Copper Red and Post-Human Pots

I’ve come to a point this week where I need to start bringing some of my forms through to completion in order to know what glazes I should develop and which clay works best. I want to focus on traditional reduction glazes for now. As well as being glazes with depth, richness and variability, they offer a familiar base from which to draw narratives and play on tradition. I am eager to see the effect a Leach style tenmoku or a Phil Rogers ash glaze would have on a thrown and distorted/reconfigured vessel. Last week I tested a couple of new glazes from Swedish potter Anders Fredholm’s glaze book. The shino was almost identical to the one I have been using up to now except that it had a slight green tinge (perhaps due to containing lots of Potash Feldspar which the other didn’t have). The oxblood was very successful however, unlike the Derek Emms reduction red I’ve tried using before. The recipes are almost identical except that Anders replaces flint with quartz as a source of silica, uses a standard frit instead of a high alkaline one and substitutes copper carbonate for half the quantity of copper oxide (because it’s a stronger colourant). I like the idea of using this red on the inside of some of my vessels, a metaphor for the inside of the body and a way to highlight the cracks and lines in the form.

I’m starting too to think critically about the place of pots in the modern world, in particular in relation to words like ‘post-human’ and ‘transhuman’. We can think of many of us in the today’s world as being almost bionic people in some sense. We wear contact lenses, glasses, hearing aids, braces to strengthen our teeth, have birth control implants and titanium prosthetics, not to mention having our phones at our fingertips as direct and immediate extensions of our knowledge and communication. We extend into our environment just as the environment and materials in it extend into our body. The pot is easily thought of as a metaphor for the body – it has a belly, neck, foot, lip, skin and takes up a volume of space. How far can I push the familiar pot/vessel before it is no longer recognisable as one? One defining feature of functional pots seems to be that they have a flat base, designed to sit stably on a flat surface. After Jon’s lecture about parergons  I’ve began playing with ways the underside of the vessel can be rethought, for example balancing on supports (above). Balancing the forms this way creates a tension and play of positive/negative space. I want to play more with how gravity can change the form, making plinth-like structures from extruded sections then squeezing vessels over the top. What would my bionic pot look like, something along the lines of the aliens from War of the Worlds?

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Full Circle – A Return to Raw Materials

The first self -led project I ever did in clay was an exploration of my environment in North Wales and the qualities of form, materials, colour and texture I could find in my natural surroundings. I took a sketchbook and camera out on walks around my home in the mountains of Snowdonia, collecting earth and sheep wool to mix into the clay and seaweed, sheep poo, dead branches and lichen for saggar firing. My second taste of firing raw materials came with our summer project before the start of university when we collected clay from our local area to test.
Over the past couple of years I’ve drifted away from the use of my own dug up materials but I feel more and more drawn to the idea recently. Perhaps studying abroad, homesickness and my recent enquiries into non-space have made me even more keen to pursue work which explores a sense of place.

 

Above: Vessels from 2015 incorporating raw materials from my environment in rural North Wales. 

While volunteering last year at Art in Clay, Hatfield House I felt particularly drawn to the work of Matthew Blakely (http://www.matthewblakely.co.uk) whose rock-glazed wood fired vessels are decorated with geological samples taken from all over the UK. When you buy a pot of his you also receive with it a CD documenting the journey of collecting the raw materials which make up that individual glaze.

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Pots by Matthew Blakely, Hatfield, 2017

Adam Buick (http://www.adambuick.com/) is another potter who works with the landscape, collecting natural materials and inspiration from the Pembrokeshire coast. On a visit to his studio last week he showed me an old corn grinder machine he uses to grind down his rocks before he mixes them with minerals such as Wollastonite to create line blends. He showed how he uses syringes to accurately measure the blend combinations. For some recently thrown porcelain moon jars he had incorporated the ground stone into the clay body itself. Both Adam and Matthew use simple, rounded forms as a kind of blank canvas for showing off the effects of these natural glazes.

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Tiny moon jars by Adam Buick at Ruthin Craft Centre, 2015

I began to worry that returning to work with my own materials sourced from the landscape might be a big shift from the rest of my work at CSAD but I realise that much of my work has been concerned with memory and place and working in this way will only be a continuation of these themes. I want to follow up on a post about Katharine Pleydell Bouverie’s ash glazes –collecting my own ash to mix up has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I plan to get out the book ‘Natural Glazes: Collecting and Making’ by Miranda Forrest which I know we have at my local library.