Reduction Results: Rethinking Surface

This morning, after nightmares of flooded glazes, collapsed shelves and shattered kiln elements, I opened the gas kiln to reveal the first batch of my exhibition module work that’s made it through to be glazed. I have mixed feelings about the results but seeing the finished coloured vessels is a huge aid in understanding how I want them to look, even if I haven’t quite reached the point where I’m happy yet. The vessel above has been sprayed with three layers of shino over three of tenmoku. Although oxidising atmospheres are necessary for oil-spot glazes to form in iron rich glazes, by layering these two glazes I found I could recreate a very similar effect. More different to my original tests however is the pink vessel (see below) which I expected to be a slate-like blue from a thin oxblood over a shino. I think perhaps the copper oxide didn’t reduce so much in my test since it was so small. Putting such a feminine, glossy, vibrant pink glaze on an almost violently disfigured, masculine form is a striking juxtaposition. I originally did think of juxtaposing the Peter Voulkos style slashed and punched vessels with delicate, child-like pastel colours to create an unexpected clash. I then chose instead, based on my prior research into reduction glazes to use more traditional, recognisable japanese style tenmokus, shinos and ash glazes so that there was some link to the familiar ‘humble’ functional vessels like the ones we saw at the Leach pottery and that you find in so many studio ceramic collections. I hoped deconstructing these vessels and patching them up would be a metaphor for my own deconstructing and redefining what it means to be a potter and to be part of this long tradition.

The spherical vessel form above is so far, for me, the most aesthetic of all the vessels I’ve made. Perhaps something about the three sections conforms to the golden ratio or perhaps it is simply something to do with the notion of perfect roundness which I’ve often mused about on this blog. Either way, my next stage is to make more of these round forms, some narrower, some larger. The construction is very simple – two bowls stuck together with a thrown and spliced collar. Cutting and sticking back together the pieces as much as possible is also something I must do. The brown vessel below shows what happens when I keep the manipulation to a minimum – there is nowhere for the glaze to catch and pool or break on the edge to a thin wash. The top vessel here however has a beautiful quality of lines which reminds me of the patchwork tarmac in the pavements of Cardiff that I walk on my way to university and back each day. Scars and layers speak of the passing of time.

Since I usually pour or dip glazes, I found it difficult to know how many layers of glaze to spray. Six layers is perhaps not enough although I do like the even coverage achieved with the spray gun. Also unpredictable though is the way the glazes will behave in the gas kiln, even if they’ve been tested many times before. The shino on the jar below was poured on but unlike the orange metallic sparkles like on my previous pieces, this one only turned a crackled off white. These deformed jars are another shape I want to play more with and that will be quick to mass-produce. Since time is becoming of the essence and I’m struggling to control how the glazes look, I plan to mix up six or so oxidation glazes with matte or satin surfaces to layer and test next week. These firings will give me more control of colour and also a quicker turnaround. I’m drawn towards the ridiculousness and humour of these bulky, awkward vessels decorated in soft pinks or baby blues. I like the sleekness and oily voluptuousness of the fake oil spot vessel too though. Hopefully by the end of this week I will have more clarity about the surfaces qualities I want and what they should communicate.

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Sensory Geographer, Kinetic Poet

On Thursday we presented our findings for the summer project, outlining some of the key themes and characteristics of our ceramic practice. For each person, the rest of us took down a few key words or phrases that we see as defining the other person’s practice. Among the words that were used to describe the artists and ways of making I chose were nostalgia, transient, poetic, traveller, kinetic and sensory geographer. Natasha also suggested possible links to Edward Soja’s theory of ‘Third Space’.

My past work has dealt very much with notions of memory and place, real and imagined. However I’m struggling to consolidate my love of traditional, Leach and Japanese inspired ceramics by the likes of Lisa Hammond, Phil Rogers and Richard Batterham, with my need to somehow also make concrete my feelings and interest in the themes above. I like the idea of being a technically proficient functional maker but I don’t know if that alone would be enough to satisfy me creatively. I also struggle with the idea of making inspired by Japanese aesthetics, it feels false and shallow considering I have never left Europe and know very little about Japan and its culture. On the other hand I recognise that much of the history of British Studio Pottery since the early 1900s with Bernard Leach, has been hugely influenced by Japanese ceramics.

Looking at the chosen words by my peers, some were expected, others like ‘nostalgia’, I hadn’t predicted. In Imogen Racz’s article ‘Sculptural Vessels across the Great Divide’ (Ceramic Reader pg. 79) she describes Alison Britton’s attitude that craft cannot be nostalgic in the contemporary world. In answer to David Pye and Peter Dormer’s desire for recognition of traditional skill, Britton replied that although technical skills are a good starting point, it’s necessary to go beyond these to make appropriately relevant work for today’s world. I recall Geoff Swindell voicing a similar progressive attitude when he came to visit CSAD. Perhaps when Britton rose to prominence in the 1970s, there was an air of rebellion against the Cardew and Leach tradition but I feel that at the moment, there is a place for nostalgia in the ceramics world and that looking to the past isn’t necessarily a bad thing.