I can’t think….

Free me from this benevolent dictatorship. Work in progress. Ceramic and mixed media.

My brain is FULL OF ANXIETY FOR THE WORLD. It is full of headlines and images of that man. I’m absolutely full of dismay. Plato wrote that when citizens have enjoyed democracy for long enough, they could be persuaded to turn away from it. This is a reality and it scares me. I’m buying into the media hype, and hysteria. I’m obsessed by the marches and protests. I need to see them to have even a glimmer of hope, to believe that there are more people who believe in diversity than in building walls. Where is the global citizenship and love? It is, as ever, all around us. But divisiveness has never (in my lifetime) felt so overwhelming, so desperate. With so many of those who have, being prepared to risk so much for perceived ‘greatness’. There is no glory in racism and xenophobia. There is no pride in exploiting fear. There is no peace in building barriers, blaming faith groups, targeting mosques, telling people to f*** off home.

We are all home. The Earth is our home. We are Global Citizens.

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Just a few photos and thoughts.

You don’t speak for me. Ceramic.

Untitled (currently). Ceramic

Untitled (currently). Ceramic

I can barely describe my excitement opening the kiln these days. What will I be greeted by? I’m loving this kind of outpouring of experimentation: though I am conscious that it comes from a place of a fair amount of experience. I am not completely blind in my trials. But I am allowing things to occur, pushing boundaries, allowing possible destruction, exploring paths I have previously avoided, working spontaneously and without any plans. And I’m really enjoying myself. So, I’d like to introduce you to my new baby:

He pretty much fell apart on the way to the kiln (this was unsurprising), but he is in the kiln and will be reincarnated if he doesn’t come through in suitably ‘physical’ form.

Another artist and I are hosting an event next week with the title “This Thing We Call Art” in which she will present some installations and I will work on a collaboration with anyone who joins us. There will be wine and laughter and photographic evidence. I can’t wait.

Precious gem of a piece on the kiln room floor (ideas for presentation: on crushed pottery? A ‘bed’of ceramic dust?) 

Masters Level Magic

I just ended a blog post with the words ‘and in this…..There is magic’ because I feel it accurately describes my wonder and amazement at creativity in general. I often jest with others when they are asking how the kiln works “magic!” because although it is very simply heat and chemicals, the combination of these is ……..Is there another word for? I’m pretty sure nothing describes it in such a way: the mystery,  bowing to forces and powers, change behind a closed door! Speaking of which….
My Pride group met last week. One of the group wanted to share their legal name change. Another announced that he had “finally” come out to his parents. There was such celebration. And at the time we were all using clay. I’m not saying it facilitated these offerings, but it was lovely to be so hands on with materials whilst sharing these emotional news flash moments. I spent the rest of the day on a high, making ceramics, building up new works, fuelled by joy for others, bathed in lightness.

The magic is real. It belongs to me. It is just my way of saying that I remain in awe of the artistic process on almost every level. It is my life companion…… And in this….. There is….

This Bliss.

During the second year of this MA course I was particularly interested in how art operates in a therapeutic context. I felt myself drawn to places where there was a ‘need’: the day patients at Hospice in the Weald, the homeless community, even friends and family who were in some way suffering. I was approaching their need and my perception of their desire for artistic encounters. Yet simultaneously it was fulfilling my own needs, and in both the art and the creative human contact it was inevitable that it would benefit all those involved! I was as much a beneficiary as anyone. And to bring the essence of the collaborations to my work; to retain the spontaneity and surprise, there was no other option than to explore (perched on the edges of) what I know to be true

As any potter will tell you there is a beautiful anxiety in closing the kiln door on works knowing that they will never be the same again. Their state in returning to you is fundamentally changed. The colours sometimes alter dramatically – becoming unfamiliar and at times disappointing. Layered glazes work out their own hierarchy. I imagine arguments taking place in the kiln when it is at peak temperature with the paler colours being beaten back by the solid metallics and heavy glazes. I loved the description of experimentation here

Risking the very life of your pot seems counterintuitive, but hey, who doesn’t occasionally enjoy the twin delights of wilful destruction and new order. ‘Stone explosion’ or ‘ishihaze’ would normally occur by accident when impurities such as sand or small stones in the body of the clay burst through the surface of the pot during firing. Recently, however, it has become a deliberate technique, where grit, small pebbles or large stones are added to the clay to encourage entirely random and potentially beautiful effects. Grit laden ishihaze glazes will subtly rupture the surface, while the inclusion of larger stones can result in fabulously interesting cracks or part of the pot literally being blown apart. This technique has also been extended, as demonstrated in some impressive international shows this autumn, to the inclusion of chunks of precious metals such as gold and platinum, which are pressed into the surface and then pop and ooze rather deliciously through the clay.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1lWb6tvfVZcL8J4WHW97XFn/all-fired-up-ignite-the-passion-in-your-pots

‘Wilful destruction and new order’ are certainly part of what I am developing. The work is intuitive and I frequently tell my practical rules-heavy brain to pipe down. The creation of works which may or may not survive (even air drying, nevermind until they reach the kiln) has filled my current work with a rich ‘edge’ . I am collaborating with myself: the part of myself that does not know or care about the rules. The part of myself that wants to scream about current politics and processes through construction and deconstruction. And I can tell you, there has been a LOT of deconstruction!!!!! Like Greek plate smashing at times, only occasionally in front of students who look slightly on edge and wonder if I am, in fact, losing it! 

This (above) is my baby – a theme I keep returning to. She is Gaia. She is already crumbling before I get her as far as the kiln. The symbolism of this pleases me as much as it pains me. I can work in an utterly autobiographical way which exposes nothing. In this, and in anything that touches the kiln… there is magic!

More Me than Me!

I have been having a bizarrely wonderful day experimenting with very fragile pieces of clay. Some are fired, some unfired. Some are broken, some may become broken, as I am testing them beyond measures I know to be ‘sensible’. They are in different states which prevent me from having any kind of certainty about what will happen to them during firing. The process (if not the outcome) is exquisite. By any measure, the unpredictability is exciting.

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I was working on a number of pieces today, moving back and forth between them. They all feature a central band of mixed glaze, glass and mirror fragments, smashed ceramics used in ‘standing’ position, as well as nails and other objects I know are likely to be able to withstand the firing process. Some were completed on fired clay, others on drying clay which is much more likely to crack once heated. All works are now in a ‘drying’ firing which will take some, but not all moisture out of the works. Certainly the larger pieces are more vulnerable to collapse or explode whilst sections of the work are drying at different rates. My justification for this is that the more likely the work is to change during the firing process, the more I am distancing myself from control: rationalising that the less control I have over the final piece, the more it may articulate something instinctive and authentic. I am excited that this is true in many philosophical ways: that we do not ‘know ourselves’ and that this may be more autobiographical, more of a self-portrait because I have been liberated by the materials-led practice and playfulness. As opposed to adhering to conscious or subconscious rules, I am permitted to exercise mindful practice. It is incredible how playful this work was. Yet my hands and eyes were utterly certain about where each fragment should go, where each nail should pierce the clay and where the glaze should be solid; to have overthought it, or agonised over it would have been to betray the method, to complicate the process. It was instinctive but without boundaries.

I worked on two other pieces which I did not complete and therefore did not photograph. I also made some decisions about how to make progress with these works. This is definitely the work I want to make progress with for now. The glazes work well for me in the context of being a painter. I reserve the right to also use oil paint on the surfaces of the works. The colours will change dramatically. Anyone who knows ceramic glazes knows that they change radically in the heat of the kiln. This also depends on the number of layers and in most of these works I poured the glaze onto the surface rather than brushing it on – this will inevitably lead to deep layers of glaze in some areas. The unpredictability of the subsequent colour changes is extremely exciting.

These works are raw: they are bruised, bleeding, damaged, torn. But they are also show-stoppers. They want to be noticed. Somewhere between a car crash and a tiara. They are tremendously ‘needy’ works, screaming LOOK AT ME. They are more me than I am, I’m fairly sure!

So, what happens next? More vessels, more experimentation with materials to use inside them: glass beads, crockery found in charity shops, cutlery, wires that can withstand high temperatures, the most beautiful blue glass melted like rock pools, sculptures inside sculptures. I am excited by simple things. The sculpture below was what was left of my ‘baby’:

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Dad always told me to eat the burnt bits. Ceramic

And I LOVE it!

 

In a birdcage, or a cardboard box?

So this has entertained me! Taking a body mould and then using it to support drying clay for one of my vessels. At the moment it looks much more human than it will once I get my teeth into whether ‘she’ can survive the process I’m going to put her through! Lastnight I put the clay into the mould with black plastic above and below it. Whilst pushing and pulling it into the mould I realised that the plastic was becoming very smooth and leathery. This was so incredibly pleasing. I found myself changing the way I was forcing the clay into the mould because there were parts that were simply so rewardingly tactile I kept coming back to them; like exposed ribs or joints (even though that’s not what they were). The unveiling of the work today (for it to become leather hard) was mildly disappointing. I had used two different types of clay so that they might dry at different rates and separate. But this had the unsettling effect of looking like cow hide. I’m not entirely comfortable with this, despite being able to see the humour in it. I have moved the clay around to explore the edges and rearrange the pieces to create a more fluid effect. Once dry and fired the work will be painted so I am less worried about the colour of the clay at this stage. It may grow on me though as the grey will become much lighter and post firing will be very different. After the process of seeing the sculpture black plastic wrapped I’m very interested in smoothing and burnishing parts of the surface or perhaps even discussing plastic wrapping some works so that the inside and outside are contrasting. So much to experiment with but am enjoying the processes being material-led. 

Distorted figure ceramic vessel with packing peanuts.

What going on?

So, one of the negatives of taking a part time course is when you have to miss the once weekly online hangout due to impossible work commitments. So, frankly I have no idea what went on this evening after I left the meeting. Other than that our cohort – with Mathew in the driving seat – put together a pretty awesome collaborative website: www.weareconnected.online 

What I DO know is that I’m having an amazing time working on a piece of ceramics. It is evolving most pleasingly, though I know I could push it too far at any stage! That is part of the exhilaration and experimentation. Holding my breath is becoming part of the work’s evolution. And as a piece falls off I am inclined to think ‘it’ wanted to. Let’s go with that shall we? 

I tell myself stories whilst I’m working on this. Today’s was about the American election and I was thinking about Meryl Streep’s award speech from yesterday. I was thinking about her words about performing and about abuse of power. I am in awe of Streep. Her performance in Bridges of Madison County took my breath away. I was so frustrated by Trump’s childish tweet in response to her criticism. How can this man become the most powerful single citizen in the world? 

So, I was taking my frustration out on the sculpture. We both benefitted. 

Ceramic vessel. Work in progress.