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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Red Clay in the Studio

For years the pristine translucence of porcelain has filled the studio but recently I took the contamination of this refined material to a new level by wedging it with terracotta.  The only reason I didn't use pure terracotta was because I wanted to incorporate a higher fired material into the red clay so I could take it up to stoneware temperatures.

Sometimes I wonder if a love of pure white clay is an adolescent phase of aesthetic development.   Bone china rose to prominence with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the great English potteries, before this time fine white porcelain was the preserve of royalty.  As a result of the abundance of bone china during the Industrial revolution and the rise of the middle classes porcelain has a strong association with the aesthetics of industrialization.  Conventions of uniformity and perfect replication have overwhelmed the handmade pot in the  Western world.

Mutant terracotta before firing

I have been firing this mutant terracotta at 1280 degrees so it loses it's reddish colour and turns brown.  The ground colour affects the composition of the drawings as well as the lines and colours.  I am firing the pots three times to try and get the right balance of scraffiti, colour and the soft shine of terra sigilata. 
mutant terra cotta after 1280 firing

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Le Craft est mort, vive le Craft!

I've been reading  "64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then" a series of articles about the digital world by Editor-at-Large for "Wired" magazine Ben Hammersley.

It is interesting and contradictory that in a book about the digital world there are at least two chapters that deal specifically with craft.  Hammersley makes  the point that the craft community had been transformed by the internet.  Small scale production from remote locations has become a viable source of income through digital platforms and online selling and marketing.  There is a large community of internet users sharing techniques and processes through online tutorials and Youtube, and as a result of increased access to practical experience there is an increased appreciation for the skills involved in making well-designed handmade things.

The resurgance of craft challenges the dominant consumer paradigm and the amplicfication of the message enabled by the digital world allows the small but signifigant audience for handmade to get in touch with the makers directly.  Hammersley says
" The return to craft is partly about shopping differently, partly about working differently but also about placing creativity at the centre of our lives.  In the end, perhaps this is its most radical feature.  the democratization of creativity is fundamental to  the shift to the digital platform.....etsy won't craft a revolution but, like so many other digital entities, it creates a patch of space in which to be, and all those little patches together, feel powerful indeed."(pp318)

This sort of reading is very helpful in the studio.  When I go down there I like to feel connected, that I'm working within a community of makers, people who use pots, and am part of the web of the history of ceramic making and use.  The tenuous threads to other artists that the internet allows gives me space to expand my thoughts for solutions and ideas far beyond the boundaries of my own skull.  The paradox in Hamersley's observation of the nexus between craft and the digital world emphasizes that necessity for artists to be creative with the tools of our time, to dive into the world of the future, and use it for our own ends.

Embracing the possibilities of the digital age makes the handmade more powerful.  Using the virtual world doesn't spell the death of texture and appreciation for handmade in favor of the machine, the point that Hamersley makes over and over again "64 Things" is that the internet as a product of human ingenuity has applications for diverse use far beyond what we have yet to imagine.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Iron kettle in Kawai Kanjiro's house, Kyoto.
Contemporary consumer culture privileges the owners of the big corporations (shareholders) and functions most efficiently for increasing owner’s profits when we live un-noticing lives.  To be divorced from the making of the inanimate objects that surround us enables the consuming populace to ignore the waste and lack of fulfilment created by this system.  The end point of the free market capitalism practiced by the First World is that the actual goods are meaningless. Rather than being a gathering of signs, a powerful distillation of ideas about culture, history and community, the products of a pure consumer culture are designed to cast off meaning.  Consumer culture works best when the objects we consume give off a range of signs all leading to the universal meaning that consumption is valuable, makes us happy and “happiness” is the end goal of any transaction.  If we are to believe that consumption makes us happy then the aspiration is to acquire and discard things in as rapid a cycle as possible.  This is the perfect goal for a self-sustaining consumption culture.  But in this model “happiness” can never be achieved and the environmental, social and psychological cost to communities is high.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


photographer: Megan Slade

A handmade porcelain teacup gathers a complex web of signs and meanings. Physically it is a drinking vessel with a handle and as such demands to be picked up by the handle and filled to near but not touching the rim. Picking up a teacup by the handle obliges us to place it down with the handle to one side, a gesture and placement that immediately invites further picking up and putting down. The fact that very soon this cup is going to be in contact with our lips conditions our behaviour so that we never conventionally pick up a cup by the rim.  Already, before we even use this object for the purpose of drinking it has changed our actions.  The network of cultural and historical meanings embedded within a teacup has made us, the top predator, maker of tools, act differently.

photographer: Megan Slade

Friday, August 10, 2012

Firings transformation

 It was so disappointing to fire these- they looked beautiful before the firing and in the bisque, but I tried slightly higher gloss to try and get the smoother, more fused surface of the raw porcelain (1290) and some of the beautiful colour and detail fused and disappeared.

But I am starting down the slow track of mapping the rock pool.  Figuring out symbols for the elements.  The rock pools are a more abstract concept than the bush.  they are about mystery, seeing plants and animals but being unable to recognize them, the pools are tricky, changing working with a watery, mutable rhythm.  They are secret, hidden and transform before you can really tell what they mean.  Visually they are arresting because they are so abstract.

2 months later.......
Luckily I didn't throw them in the bin in a slough of despond. I have seen new things in them the more I look, the effect of the pale green over the brown appeals to me, it has an iridescent birdy quality that fits the subject matter.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

little sculptures birdsongs and foam

helen fuller

Helen Fuller was one of my teachers 25 million years ago when I did my undergraduate degree at QUT.  I remember finding her intriguing but I was too young to fully take advantage of her off-beat creativity and gentle encouragement.  Since that time Helen has moved to Adelaide and is now making pots.  I love these pots, I like the way Fuller has used the composition to flatten the pots which weirdly draws attention to their 3 dimensionality.  The marks of making are very evident in the surface texture and the form refers to domestic shapes.  For a painter to make pots like this where the surface texture, form and colour and composition of the drawings are pulling back and forward in an evenly weighted dialogue is very unusual.  It intersects with my concerns about drawing on pots becoming too superficial, and decorative.  I like the way the form of the pots are in tension with the composition which seems to be trying the pull them into a different shape  the further I get into this degree the more I discover the materiality is an important element in my making.  Concerns from the beginning of my interest in pots have developed into a dogged exploration of surface and form, a continual striving for the drawings to work back and forwards with the surface and form.

Tijne Meulendijks & Claudine Marzik

Claudine and Tijne are showing their work with the Noosa  exhibition of Swamp Cartography.  creatively this has been the most satisfying and inspiring exhibition of the tour.  Tijne was grappling with 3 metre long raspberry canes and weaving them into a bramble wall  when I arrived at the gallery and Claudine paintings picked up the jagged, light uneven grid of the brambles and examined them anew in two-dimensions.

I love how the paintings are in dialogue with the sculpture and the way Tijne brings the natural world into the gallery, magnifying and refining diverse elements of an eco-system.  These works also speak very strongly about process and materiality, The paintings revealing sanded layers and robust marks of gesture.

Swamp Cartography at Noosa