As both a visual and a socio-political record, what is the significance of the vase as your chosen canvas? The beauty of a canvas that is round is that the story will link up and repeat. My vases are canvases that tell stories and I use this as a reference to the human condition — the idea that we are on repeat. Secondly, with a vase, it is not possible to see the whole picture at once. The image on the back will always be hidden, but we know it is there. This is a reference to the way that we live — what we chose not to see but that we know is there. Some of my vases are built with this in mind — there are two different sides to the vase, only one is visible. If you don’t like the message you can turn it to face the wall (but you know it is still there). I engage with that.

Your work was included in the recent Making Africa (2015) exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao, in Spain. What is the relevance of your work or message as a contemporary African artist? The curator, Amelie Klein, used my piece as reference to violent crime. The title of the vase is ‘Doors locked. Walkie talkie on, beams on, phone near bed, ok goodnight’. This piece confronts fear and paranoia, and is the security checklist I choose to make each night before going to bed.

Another thread that she picked up on is the effect that the internet is having on the African continent. This applies to me — I taught myself how to make these 70cm high coil pots on YouTube. I had no guidance and no previous training. Everything I learned was by watching others do it online. The relevance here is that artists on the African continent can suddenly partake in a global discussion, whereas before the arrival of the internet we were isolated due to our physical and economic restrictions. 

'If you're feeling guilty it's because you probably are'
'If you're feeling guilty it's because you probably are'

Where do most of your ideas come from? I make what I hear and I make what I see.

I’m sure you do quite a lot of reading for pleasure but also for research. Anything you’d recommend? Making Africa — the beautiful catalogue printed by the Vitra Design Museum, my work is included!

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa, by Howard W French

Little Liberia: An African Odyssey in New York, by Jonny Steinberg

This Perfect Day, by Ira Levin

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

Shipwreck! Courage and Endurance in the Southern Seas, by Jose Burman (local to my area. Fascinating)

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

What is your playlist while working? I listen to 702 Talk Radio, and then various forms of cheap radio pop. I like the cheesy lyrics.

The Wolf is Always Near runs opens on 5 May at Everad Read London. For more info visit or Tel +27 11 788 4805

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