Ilse Black, contemporary ceramic artist in her studio

Featured Artist

Ilse Black


Ilse Black (b. 1969, Cape Town, SA) is an artist and illustrator. In 2019 she completed an MA in Illustration as part of reshaping her practice and growing her audience, having come from a Fine Art background. She has had a broad ranging career from decorating ceramics to the development of a sustained practice in conceptual, systems driven drawings. Recently, Ilse’s work has undergone a shift in focus which reflects her passion for sea swimming. She lives at the seaside and swims, body surfs and snorkels in the English seas, through all seasons, embracing the elements and all weathers. Swimming in the sea, research around the subject and making art which relates to this practice, is imbedded in her lifestyle. She shares her passion for the sea and sea swimming with a group of friends who collectively form her muse. Ilse’s work aims to nurture, inspire and raise awareness to the pursuit of well-being through wild sea swimming, and to promote a duty of care towards ourselves, each other and the oceans that support us. Ilse’s work includes ink drawings, ceramics and digital collage. The imagery is celebratory and is suitable for a range of contexts.

Ilse has had solo exhibitions at the Lisa Norris Gallery, London, and at Fisherton Mill, Salisbury. She has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her drawings have been shown in several selected group exhibitions including the National Open Art Exhibition, where she won the ‘Best from the South West’ prize. She has also been selected to exhibit work in ‘Drawn’ at the Royal West of England Academy and the Threadneedle exhibition at The Mall gallery in London. In 2016, Ilse was commissioned by Aspex Gallery to install her 3D wall drawing, ‘Cut Loose’, at Portsmouth Guildhall. The work remained in place for 12 months. Ilse continues to work in her studio in Bournemouth, and is also involved in a community art project which focuses on enabling people to engage with themes around land and sea through art, poetry and storytelling.

“My work is ‘autoethnographic’, drawing on my experience of being a seasoned sea swimmer. For me, the activities of art-making, theoretical research and sea swimming are linked by an intense curiosity for the role of water in being human. I embrace the notion of a conceptually and physically embodied integration with the sea, which naturally foregrounds an ethos of guardianship over the world’s waters.

I live and work in Dorset and my focus is predominantly on our local coastal environment. In examining sealife and seaweeds through swimming and drawing, I attempt to reveal the physiologies, behaviours, facts and fictions that drive us to be explorers in, into and on the sea. Through my work I attempt to extend the language used to describe the sensorial feelings and perceptions of open water swimming and visually articulate its benefits for the individual and community. Although grounded in the ecological and mindful well-being of people and place, my work is above all celebratory, positively engaging with ‘the wild’ of our oceans and their natural beauty.

I strive to reflect the watery nature of my subject through carefully chosen materials and processes. The human form is thereby acknowledged as a vessel of brine, interconnected with the sea, and the swimmer an active part of the environment. Currently, the resulting forms encompass drawing, digital images and ceramics.

I hope to nurture, inspire and raise awareness to this pursuit of well-being, and promote a duty of care towards ourselves, each other and the oceans that support us.”