Hiroe Swen

Ritualistic object No.2

1988, stoneware

Hiroe Swen was born in Kyoto,Japan. She studied painting and batik textile dyeing before taking up ceramics at the Kyoto Crafts Institute as well as being apprenticed to Master potter Heihachiro Hayasaki from 1957 to 1962.She moved with her Australian husband first to Sydney (1968) and then to a rural property outside Canberra (1970). Swen is regarded as one of Australia’s foremost ceramic artists. She has been involved with ceramics education in the ACT since 1971 when she began teaching at the (then) Canberra Technical College. From 1981 to 1998 she was a lecturer at the ANU School of Art, and in 1998 following her retirement from full-time teaching was made a Visiting Fellow. Her work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, all state galleries and numerous regional, institutional, corporate and private collections throughout Australia.

Swen has been exhibiting in Australia since the year of her arrival (1968). She was the subject of a major retrospective in 2000 (Craft ACT Gallery, Canberra) and a survey of recent work was held at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery (2008). Swen lives and works in Queanbeyan, New South Wales.

Swen is a master craftsman supremely confident in her knowledge of materials and totally adept in the techniques she employs. Hers is a powerfully individual language continuously informed by the deeply-entrenched tradition of Japanese ceramics, by the harsh beauties of the natural environment and by the insinuative influence of a range of musical styles, western and eastern.

Ritualistic object No.2 is exemplary of her best work. The form is simple and robust, the surface subtle and delicate, covering the form in an engaging web of lines and grey-green colour. The simplicity of the form is subverted by the artist’s purposeful revelation of the methods of construction – the clay slab is almost wrapped around the internal spatial configuration.

The obvious meeting of joins and folds invests a delightfully insistent plastic energy that gives the form vitality and life.

The aesthetic tension between positive and negative forms and spaces is beautifully underscored by the colour and decoration which in combination gives this piece a simple poetic elegance which speaks to each of us.


28 x 42 x 20 cm

Object number



Visual Art


Purchased with funds donated by ACTTAB 2006