During this semester in my drawing class, I chose to do a 13 panel storyboard/graphic novel of a short film idea that I have carried around in my head for years. I have since made a series of zines from those images, which led to the idea of doing a clay storyboard/novel/zine piece. This set is a somewhat simplified version of the narrative from my drawings, so a hand-bound zine of the drawing series will be displayed with the set to add depth to the storyline (photos of the images and zines are forthcoming).
As part of the experimental portion of this semester, we are all making teapots and a solid formed and hollowed piece.
Since I am also working with memory and storytelling elements, I chose to revive a teapot theme that has popped up repeatedly over the years- the Snork teapot. This is based upon my favorite cartoon as a kid, watching on our tiny black and white television. I had no idea that Snorks were different colors until years later, and somehow I always imagined them as a kind of marigold yellow. So, assuming I can find an approximation of marigold yellow glaze, that is my plan for glazing. Snorks were a somewhat kinder version of Smurfs, and they were always helping each other and the heroes always won. Plus they lived underwater and had fantastic Snork snouts on top of their heads, which is where the flared spout, lid, and handle come from.
This piece was completed with Winokur Yellow and Light Green Celedon glaze, both to connect to Snork coloring and connect to the tea trays of my second series (post to follow).
My solid formed piece is a portrait of my dearest cat, Karma, who is a delightful and frustrating mix of extremely tenderhearted and wickedly violent. Given that it has been cold for quite some time now, and she has been trapped inside, the violence has peaked recently, but been intertwined with some of the kindest and snuggliest moments as well. When I was sick a week or so ago she was very attentive and sweet, and refrained from going too Clockwork Orange on anything for a day or two. So, I chose to try to capture her sweetness, and how she rolls up in the most perfect ball behind my knees when she decides to go to sleep at night, especially on colder nights when the house cools off. She has completely ruined my heart. This piece is finished with Winokur Yellow glaze.
During the last firing of the semester I finally was able to finish the Chinese glaze tests that have been waiting for a couple of weeks. I chose a pair of glazes from each section in order to compare and contrast the materials in the glazes. I will add these notes over the course the coming week. To start, though, the glazes came from (counter clockwise, starting at the top left) Ding 1 & 2, Longquan 1 & 2, Yue 1 & 2, Yingquing 1 & 2, and Dequing Black 1 & 2.
Memory is one of the most compelling themes for art that I can think of. There are so many individual angles to memories, different for each person who has the “same” experience. Scientifically, as synapses rebuild and form new connections, our memories can change and form deeper trails through out psyche, or fade into nothing as we re-examine what we’ve seen and done.
These changes that evolve in memories as we cycle them through our storytelling kind of haunt me. I really value accuracy and honesty, so knowing that even by telling the stories I share I change what I remember and how I’ll tell it next time. The stories that I am trying to share, the memories, are things that I have racked up in little storage units in my head, and there are plenty that I’ve pulled out of their little boxes and then lost. That makes me sad. But I keep hoping that as I pull up and release these memories in permanent form, that maybe these lost pieces will pop back up from the synapse connections they got lost in.
The human mind and the human experience are the most fascinating things to me, and if there was a way to collect and compile and represent the special stories that define every one of us, I would like to do exactly that.
This Qing era bowl, drawn with copper stain images and clear and colored glazes, depicts four landscape images intended to be similar to an album of ink paintings, viewed as the bowl was turned. The copper stain turned red under the overglaze in a firing method that was sometimes difficult to achieve. This album or page idea, as part of an individual piece, is intriguing. That this series of images could become a sort of circular narrative is an interesting idea and one that I might have to try sometime.
Ding Ware is known for its fine craftsmanship and sensitive incised decorations. Often found with an unglazed rim covered with a metal ring, each piece seems very self-contained and poised. This particular Ding Ware bowl is from the Christie’s Auction site. I was immediately struck by the simplicity and grace of the carved image, which gives me hope for my own carved images, that they may one day be as graceful. Many examples of this Ding carving are much more complex and involve lotus and floral images, dragons, and even some cherub-esque figures. This simple design is eye catching connects with the outer rim, forming a contained and dynamic image.
Perhaps the Terra Cotta Soldiers are an obvious thing to write about, given that they are probably the most widely known of Chinese ceramic cultural icons. However, as I was reading about them again during the course of this semester, I was reminded of the Fort Hays State University trip I had the privilege to participate in, during 2006. I remember the vastness of the excavated space (see my first photo from the 2006 trip), and the surmise that there may be many more soldiers outside the covered area, reaching out into the surrounding farmland. Seeing as the soldiers were discovered by a farmer working his fields in the early 1970s, who knows what else could be out there, and who will find it?
The sheer number figures, and environments within the tomb, is mind-boggling, but get this- each soldier’s face is different, or at least vary widely, bringing some historians to believe that many, if not all, were modeled after the soldier being depicted. Each soldier had its place, and a role to play within the overall tomb setting. The second photo, taken at the entrance to Headquarters, shows Generals lined up to keep watch and advise the Emperor. Their heads were plundered during a raid. (Thanks to Linda Ganstrom for clarifying the details I had forgotten.)
What has repeatedly dazzled me about these figures is the story of them, the epic layers of a somewhat darkly fairytale setting. On one side you have a tomb complex in dedication to an Emperor who took on great endeavors, like building the Great Wall, as well as his own extravagant tomb, both as a celebration and an exhibit of ego. On the other hand, this multi-layered tomb is a view into how deeply the Emperor may have feared losing his grasp of his nation. Of course this is a tradition, supplying your tomb with supplies for the afterlife, but taken to the extent of supplying yourself with armies in a maze-like plot, each tunnel and room with its own protective purpose, seems intense. And in the end, even thousands of Terra Cotta soldiers couldn’t keep his tomb from being plundered.
Beyond this element, though, are each of the individual soldiers, who were (ostensibly) each a real person, with their own stories and views. And the workers who were constructing the soldiers and the horses, and building the tomb environs, were definitely real people, each with their own experiences. The number of stories and experiences all rooted within this space increases exponentially as you step further out… There are probably families in this area who had ancestors working on this massive project. Did older generations have legends and stories about their own families tied to this tomb, before they faded away with time? What are we building that a farmer is going to dig up in 2000 years and try to learn the story of?
As part of my coursework this Spring, we are researching Chinese Ceramics. One assignment is collecting ideas from our research by choosing pieces that relate to our work and writing about them. For this first entry, I have chosen Blackware from the Shandong province in Northern China.
During the Late Neolithic period, this Blackware became prominent for ceremonial purposes. The black and grey surfaces were burnished shiny before firing and blackened by heavy reduction or smothering in combustibles. The firing process also caused iron in the clay to flux, making the clay body exceptionally strong.
These surfaces, appearing weathered but still smooth and strong, are very appealing to me. The subtle variations and almost waxy finish are something I would love to achieve in my work, in some way. Layering underglazes has been somewhat effective so far, but the subtlety of the layering is not quite what I am after. I look forward to possible experiments with reduction and cold finishes to try and replicate some of the warmth of these pieces.
This piece is a press molded head meant to contain all the sundry bits and pieces in my head. There are a couple of things, like I might have built the hinge differently and I might have made ears, but on the whole this piece is exactly what I was after. These press molded pieces were a huge change for me, and I learned a lot about what I do and don’t like about how I work.
The second piece from this series, I made a self-portrait with features how I imagine myself. The interesting thing about this is that by the end of making the features from my imagination, I found I missed my own features very badly. This in and of itself was worth every bit of this series.
The third series from this semester is about celebrations. I started with the day I received my first radio, on my ninth birthday. That is one of the biggest events in my whole life, and from there I traced a brief series of songs and the events over the last 27 years that are tied to those songs, or vice versa. The tiles are bound together with leather strips in an accordion style book, with narrative on one side and images on the other, with a couple of sidebars. This piece is one of my favorites in a long time. Working with a longer format story was incredibly difficult, and there are plenty of new things to try in future projects, relative to telling more narrative with images, using text as enhancement, and finding the best word and images to tell the crux of the stories. This is super exciting!
There is a lot happening in Kathy Ruttenberg’s figurative narrative work. Noted in the review of her work in Ceramics Art and Perception by Janet Koplos, the overture of fairy tale whimsy is quickly changed to a darker and bloodier take on relationships between the subjects. Koplos’ review was not particularly energizing, and somewhat echoed my initial reaction, but I kept coming back to the images, intrigued, so I went looking for other perspectives. At ArtsObserver.com I found another review, which was equally perplexed but willing to suspend that uncertainty and take in more of what there was to offer. (http://www.artsobserver.com/2012/05/11/kathy-ruttenberg-despite-appearances-the-earth-exhales-is-no-fairytale/)
As I have been working through the narrative pieces I have been pursuing the past two semesters, two things have become very apparent to me: 1) I am unexpectedly a huge fan of the dichotomies between beauty/ugliness, love/hate, dependence/independence, dominance/submission, agency/forgiveness, and all of the grey and overlapped areas these things inhabit, and 2) I need to let go of my inner resistance to non-literal figurative sculpture.
These two realizations become particularly clear in relation to Kathy Ruttenberg’s work. Her play with/manipulation of “normal” relationships in the sculptures embody a lot of what I love about those grey areas. Who is the care-giver? Who is the dominant force here? What transpired to create this havoc? Is there beauty under the chaos? How can something that could be so sublime become so unsettling? I am still digging through Kathy’s portfolio, and hope to find further explanation as I go.
Addendum: Actually, I hope I never find any answers, and can just keep thinking about this.
Having been thinking about Celebrations for class work, I have been fascinated by Josh DeWeese’s pottery surfaces. In the article, Josh DeWeese, A Review, by Craig Adcock, Josh speaks frequently about his drawings and glazes, layered upon one another, building interest and a story to pique curiosity within the viewer. This aspect of his work is one that I have always been drawn to. Using the kiln (woodfiring) to add to his glazing and drawing to create something wholly its own- relinquishing control of the results- seems to me to be the best kind of celebration.
While Josh’s forms are somewhat simple, they echo the fluid lines and dancing colors from his drawings and the kiln firing process, making a complete embodiment of the vibrancy that he pursues in his work.