I’m throwing in porcelain for the first time. It’s getting easier with practice. At first I found it difficult to knead when it came from the bag but it softens up as you work it. Centering on the wheel is a challenge as it likes to come off, but perhaps this is also because I’m throwing with minimal water. Porcelain is a thirsty clay but using too much water will make it difficult to control so I’ve resorted to throwing with slip instead. I love the tones of light and dark created through these distorted inside forms but how well the light plays on them depends lots on the environment where they’re displayed.
Nick is going to create a plaster mould which we can sit these in and pour porcelain casting slip into to sit them in flat slabs. I found it more difficult to get expressive throwing rings in porcelain so had to use a stick to push them out. Unlike the stoneware bulging and rippling the porcelain wants to hold its form or just collapse completely, there is no middle ground.
Above are the results of our discussion with ideas for constructing a kind of porcelain igloo or box which you could go inside (or at least put your head inside). We talked about how sound might be distorted as it moves through the twisted vessel forms and how we could use boxed like the one above as bricks to construct a wall you look through. We recorded the discussions so I hope to upload those here soon.
Arising from our first theory/practice session last Tuesday I’ve identified the artist Barbara Hepworth as a key reference to my project, in particular a bronze work of hers called ‘Squares with two circles’ which I saw a couple of years ago at the Kroller Muller sculpture park in Holland.
I remember I was drawn to this sculpture enough that I sketched it – the simple geometric forms at a slightly jaunty angle and its pleasing sense of balance gave it a kind of purity of form. The fact the lines aren’t parallel gives it an organic quality that helps it fit in with the natural environment. On each side only one of the circles funnels out which gives the two circles different qualities of depth and the way the patina on the surface is lighter in the upper half makes it appear to be dissolving into the sky at one end and firmly grounded on the other. The original form was made in 1963 although copies were made later which explains why there is also one in the Yorkshire sculpture park.
I’m interested in Hepworth’s forms in regard to my current project because of the way they act as framing devices for their environment, the holes referencing windows. Her emphasis is on form and texture rather than colour. I’m interested in the ways the forms I make create different tones of dark and light by the shadows they cast, so how colour is created by the artist in collaboration with the environment.
In the sculpture park the work is displayed outside the Rietveld Pavilion, a building in which you are at once outside and inside. This is an interesting space because of the way it blurs boundaries, the architecture more a huge sculpture you can walk through really. Many more of Hepworth’s artworks are displayed here which is appropriate since her work explores inside forms with carefully constructed positive and negative space.
I found information about this work on the Tate website and it discusses the holes in the form: ‘The integration with the landscape – one of Hepworth’s abiding concerns – is made actual by these openings, through what she termed the viewer’s ‘sense of participating in the form’ (Bowness 1971, p.12).’ I want to explore this idea that the audience can ‘take part’ in the form. It’s almost as if the interaction between you and the artwork becomes a performance, because you are not just seeing the artwork but using it as a device to look through, to perceive the world differently through, like a telescope or pair of glasses.
Placement therefore becomes important because what the sculpture ‘reveals’ through the frame will depend on where you stand in relation to it. It was important to Hepworth that the sculptures were displayed in the landscape as she explains: ‘I always imagine the sort of setting I would like to see them in, because I firmly believe that sculpture and forms generally grow in magnitude out in the open with space and distance and hills’ (Warren Forma, 5 British Sculptors (Work and Talk), New York, 1964, p.15) I believe she may be speaking about the powerful way the changing of natural light and weathering of the material (through the day and seasons) can bring a sculpture to life in a way placing it in a room in an art gallery can’t.
I identified last week that the spaces I wanted to consider in more depth were the tiny windows in the buildings at St Fagans. These are frames that reveal, to a limited extent inside and outside space. As I want to explore the throwing process further I decided to explore the inside of thrown forms. Carrying on from throwing tall, narrow jug forms the first week back, I threw some similar shapes but pushed them to the point where I nearly lost control of the clay’s direction so it bulges. These are thrown in White St Thomas – the photographs below showing the expressive folding landscapes on the inside.
Nick and I have decided to work collaboratively on this project since we’re interested in exploring similar ideas around optical illusion (e.g. tones of shadow and light created by the form itself and throwing lines), changing perception of objects by subverting the ordinary vessel (such as displaying them horizontally on a wall or from above) and challenging how we engage with an artwork. The aim is to make ceramic objects that encourage people to think about their physical placement in relation to the artwork. By creating frames and tunnels for the audience to look through or into, they will have to move around in a kind of ‘dance’ with the object, getting closer to peer inside and explore this interior space from different angles. In a tutorial with Natasha on Tuesday she suggested thinking of the concept of mindfulness and the pace with which we engage with objects. How can a ceramic artwork make the viewer more mindful? Perhaps having the eye follow the spiral of the throwing wheel into the artwork, like an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, they can be made to slow down the pace at which they’re gazing over the artwork’s surface.
Below are some rough sketches of my initial ideas, thinking about how a collection of these thrown forms can be brought together in a larger sculpture that can be looked through or into…
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.