Members Journal: Jackie Cavallaro

Members Journal: Jackie Cavallaro

Welcome to the first instalment of our Members Journal, an ongoing series that gives you an in depth look at some of our working members, their artistic practice, and what inspires them.

This week we talk in conversation with one of our very first members, visual artist Jackie Cavallaro. Jackie lives in Wollongong and her art is heavily inspired by the natural world around her - she is a radiant presence in our studio, she inspires us every day with her generously creative spirit, her wisdom and sense of calm. 


As well as being a very accomplished artist Jackie, you're also a very experienced meditator. Do you find there are many synergies between your meditation practice and your artistic practice with clay specifically? 

I think for me that clay started a flow which I was not having with my other practice. It just showed me that you can step back from everything and you can observe that something is really unblocking you, and [clay] helped me unblock other things in my life as well. And it’s a very physical thing - the physicality of the clay in your hands. It gives you that almost mind / body connection similar to meditation where you’re really connecting with the mind and the body. So when I started using clay, it was like I could feel that it was right and it was pushing and promoting and unblocking things for me.

"Clay is a form of meditation because it's pure mindfulness" 

There is something so nice about using your hands - to create something with your hands.

Absolutely, and clay is whole hand. We’ve got most of our nerve endings in our hands and our feet, so when you’ve got clay you are stimulating all of that, and I think that’s the real difference with it. In the past when I did some work at the Salvation Army with people who had been under some really tough circumstances - if we gave them clay, then it brought them down. It grounded them straight away. They wouldn’t necessarily make anything - it was just the act of it, you know, trying to make something. Sometimes they would make and destroy it, but it was just that whole making something that had such a grounding effect on them.

What does your ideal day look like Jackie?

My ideal day definitely starts with a walk around the [North Wollongong] harbour and the lighthouse, or out through Puckies [at Fairy Meadow] and then a swim in the Old Man’s Pool.

The Old Man’s Pool?

Well, I call it the Old Man’s Pool - I think it’s actually called the Man’s pool - but there does seem to be a plethora of old men doing laps in it, and old ladies like me [laughs]. And that’s a piece of magic, it really is. There is also lots living in it. I often take little videos of the walls of the pool and the things I’ve seen in it - you know, transparent prawns, and these tiny little fish that are bright red just zipping in and out of the seaweeds. That’s just magic. And as soon as I do that, I feel fantastic. And then I come here [to Clay Wollongong] and to me, that is just the perfect day - I come here and have some really great company and I work.

Do you find it helpful to have people around you when you’re creating?

Yes, I find that it’s actually really necessary because I can really just stay in the house and not realise that I haven’t seen somebody for days. And I was quite happy like that, but I found as soon as I came here and I had people around me I was much happier. And also, it’s kind of like an exchange. I can ask Hannah [Clay Wollongong's owner] anything, I can ask Kyati [our studio technician] anything. And I think the whole idea of having a whole lot of stuff that just happens in the studio that I don’t have to worry about - like I really don’t want to to load a kiln, and I really don’t want to mix glazes - but I like having all of the glazes just sitting there so I can just use them on my pots.


You just get to focus on what you want to do.

Yes, exactly what I have to do. I just have to clean up after myself, and the space itself is maintained.  It's just so good. And sometimes when you're struggling - I remember one time Hannah saying to me, “you do know that your glaze to clay ratio is completely off” and I thought, "Ahhhh, I get it - that makes sense - now that you say it, I can see that" [laughs]. You know, it’s things like that - having people who have the technical know-how around you - and sometimes just asking them “look I want to do this - how could I do this?” That’s been fantastic. 

"Having [local visual artist] Mark Merriken around the studio - that was just incredible - he showed me how to use an airbrush, and then of course I had to go off and buy an airbrush [laughs]."

What I have found too is that ceramic artists seemed to be very very collaborative and, well, collegial - is probably the right word. You know, everybody will share what they’re doing or how they’re doing it. Nobody is secretive. And nobody minds what everybody is doing. So it’s kind of, it’s a very generous mindset which is really nice.

That’s really nice, especially for such a big studio where there’s so much space and you get to meet so many different people working every day. 

I know. And we have puppies as well! [laughs]. Yeah no, it’s really my happy space.

What inspires your art practice - in particular with clay? I can see in these particular vessels there’s lots of coral and influences from the sea and the natural world.

Yeah I think that is the major thing, because it’s really trying to reproduce what it is that I see. But, that’s been in my artwork for quite a while. I made these paper cut outs in diaries and boxes and things, and I would have fish and seaweeds and they’d be cut out very finely and they would be layered in front of one another. So that kind of natural world that we have so much around us was kind of what was always in my artwork. I also collaborate with this really amazing poet Tamryn Bennett and we just had a poetry book published - we always seem to be on the same page - so I use her poetry with my artwork and she uses my artwork with her poetry - in her poetry books. So that another kind of influence that’s in there, and that’s been there since I very first started working.

When did you start collaborating with Tamryn?

I met her in the art shop. I used to work in Levers the art shop back in the day. She came in one day because she was always making these beautiful little books and at the time she had an exhibition where she was collaborating with artists down at the old courthouse. I looked at and thought I’d really like to do something like this, so I said to her do you know anybody who would like to do that - and she said well I would! Which is what I was hoping she’d say. So we started from there, and that was 15 years ago or something now. Long time. So that’s been very special. I’ve put her poetry on some of my pots too.

You can follow Jackie and see what she's up too on instagram @jacquelinecavallaro