Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Meaning through drawing

When I started drawing the rock pools the drawings seemed to be just about pattern and line and have no content.  Without the narrative sustenance of an intense personal history I saw pattern and colour beautiful and pristine but unconnected to emotion.  The rush of the waves and overwhelming yellow/blue brightness of the shore pushed and pulled me scouring my head and eyes.  Limpets, barnacles and periwinkles clinging to the rocks, closed, secrets hidden, even when I prised them off.  My eyes looked and looked but just couldn’t see.

By contrast the bush is full of personal history. Every step echoes and magnifies a million steps I have taken before.  Birds, creatures of legend and metaphor, their swooping, gravity defying lightness and penetrating liquid sounds are familiar and welcome.  Here my eyes looked and looked and saw what wasn’t there, there was too much narrative getting tangled into the drawings.    
Through being in these landscapes, taking photos, looking and drawing again and again what was truly in front of me and not what was in my head the meaning and emotional significance of the bush poured through the drawings into the rock pools.  By drawing I learned to really see.  By the end of the semester I felt that the rock pool drawings on the pots had become an abstract rendering of the experience of the rock pools, the bush drawings are still entangled in my historical narrative.  I’ve started looking at shadows in the bush, and connections between twigs and branches, details that I am not familiar with getting away from the recognizable narrative of the bush and the birds, moving towards revealing the surprising, overlooked yet intensely familiar beauty of the bush. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writng and Making

I notice as I try to bring the act of writing into direct contact with the act of making that there is a tendency to veer away from describing or even speaking aloud about what I'm working on  in the studio. 

Integrating writing into my studio practice is going to be a long process.  It still seems quite separate as opposed to reading that is as much part of my making as breathing is part of living.  Photography has become integrated and is now a process akin to drawing, a way of helping me see.  The photography helps see and experience the landscape, coalescing it into line and pattern through photographs and then drawings signaling back to the experience of the initial sighting in a dynamic loop of communication.  Photography, experience, drawing and making pots bouncing signals back and forth, becoming tighter and more resolved as the forms grow and the information is sifted and reduced to it's essence. 

I want writing to become part of this process, so the writing is not merely a record of the process, a written history but part of the artwork.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Crafters- A Call to Arms

Making personal, deeply embedded drawings on the Masters pots has affected the way I make tableware, this in turn has developed my social and political ideas about the role of the handmade and the part a maker plays in society.  I have listened to and read Garth Clark’s interconnected addresses that given to the American Crafts Council in 2008 and 2009 “How Envy killed the Crafts” and the follow up “Palace and Cottage”.  One issue that Clark addresses is the ubiquity of crafts in rural areas and the role this plays in rural regeneration and economy.  Clark points out that rural crafters rely upon studio sales, bring money into the local economy and are part (In the US ) of a billion dollar industry.  The positive affirmation given to working artists by referring to their jobs as an industry is something that has not received any attention in Australia.  When we in Australia refer to the “Arts Industry” we are referring to a large range of people working as bureaucrats to distribute art dollars and display art.  I think artists could empower themselves by taking back to the term industry for the makers.  Using industrial terms such as “small businesses” and “manufacturers” positions artists within the mainstream economic model that is the dominant discourse of government in our country.  Emphasizing the economic input from artists to communities quantifies the value that artists have in contemporary Australia.  Arts discourse has been dominated by talk of grants and handouts when in reality working artists are taxpayers.  Artists manufacture, export, import, employ and spend within our economy.

In focussing almost completely on university Fine Arts courses with an emphasis on concept over material skill craft education leads to graduates who see themselves as “artists” and buy into the hackneyed, romantic notion of an artist starving and working mainly for love, needing “inspiration” before they are able to create anything. The recent decimation of the TAFE system and the reluctance of universities to commit to the teaching hours needed in the studio for comprehensive skills development within the crafts has led to a dearth of graduates with practical skills.   For crafters to gestate and survive after university there has to be a renewed focus on the studio crafts as an industry. Skill, knowledge of materials, and economic necessity can easily overcome neurotic ditherings about “inspiration”.  I personally, am inspired to make several dozen well designed, fast selling, pieces of tableware when my electricity bill comes in.  I don’t need to wait anxiously for the muse to appear. Confidence in my skills as a result of repetition and deep familiarity with my materials makes this robust, economically driven approach to making into a sustainable business.  

The etomology of the word “amateur” stems from the Latin root ama-re meaning “to love”.  Originally used without the disparaging connotations associated with the word today, an amateur was someone pursuing a pastime for love without any thought of pecuniary advantage. This has become the modern definition of an artist in popular imagination.  We must position the crafts as an industry and crafters must take back the primary position within the debate over advocacy and funding.  We need to be treated like a professional body of taxpayers, manufacturers and part of the mainstream economy.  Give us tax breaks, money for advocates and developing markets and for God’s sake buy our work.  Every government office in Australia should have a cupboard full of locally made coffee mugs. Government department budgets for entertainment and catering expenses should be spent on Australian tableware, Australian furniture and Australian textiles.  An appointment with an elected representative should take place in a room furnished completely with products of our own crafting industry.  This would create demand and supporting local industry is the least we can expect from our governments. 

Pottery music fusion performance at a local food festival.  Trumpet, djembe, and wheel! 

It is artist's responsibility to speak up.   Appear locally, and convince our towns that handmade bowls, crafted object are something everyone can own.   Write to your local member of parliament and ask why visitors to the council chambers are being served coffee out of mugs manufactured thousands of miles away.  Don’t donate your work.  Point out the economic sense and political mileage and sheer pleasure to be gained by supporting the craft industry in a completely practical way, by buying and using craft.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fighting Windmills

Choosing to make handmade tableware is quixotic in this age of mass production.

I believe the networks initiated through handmade things are essential to human communication.  The act of sitting to eat or drink creates many little spaces within a day where there is possibility for small acts of communication between object and user.  The intimacy of the interaction between the tools and the tool wielder is an intense private moment and more reciprocal than the we, the tool user imagines. Tools are working on us before we even touch them.

Take the teacup for example. Even the most unappealing collection of the "World's Best Dad" and supermarket cups in a melamine staff room cupboard alters our behaviour.  As you reach for the "World's Best Dad" mug the handle dictates where you must pick it up from.  The fact that very soon this clean cup is going to be in contact with your lips means that conventionally we never pick up a cup by it's rim.  Already this inanimate object has changed out behaviour.  The network of cultural and historical meanings embedded in a teacup has made us, the top predator, the tool maker react.

The physicality of physical objects catches you up in their meanings.  Bill Brown (Thing Theory) talks about looking through objects to see their myriad layers of meaning.  I prefer to think of it as looking into objects, as you look into them the more meaning unfolds, the historical, social and cultural threads and complex , textured world of interpersonal communication.   the unfolding of material function is haptic,  communication through touch.  By time the user is engaged with a handmade pot, their bodies are in intimate contact with it  and a circuit is established  with signs and meanings zooming back and forth between maker and user.  The functionality of the  handmade pots serves as a medium for communication.
Shannon Garson- porcelain rock pool teacup

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Drawing birdsongs

25th August
 I've been trying to draw bird songs.  In the midst of getting breakfast, trying not to waste electricity and worrying about how people in Australia are ever going to  afford rental accomodation this seems like an eccentirc, trivial task.

The sound of bird songs surrounds you physically just as the scrubby twigs, branches, new growth and leaf litter does.  The sounds have body, their lipid texture entering your eyes and gently shaking the the delicate balance of bones stacked like a rickety tower of children's building blocks inside your ears.  The life of the bush continues as I, ridiculous in jeans and shoes sit writing in a pure white sketchbook while the catfish noses it's speckled way through the clear brown water.

The bush is full of half glimpses.  The ghost of a movement, the shaking leaf and fragmentary evidence of something that has continued it's existence indifferent to the human species.  The creek contains refractions of sky, shifting across the surface ripples, myriad creatures touching on each other's existence through reflection on the surface of the water, a sophisticated web of real and mirrored connection.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Making Pots for David Attenborough

Sometimes when I'm in the studio I pretend I am making pots for David Attenborough.

 To capture the essence and physicality of a plant, or a bird , or a feather you have to give up thinking about the design and what you think you know exists. There is no "It should go there" in nature.  You have to trust your observational skill and let your eyes relax onto the object of contemplation.  The hand must be ready , a willing tool.  Your own will coming through your hand must be prepared to fade into the background betraying your presence in the drawing with only a tremor or flick of line, your subconscious signature. The role your own personality plays in the observation of nature is in the germination of interest in something hidden or overlooked.  Once the eyes and hands are engaged it is your task to just observe, look closely.  Open your brain so it is free from assumption to see what is in front of your eyes.

Once you look like this, other things, human things, metaphors, stories and legends begin to attach themselves to the subject, sometimes they are not the ones you would expect.  Sometimes the old legends attached to what you thought was a familiar subject are surprising and meaningful  even though they are exactly what you expected, the looking has filled them with new life.

Would DA appreciate  the addition of and extra vein on a leaf for "balance"? No he would not.  Anthropomorphizing subjects leads to mistaken conclusions in both art and science.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

mutant terracotta and explorations in terra sigilata

 Mutant terracotta, fired three times, bisque, 1280 and then terra sig applied to warm pots and refired at 1120.

 Mutant terracotta with black clay terra sig and scraffitti bird.  Mutant terra cotta is very strong when used with dark brown underglaze (a mix of commercial underglaze and iron oxide) or iron saturated terra sig.  Dark clay absorbs decoration at higher temperatures so I have had to adapt the subtlety of the initial decoration and then "pull" the drawing back to the surface after the 1280 firing with brushwork and terra sig, then refire at 1120.

 Little pinched pots- mutant terracotta and porcelain. Terra sig made from Jane Sawyer's black clay that she gave me- the colours are natural!  The black clay terra sig is beautiful, glossy rich reddish brown when fired the third time at 1120.

 Two cups, fired three times.  Black clay terra sig is very successful on top of an iron saturated terra sig.
Two little vessels.  It is very difficult to get the white  terra sig working effectively over the darker colouts, I had to mix it with underglaze for the 1280 firing and then refire it with pure terra sig on top at 1120 to get the terra sig surface and slight sheen.