Amber Creswell Bell is a creative hustler – a self-imposed title that finds the writer-turned-art curator unearthing talent, polishing it up and showing it off by way of bespoke exhibitions, creative promotion or, as was the case for her recently released Clay: Contemporary Ceramic Artisans, a beautifully complied tome. “My aim is to make art accessible and un-intimidating,” says the Sydneysider. “I’ve found that artists hate having to promote their own work, so I take care of everything…” from scouting the perfect gallery space to handling sales and every canapé and catalogue in between. “Most of all – I do it with full passion.” With another book and three exhibitions in the works, Amber talks the art of curating, why ceramics are carving up the scene and how doing things her own way saw her dream job come a’ knocking.
How does a writer become an art curator?
When the writer decides she wants to step away from the computer! I do love the writing and research that goes into my articles or books, working alone and getting absorbed in the ideas and the words. But, a couple of years ago I just felt a show curating itself in my head. I was compelled to put together an exhibition of artists that I had either written about or stumbled across in my research. It was born of a desire to do something tangible and three-dimensional where I could interact with humans – artists and art lovers – in real time, face to face.
What are you looking for when considering artists to showcase?
I think the fact that I don’t have a formal qualification in ‘art curation’ might be my biggest advantage because I don’t know the rules! I just do things my way. I like to champion young or emerging artists and give them a platform to show their work in beautiful spaces – maximising the number of people eyeballing their work via good promotion and PR. I am constantly scouring online platforms such as Instagram for unrepresented artists that I personally resonate with, and I know straight away when I am onto something as my heart will race when I find them.
Why do ceramics, in particular, take your fancy?
One of my favourite possessions is a large ceramic vase that my great uncle fashioned out of some clay he found in the bush. That vase was always around when I was growing up, and now it lives with me. I think it is beautiful and perfectly imperfect. I believe ceramics are currently so popular because in this day and age – everything we do is so ‘virtual’. We also live in a time when everything is so fast, mass-produced and disposable. Humans are responding to this with a yearning for things that are slower across the board – slow food, craft beer, home grown, handmade, unprocessed, bespoke. Ceramics to me is the ultimate representation of this.
How did the opportunity for Clay come about?
Right from my very first curated exhibition, I have always included ceramics alongside the painted works or photography. My interest was probably also evident in the subjects that I chose to write about for editorial, and my tendency to often post pics of ceramics in my Instagram feed. Well, this didn’t go unnoticed! One day the publisher, Thames & Hudson, approached me and asked me if I would be interested in writing a book about ceramics. I didn’t even have to think about my answer – it was a dream job! It just goes to show…. you never know who is watching what you are doing.
What was the biggest challenge you came up against in compiling Clay?
I was pregnant with my third child when I was approached by Thames & Hudson. I didn’t want to tell them straight away in case they thought it might be an obstacle to getting the book written – so unbeknownst to them I was working to a double deadline, with the finished manuscript and the baby due in the same week! Also, as the book profiles over 50 ceramicists from around the world – there was the added challenges of time zones, and language barriers. It took a significant amount of project management to keep across so many artists too – but it all came together beautifully.
The biggest learning you took from the Clay journey?
The hardest part was having to cut some chapters from the book before it went to print – which meant losing some artists. This was not something I had considered having to do – but when the book came together in the end there were some chapters that were not as strong as others and to leave them in would not be the right thing for the book as a whole. I found that tough… However, this did teach me the importance of making hard decisions to achieve good outcomes.
What does your workspace look like?
I have to admit that I don’t really thrive in conventional workspaces! I prefer to work at the kitchen table or outdoors on our deck. I travel light – and pretty much run my entire operation via my laptop and my iPhone, with a handful of favourite pens. That’s it! I like listening to music as I work, or podcasts. Very rarely will I work in silence – which is a good thing too as I have three young children. I always, always have fresh flowers around me when I am working.
What advice do you have for other creatives wanting to step out on their own?
There is probably no perfect time to do it, so don’t sit around waiting for a big flashing green light to tell you when! If you put your heart into it, and it is genuinely what you want to be doing – I believe that success will follow. Sometimes it also pays to say yes to projects that are daunting and terrify you – as this is where you will achieve the most personal growth. And mix with other creatives – you never know what opportunities comes out of these meetings, even in the most casual of situations.