Some of us may fail to see the appeal of a discarded cigarette butt in the gutter, or a forlorn apple core tossed aside, but not ceramicist Denise Porter-Howland of Eleventeen Ceramics. In her series ‘Beautiful Rubbish’, she takes the unlovely and unloved detritus and reimagines it, turning the sense of abandonment and sadness into surreal pieces with beauty and humour.

“It comes from feeling a bit on the outside and trying to fit back in,” she says. “They are not meant to be perfect but almost cartoonish. People might think of human teeth or rotten banana skins as gross or grotesque, but these are glossy, a little bit bigger and a little bit brighter than real – they look like they’ve been made by Mickey Mouse.”

Denise tells of her favourite piece, the result of a happy accident. Tiny tentacles reached from the inside of a black dish, and an experiment “using glazes that I shouldn’t” sheened the bottom with a rich puddle of deep, dark greens and blues. Packing it carefully for shipping, she suffered a brief pang. “My heart just went, ‘Oh, off you go now.’”


But she gets a huge sense of satisfaction when customers make a piece their own. “People have personal reasons for choosing a piece and they insert their own feelings into things. When they get it into their own home, it sits with their own stuff and takes from a new environment.” And sometimes that transports her idea to new places, such as an ashtray littered with ceramic cigarette butts being used to serve food, or a fried egg plate hanging on the wall.

In addition to the ‘Beautiful Rubbish’ art pieces, Denise also crafts a homewares range, transforming black and white mid- fire clay into strong, usable pieces such as vases and roasting dishes, often with a soft black, tactile finish that begs to be held.

A quirky fascination with feet and an obsession with footwear led Denise to her latest project, a collection mapping her own life history in ceramic shoes. The Nike Air Max is already made and is drying in the garden before its journey across town to the kiln. A slinky Prada slingback and classic Nike Jordans in scarlet and mint green are next – you can see these at Artspace Aotearoa, on Auckland’s K Rd, in July. TRACY WHITMEY