I gave my students two assignments at the end of this fall session to work on over the break. One comes from one of my first ceramics teachers, Walter Hyleck:
Take your favorite pot from this semester and use it every day, at every meal for two weeks. Say it’s a mug: drink everything out of it. Sleep with it. Really use that mug and get to know it. My update on this assignment: first draw a sketch of it and list its best features and drawbacks, and after two weeks of use, draw it again and note what you know now that you didn’t before from using the pot. Take the DNA of this pot and sketch its descendant, the next pot you’ll make with your new awareness.
The other was for students who may not take another clay class soon. It also was a two week assignment:
Every night as you’re brushing your teeth before bed, ask yourself, “How have I engaged the world with my hands today?” (Typing on a keyboard doesn’t count.)
“Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.”—Lao Tzu (via 7knotwind)
“Ido Tea Bowls: Treasured Possessions of Muromachi Daimyo,” currently showing at the Nezu Museum, presents an array of 72 rare tea bowls that were once owned by renowned warlords, tea masters and Buddhist temples. Produced by country potters in kilns in Korea’s South Kyungsang province, these bowls were originally for domestic use and became treasured by Japanese tea masters and Muromachi Period (1338-1573) warlords for their rustic simplicity and rarity. They came to play a pivotal role in Japanese history.”
Majolica is an ancient technique (going back to the Persians) which employs a full palette of watercolor-like brushwork on a thick white glaze, usually on a buff or red earthenware body. If you think of the gorgeous tile work of Mexico, Spain and Portugal or of lively Italian pitchers and platters, you are probably thinking of majolica.
Majolica has its own quirks and demands. I’ve worked with it for over twenty years and I’ll be sharing my know-how at Sarratt Art Studios Saturday, September 21st. We’ll supply bisqued tiles, glaze and stains and I’ll have handouts to help you explore majolica further in your own work. Bring your ideas, sketches and source materials, your favorite brushes if you have them, and be prepared to leap into a part of the ceramic world that offers brilliant colors.
[Images: Kessler, Linda Arbuckle, Spanish majolica, Mexican majolica, Posey Bacopolous]
Each day we slaughter our finest impulses. – Henry Miller
My work is a call to action. My search, in the dark, in the past, in the world, and in the mud, is for resonant forms and their negative spaces. These forms and spaces are made real and lasting through the agency of clay - the earthiest of materials – in order to engage the senses.
I use familiar but half-forgotten imagery to bypass easy recognition, inviting investigation and encounter. I make specters, clay specters, figures of loss, figures of promise and hope that fail to come to seed, ideas passed down over generations but tossed to the margins. They stand soundlessly. I make buds swollen and ready to burst and held in a freeze frame of fired clay, always on the brink of revealing themselves. These organic forms are stripped of surface or of color. The vibrant green each bud cries out for is displaced to the flat wall. They speak of growth but read as anthracite, living material so desaturated by time and pressure they can only lie buried or burn to ash.
I choose this dichotomy, this out-of-phase shift of surface to form, to draw an analogy to my larger concerns: our cultural false dichotomies of Humankind and Nature; Mind and Body; Life and Death. We hold these entities to be separate and antagonistic, and we wreak havoc with this belief. These all are the same abstraction played out in different arenas.
To believe in an intrinsic difference from all other life forms is to unhitch the tether tying us to the consequences of our exploitative actions. The mind has been made to pre-empt the body and death has been sequestered from its central role in life, a full-on abdication of the connection between our mortal selves and all other living things. With these abstractions we create a gulf. As we lose access to our senses and the sympathetic resonances our perceptions stir within us, we lose hope of drawing on wisdom deeper than the current ticker-tape mentality. We lose any counterweight to the widespread narrative of violence, overconsumption, and devastation of life. We lose our common senses.
I make the work from a spirit of commonality, so that I might give heart to others on the same search. It is possible to revive our birthright of infinitely nuanced senses and, in doing so, regain a grounded internal compass.
I am proud to announce the first all ceramics show as part of Nashville’s Downtown Art Crawl. Audry Deal McEver and I will present:
RETROGRESSION August 3-29, 2013 Gallery 40AU curated by Megan Kelly
69 Arcade, 244 N. 5th Avenue Nashville, TN 37219 615-266-4028
opening reception August 3, 4-9 pm as part of the Downtown Art Crawl
Retrogression is the evolutionary process of passing from more complex to simpler forms. It occurs when, approaching maturity, a form becomes less highly organized than would have been predicted by its earlier stages. It is a simplifying of the natural world.
This two-person show will explore retrogressive themes using the common medium of clay. Deal McEver, a Nashville native, digs further into the parallels of propagation in culture and the botanical world. Kessler, a Chicago transplant, employs displacement to question our conventional dichotomy between humankind and the rest of nature.
Clay is about hands, about touch, about sensual discernment. Clay is concrete, earth, real. Clay is balky. It can flow through your fingers like a song or the Milky Way, it can just come with you. It can fail, collapse, implode, explode, crack, deform, dunt, tear. It is frail. It is mindbogglingly durable. When pots come to live with you - on your table, in your sink, by your easy chair - they become mortal. Part of the family. Capable of dying suddenly or aging steadily with dings and chips. If they are sequestered to the china cabinet, they remain inanimate, another decorative object in the collection.
Clay is like skin with its faint translucence, moistness, and the forms so readily pair with what we know best: bellies, lips, shoulders, throats, feet. Clay is a lower art form worth significantly less than its high art counterparts of paint and bronze no matter how gifted the maker, how inspired the work.
Clay is a medium of struggle. There is the coming to terms with the material - the wooing, listening, coaxing, doting, mourning. There is the mastery of the transformation through firing, where you manage the sister medium of glass and the spectrum of colors metals yield, persuading them to expand and contract in great heat precisely the way the clay does. Clay is articulate. You can hide the tracks of your progress, but left alone clay will reveal every step of your process, every decision, hesitation and stutter.
Clay is the only naturally occurring material with plasticity. Wherever you push soft clay, there it will stay. It will take on any form you give it and remain nothing but a certain kind of dirt if you don’t give it form. Clay is broader and deeper than the usual.