I finally got around to glazing the pop art inspired oil lamps we made earlier on this year with Mick Morgan. The bisque fired vessels have been painted with this clear stoneware glaze from the Emmanuel Cooper glaze handbook:
High alkaline frit 10
Standard borax frit 50
Ball clay 30
Cornish stone 10
I was worried the stains in the coloured slips might burn out at 1280C but luckily they stayed bright. The blue is a lot darker than I expected but works as a dramatic contrast to the pastel colours and I like how the colours and pattern unite them as a set. Perhaps they would look better decorated with matt vitreous slips though, or with a variation of block colour and line drawings, a kind of collage of slips and decals. I preferred the matt surfaces of the bisque ware to the shininess they have now. My favourite view of them is the abstracted one from above – the circles of different colour create a fun composition.
From the rough-hewn and rustic to Roy Lichtenstein – Mick’s next challenge, to make a set of pop art inspired oil lamps, came as a surprise. Pop art is generally defined as an art movement that emerged in the UK and US in the mid 1950s, drawing inspiration from pop culture and advertising and characterised by the use of bold colours, consumer goods as subject matter, the combination of text and image and a change of focus from abstract to representation. It’s ironic, it’s tawdry, it’s Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s soup’ it is, to quote, ‘the inedible, raised to the unspeakable’.
A few years ago there was an interesting culture show documentary called ‘Pop go the women’ about all the forgotten female artists involved with the pop art scene during the 50s and 60s, who’s work is, sadly, overlooked.
‘Petticoat’ tin oil lamp
I began my research into oil-lamps by using the V and A and British museum collection databases, but found my spark of inspiration closer to home while scouring through metsearch. It’s a tin ‘petticoat’ oil lamp about 10cm tall from Texas. Apart from this there’s very little information but the elegance and asymmetrical balance of the form captured my imagination. The shape struck me as something that could me assembled from a series of thrown cones and bowl forms and led me to explore sketching composite thrown shapes in my sketchbook.
I went on to throw and turn a variety of shapes on the wheel in White StThomas clay, then played with placing them together like stackable children’s toys, cutting some of the cones and cylinders at jaunty angles like Walter Keeler suggested in his masterclass, in order to give the lamps more character. I then attached pulled handles which will make them easier to use and emphasises the asymmetry which I find attractive.
To decorate, I wanted a design that wouldn’t detract too much attention from the forms. Roy Lichtenstein’s polka dots have always felt iconic of pop art to me, so I tired cutting circular stencils from newspaper for paper resist, but was unsatisfied with how organic they looked. Pop art was about mass-production and sharp, clean graphics, so today I spent some time in soft modelling workshop learning how to use the laser cutter to cut out ‘halftone dots’ into paper. I was advised newspaper might catch fire and blow around too much but standard printer paper is ideal. Like newspaper it can be wet and attached to a rounded surface so slip can be painted over easily. I had to cut it to 600mm x 400mm then masking tape it to an MDF board of the same size for the laser machine, which only took a couple of minutes to cut the design. The singeing on top was caused by the first Adobe Illustrator vector file having too many layers of lines.
I’ve painted the lamps above in blue, orange, yellow, green and black slip, using the cut up laser cut stencil to make polka dot patterns. The effect wasn’t as clean as I hoped but I found leaving the slip to dry before removing the stencil stops splodging. I might try using the stencil with underglaze colours to add more pattern, Pop art after all seems to be a bit about going over the top.
Last week Mick introduced us to ‘primitive clay’, a heavily grogged clay body that includes sparkly mica, and we spent about an hour sculpting tiny clay oil lamps as part of our ‘light’ theme. Working on such a small scale was a new challenge for me, but I enjoyed how fast the process was – great for making maquettes. We speeded up the drying with the aid of heat guns so we could fire the lamps in the afternoon. This caused lots of cracking but surprisingly the results stayed in one piece, proving it is possible to make and fire a piece in the same day! We woodfired the clay in a big dustbin with the addition of sawdust and copper carbonate to colour the surface, resulting in a range of smoky oranges, reds and purples. There’s definitely some of Geoff Swindell’s influence in these teapot lamp forms, but unlike his precise, colourful porcelain pots, the smoking effect makes these look like they’ve been freshly dug from the ground after being buried for centuries.
It’s nearly 9pm at a darkened industrial estate on the outskirts of Roath, Cardiff. Past Maccies, fluorescent lights gleam clinically off stainless steel and spotless white ceramic in the bathstore. Further along strings of green and white balloons bob in the chill evening breeze. Down a black driveway we find what we’re here for.
The bar at Spit and Sawdust, Cardiff’s indoor skate park that also doubles up as a trendy art space, is packed with dapper guys in modish glasses. There are lots of beards. Pushing through a curtain of red PVC, myself and some mates find ourselves entering the skate park itself. This large, open warehouse space with its ramps and rails, half pipes and boxes, has for a while become the setting for John Lawrence’s sound and light installation ‘The Solar Pessimist’. The surreal poster for the exhibition has been confronting me every lift journey at uni for the past week. On it a Tron-like landscape similar to the one Noel Fielding’s fantasy man inhabits is superimposed with upturned eyes, maybe a nod to Dali’s Chien Andalou.
‘Have you ever experienced loss?’ booms the recorded male voice. ‘You know …real loss. Real Data Loss. Nothing can prepare you…all those photos…all that footage’. I think of having my phone stolen my first week at university. The voice is loud but sometimes indistinct, muffled by the layered electronic sounds. I can feel the vibrations shooting up my legs from the plywood slide I’m sitting on. Overhead a circle of lights spin and pivot like pro skaters, cascading purple light in time to the disembodied soliloquy then building up gradually to a manic flashing display, an epileptic fit inducing an avalanche of sound. The voice crescendos in fury like an angry God pouring his wrath from the sky.
Ditching my San Miguel on the ground as i climb up a slope to get a different view, i feel like a cheeky teenager. Empty bottles litter the arena and cliques of fine art students huddle together at intervals like rival gangs. The darkness adds to the feeling of acting the rebellious teen, hanging out after dark. I like the freedom to play here – to climb and slide, lie down or balance across different structures like a child on a giant climbing frame. It’s fun but I also feel self conscious and exposed, watched as I am watching everyone else to see how they interact with this environment designed to be explored with skateboards, none of which can be found. By walking into this space I have immediately become part of the artwork.
Filming and photography are encouraged. At the far end of the room a man pushes a camera round and round on a circular dolly. My friend and I try to trick it, switching places every time it makes another rotation before we realise that like the lights above, this camera is also turned, one minute facing the colour dancing on the shiny, slippy floor, the next facing the parallel lines on the ceiling. As the sound and voice move to their climax we go to lie on a wooden box in the centre of the room directly beneath the circle of lights. As I stare up at them, the flashing burns patterns of circles into my retina so the room carries traces of moments before in electric blue smudges and I wonder like David Bowie ’bout sound and vision.
For our first collaborative field project with the maker and fine art students we worked in the ceramics studio. Our project was to create a clay sculpture on the theme of light by exploring the way still lives can create abstract patterns of light and shadow.
We began by setting up still lives of objects we found interesting then used projectors to cast shadows from these onto large sheets of paper. Charcoal and biro were used to trace the patterns of light and shadow, rendering the objects together in abstract form.
We tried using a photocopier to enlarge sections of these collaborative drawings but found it difficult to get the settings right. I wish I’d put my name down for a workshop on how to use the photocopier effectively! Some materials like the scrunched up strips of masking tape above made crisp shapes of flat shadow however others like glass bottles, were a lot more difficult to render because of the distorted way light reflects through them.
The next stage was to create a relief using cardboard and we decided to each recreate sections of the drawings we liked the most then make an abstract collage of these aspects of the still life. We spent a long time arranging and re-arranging shapes to get a sense of balance. From the start we were drawn to the green netting we found because of the delicate, intricate lattice pattern it cast. We noticed our still lives reminded us of underwater scenes – the forms looking like seaweed and sunken treasure.
The next step was to use this cardboard relief as the basis for a clay sculpture. We decided to explore through pre-reflexive play to begin, trying to recreate details we liked individually from this collage in clay. We tried pressing the clay into the cardboard shapes, pressing the netting into clay and using the cardboard shapes as stencils.
We had a lot of fun during this stage of the process but frankly the result just looks a bit naff! In it’s earlier stages the design looks considered but we ended up throwing everything at it with an enthusiastic approach of ‘more is more’. The final piece looked like the crumbling, ivy entwined ruin of a fairy-tale castle (one who’s architect was fond of geometric shapes). Since none of us had used the extruder before we were eager to have a go even though the forms it created had nothing to do with our original design. The task taught us an important lesson – that a work of art can be pushed too far! Our approach was one of ‘see what happens’ rather than a pre-planned design. We spent lots of time trying to achieve a sense of balance in the cardboard collage and should have spent the same amount of time with the clay. It was a struggle to construct because we discovered pieces with intricate detail cut in dried a lot faster than other slabs and tended to crumble. Making the lattice forms in paper clay may have made them stronger or we could have dipped material in slip.
The finished first piece
On reflection, we would have been more successful making a series of small sculptures rather than throwing everything at one piece. We had lots of interesting patterns and forms – the geometric circles in squares combo, the lattice clay sheets, the plant-like slabs and the repeated leaf pattern. There was just too much going on! During the rest of the week we managed to create a new, simpler sculpture. We tested to see what results our sculpture would produce by taking it back to step one – placing it in front of a projector. It has an interesting juxtaposition between the geometric box form and the organic flowing vine-like slab sitting on top.