In a similar way to how glaze powder is fused into glass on ceramic, enamel powders are fused onto copper. The temperature however is a lot lower, any higher than 800C and the enamel starts to discolour, as I soon found out.
Before and after shaping the copper needs annealing and then plunging in cold water to cool. Gum arabic is painted onto the back of the shape after cleaning, then backing enamel is dusted on top and the copper placed in a small kiln. When opened the kiln temperature plunges and you have to keep an eye on it as it gradually climbs back up to 799C. On the opposite surface different coloured enamels are fused on in separate firings, although the process is a bit more difficult than I expected. The colours don’t behave as planned, burning out before the kiln reaches optimum temperature or leaving speckled textures (which can look nice – a bit like a dusting of snow).
I’d like to know if these copper enamels can be used on top of bisqued or glazed clay. Alternatively, perhaps panels of enamelled copper (maybe a maker’s mark) could be inlaid into the clay after firing by being stuck on, although I’d have to contest with shrinkage.
On Saturday I visited Collect 2017 the ‘international art fair for contemporary objects’ at the Saatchi gallery in London – an impressive and richly diverse display of ceramics, textiles, metal, jewellery and glass by makers from 37 of the world’s leading galleries. Of all the incredible objects on display I found myself drawn to the quieter, smaller scale artworks, especially the enamelled stoneware sculptures of French artist Chloe Peytermann (www.chloeterre.com). The upturned bottle shapes are called ‘atolls’ which I’ve learnt are kinds of ring shaped reefs or islands formed on coral. This accurately describes the ring formations of glazes on the flat surfaces that bubble in thick dollops of colour.
I like this idea of using the base of the vessel, the part that’s usually hidden from view, as the focal point. It’s a good flat canvas to work with glaze flow and thick application. The forms look like they were thrown and I expect they’re open at the other end but I was too afraid to pick them up since they cost £300 each! This is the one thing that frustrated me at Collect, the prevalence of ‘do not touch’ signs when so much of the work looked irresistibly tactile. Accompanying the Atolls series on her website is the quote by French author Maylis de Kerangal “I like the idea that the experience of memory, in other words the action of remembering, transforms the place into a landscape, metamorphoses the illegible spaces into narrative.” The idea of the experience of memory and how it differs from truth is a thread I’m interested in pursuing in the Cafe society project and leads on from trying to replicate the shape of a mug I remembered from home.
The colour scheme of speckled pastels with patches of vibrant pink and blue reminded me of the work of Ben Fiess who makes functional jars with cork and elastic band stoppers. I like the effect of juxtaposing eye-popping colours which conjures up memories of the candy colours of jars on the shelves of old fashioned sweet shops. For me they evoke childhood camping holidays to the New Forest where the arduous bicycle expeditions through hornet infested woodland were amply rewarded with a visit to Lyndhurst sweet shop. When I think of it I always think of Roald Dahl’s account of the sweet shop he and his friends always visited on the way back from school, funnily enough, in Llandaff.
Ben’s website www.bfiess.com is well worth a visit, he’s got a quirky selection of mixed media drawings as well as an ongoing database of research into glaze recipes and clay bodies.
I took part in my first ‘open house’ workshop today where I learnt how to use the hot melt vinyl compound Vinamold/Gelflex to make flexible moulds. Much cheaper than silicone, it can be used to cast all sorts, from plaster to wax, resins and ceramic material.However it does have some drawbacks, namely that it shrinks over time and when used with plaster or wood they have to be soaked first in water.
The Vinamold is first cut into sugar-cube sized chunks which is a bit of a challenge but is easiest done with a stanley knife and scissors. The texture is similar to that of tough meat. Next it’s heated in the microwave to around 150C which took around 6 minutes for a full Pyrex measuring jug, a little longer for larger quantities. It’s best to check the consistency every 3 minutes or so in case it begins to burn. The objects we wanted to make moulds of were placed onto sheets of clay with a cottle to give a gap of about two fingers width in between. When the compound was of a runny, soupy consistency it was poured into the moulds and left to set for about an hour. It was easy to release the objects from inside and every tiny detail is captured. The process is so much quicker than making a plaster mould.
In today’s print workshop we decorated manufactured fired ceramic tiles. First the tiles were wiped with mentholated spirits to remove dirt and grease. On this first one I used open stock decals of chickens and red rectangles which are applied by soaking the cut shape in warm water for a few minutes then flattening them down on the tile’s surface, using a rubber kidney to remove excess water. A red onglaze powder was mixed with universal water based medium and then painted on and scratched through.
For the next tile, I tried a different technique, rolling out printing medium onto a sheet of acetate in an even layer. The plastic was taped onto a glass board for support. Next I placed the coated acetate face down on my tile’s surface, placed a sheet of paper on top and drew onto it. The printing medium stuck to the tile wherever I pressed my pen. Finally I dusted powdered onglazes on top with cotton wool, working from the darkest to lightest colour. The result is a very crisp line but with a sensitive quality because it responds to how hard I press.
I liked the effect of line quality when painting the onglaze then scratching through so decided to experiment with spontaneous patterns on this next tile. I also like the different colour intestines and the way the glaze pools on the shiny surface. Drawing directly using the printing medium made the lines look contrived and flat in comparison.
Chris Taylor is a British ceramic artist who’s work I find stunning. His terracotta vessel forms are decorated with layers of slip, underglaze prints, decals and lustre in bright, cheerful colours and floral patterns. I like how busy the surfaces of the forms are with layers like peeling wallpaper and I’d like to experiment with using decals, underglazes and onglazes to a similar effect.
While I was on the art Foundation course back at the start of last year I took part in a project themed ‘Balance’. I was experimenting with mixed media and made a wire armature into the shape of a dancer based on a photo shoot of a friend. I then glued tissue paper and PVA all over and coated the whole skeleton in air drying clay. Once this had dried (and cracked as it contracted onto the form) I then painted the entire thing in white acrylic paint to seal in order to see how these materials worked together. I didn’t know what to do with the figurine so it disappeared into a box in the garage. However when I came back home for Christmas I was surprised to find what looked like an unusual fungus growing from the base of a tree in the garden. It turned out to be the little dancer. She’d undergone an exciting transformation.
The paint and clay had broken down and weathered to leave a strange patina like quartz veins or lichen on a stone. Fallen leaves and vegetation have morphed with the clay over time. This decomposition reminded me of a series of ink drawings I left out in the rain (can be seen here). This interaction of material and environment also made me think of Phoebe Cummings’s ‘Vanitas’ installation (2012) in which clay was left to change in enclosed glass micro-environments.
Underneath the tree the model was fairly sheltered and the breaking up of the surface has been caused by water dripping from the branches above. It would be fascinating to watch this decomposition in a time lapse film. I’m eager to experiment with this idea on a much bigger scale and see how the clay would fare in different environments.
On Monday our task was to attempt to identify the kinds of creative strategies we use when exploring materials. Available for us to use was paper-clay, red terracotta, black slip and green paper towels which we were free to play with for about an hour and a half.
From the very start my instinct was to combine the materials, so I experimented with rolling the two clays together and dipping them in slip. A reciprocal aspect emerged to my making, the forms began responding more and more to one another and sharing similar characteristics. I began repeating forms and patterns I enjoyed making or thought looked attractive.
I planned from the start that I would make a series of objects, whereas I realise some of my classmates were much more interested in the process and sensation of playing with clay and less concerned with any final outcome. Despite this, I don’t feel there was an element of pre-design to what I did. I responded to the material and the shapes took on a life of their own, growing as I added on pieces I thought would look balanced. I considered myself to be working slowly, taking time to think what my next move would be. I chose to work on quite a small scale, maybe out of some concern of wasting material, probably because I liked being able to abandon one experiment if I felt it was going nowhere and move on to another quickly. It’s interesting to see at which points I considered a form to be ‘complete’.
At first I found the paper-clay much too plastic to mould. I felt frustrated that it wouldn’t hold its shape so began mixing in strips of green paper towels to make my own version of paper-clay that was stronger and had a marbling colour effect. I also mixed and reinforced it with the red clay. Although I tried to impose my own ideas onto the material in this way, the material acted equally on me and I had to adjust to the forms slumping and not sticking together. I wasn’t concerned with keeping the clay pure, which might reflect my interest in the work of multi-media artists like Gillian Lowndes.
The environment I was in probably had an effect on my making. In front of me were a collection of vessels I had thrown recently and almost all the models I made included vessel forms. I worked at my desk which at the time was very cluttered. Perhaps seeing all my tools and equipment balanced precariously, subconsciously influenced my work because most of it during that hour was concerned with the theme of balance.
From my childhood obsessions with the Jonathan Creek series, reading Patricia Cornwell and religiously watching Tim Burton movies, it seems I’ve always had a quiet fascination with the macabre. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that when deciding on a piece of work to write about from the Coca York ceramics collection, there was no question in my mind it would be one of Kerry Jameson’s creepy creations.
The one piece in particular I’ve chosen is ‘The Dancing Bears’, a 2010 work from her dark and disquieting series ‘Collect’ which also features a frenzied fox and a crying monkey. It’s a pair of standing bears, the tallest about 30 cm high holding a red concertina and with a rope tied around its neck (although hanging loose as if he has just broken free); the shorter one leaning on a gnarled walking stick. Both bears are covered in a mangy, matted, woollen texture which looks as though it would be rough to touch. They peer at you from terrifyingly animated glass eyes. Something about the fur reminded me of an old teddy I used to own, threadbare and worn from years of use. I expect the piece was made in the artist’s windowless west London studio although according to her website she currently she lives in Singapore, teaching at the school of arts there.
Jameson’s absence from social media and the lack of personal information on her website adds to her sculptures’ intrigue and mystery. However lack of information also means I don’t know exactly how the bears were made but I hazard to suppose they’re most likely hand built from earthenware. I’d like to know what kinds of supports she uses when building. Might there some kind of armature to begin with? Despite the sharp claws and gaping mouths I thought the smaller bear looked almost comical with his squat legs, too small to support the bulky body. His fur stops halfway down, below which is a sgraffito texture made with angry looking marks to give the impression of fur with what looks like black and red slip. This gives him the appearance of wearing a pair of high-waisted trousers (could this in fact be a caricature of Simon Cowell?!)
What I find most exciting and unique about Jameson’s work is that to her, the process of firing is just the beginning of a piece. Rather than despairing over unexpected cracks and things gone wrong she sees these ‘failures’ as opportunities to create something new so her sculptures become collages of fragments stuck together. To re-assemble them she uses a mixture of kaolin (china clay) and glue. The breadth of materials she incorporates into her work is astounding: seeds, buttons, stones, shells, glass eyes, feathers, canvas, hessian, jute (a course material derived from vegetable fibres), clay cement, lead glazes, oxides and acrylic to name a few. There’s an immediacy and spontaneity in the way she decorates without too much deliberation which gives the work life. It’s interesting to see so many sketches on her website. It seems drawing is an important part of her thinking process and there’s a fluidity and child-like nature to her large, expressive ink drawings which is reflected in her making and decorating.
Other pieces by her in the museum included a series of big pots illustrated with people being chainsawed and having their limbs pulled apart by wolves, in a slip-decorated technique that reminded me of red and black figure panting on Greek vases. There was also a series of six terracotta figures on horseback, swords brandished in the air and a curious headless statue holding six tiny kittens in each arm. Maybe I’m particularly drawn to the surrealism in her work and the humour this brings. There are definitely undertones of violence throughout much of it though. But then who doesn’t enjoy being unsettled once in a while? Why else would we watch horror films?
In Ceramic Review issue 267 (2014) Jack Tan draws parallels between Jameson’s work and a particular Dr Who episode ‘The empty child’ In which a boy in a gas mask haunts the streets of the London Blitz at night calling ‘Are you my mummy?’ He argues it’s this juxtaposition of familiarity or nostalgia (dressing the sculptures up in a ‘soft’ material skin like a teddy bear) with horror (distorting the figure and gluing on sharp teeth and piercing eyes) that gives the sculptures their power and appeal. In ‘A Time before Wolves’ (Ceramic Review 271, 2015) Andy Christian aptly refers to her work as ‘cuddly toys that bite’.
I was surprised to discover that Jameson first studied ceramics at Central St Martins before completing an MA at the Royal College of Art in 2009. Her work is so darkly unorthodox and peculiar, it’s easier to believe it sprung out of some grotesque nightmare than that it was the result of years of hard work and experimentation. Images from her degree show suggest an interest in myths and legends (Romulus and Remus), religious iconography, museum artefacts and themes of death and fear but with animal imagery throughout. A large proportion of her earlier works were dog sculptures in buff grogged clay, covered in an opaque white slip with colour on top.
Her work took a new turn in 2010 after she visited the exhibition ‘The Sacred made Real’ at the National Gallery in London, a collection of religious art from the Spanish golden age which included polychrome wooden sculptures. Artists like Gregorio Fernandez (1576-1636) wanted to achieve the same level of realism in sculpture as they could on canvas so they added details like glass eyes and human hair to their works. ‘The Dancing Bears’ have a definite visual reference to traditional salt-glazed stoneware bear jugs that were popular in England in the 18th century when bear baiting was still a legal sport. African fetish figures are another major influence– idols worshipped for their magical powers often with staring eyes, gaping mouths and decorated with nails and shells. Her choice of sombre and earthy colours reminds me of prehistoric and aboriginal art.
When first introduced to the ceramics course, we were each asked to choose from a selection of ladybird picture cards which most appealed or best described us. One of mine was the ladybird ‘Story of clowns’. Something about the fine line between the humorous and sinister had resonance with me. It must have too with Anthony Shaw who’s recently become an avid collector of Jameson’s work.