Contained in Stillness
My Cup Runneth Over
I have been working with clay for as long as I can remember, having apprenticed at an early age to a potter who worked in the Anglo-Japanese traditions advocated by Bernard Leach and his mentor Shoji Hamada. I was accustomed to a lot of tea during my apprenticeship, although I prefer coffee. Small tea bowls cast a long shadow of tradition in contemporary ceramics. There is practically a fetish for a nice chawan; a mere bowl. And ceramics, pottery in particular, comes with the weight of tradition that can sometimes feel like a drag. So, I began to create small tea-bowls that would fall short of the romantic ideal of that perfect form. Considering the factors that define good form for a worthy vessel, such as a balanced, pleasant form that brings together all aspects of composition, weight, and utility from the angle and edge of the lip, to the curves of the body, the thickness of the wall, and the interior hollow that informs the way tea will rest and cool, and on the underside where the foot is carved to create a slight lift; a sense of air. It is a lovely thing to behold.
I found myself wondering what if the lack of perfect form was the organizing force? What would a tea-bowl that fails to do these things look like? Could its formal, functional, and traditional failure also have some aesthetic essence that is worthy to behold? None of these tea bowls I make are particularly useful. They are made using wrong-headed methods to create something that feels more like the paint splattered urban walls that I walk by each day living in NYC. I throw or hand build using a grog heavy clay. These are then fired in a homemade kiln using a flamethrower, employing the Americanized interpretation of Japanese Raku wares, adapted in the 1960s by the likes of Paul Soldner, one of my first mentor’s teachers; i.e. I fire it quickly to a low orange red color, and plunge it into a trash can filled with sawdust and straw or whatever would burn, like my credit card bills and compost from the kitchen, and then I might drop it in a bucket of water to rapidly cool it in order to see what the surfaces and simple glazes look like. This immediacy is part of the tradition of this method. A sense of intuitive play with the process has opened up this form to allow me to incorporate silkscreen printed imagery and collage; treating the ceramic surfaces as a painting substrate. I then add unexpected materials such as plastics, glass, glitter, duct tape, enamel, and gold leaf; re-imagining these forms as sculptural artifacts of our Anthropocene age.