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.