Sunday, April 29, 2012

Doing the Wash

First, these pieces have had color applied, and have been fired…

Next, they are covered with a coat of brown underglaze wash…

Then, the wash is sponged back…

A black underglaze wash is applied…

This wash is sponged off, leaving black in the textural valleys…

Finally, matte glazes are applied on the interior spaces…

And now, for the final trip to the kiln...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Loved One: Antoni Gaudi

"There is a shroud of mystery surrounding Gaudi. In all probability, the first mist preventing us from gaining access to his work is the intrinsic mysteriousness of all genius and, at the end of the day, of all human spirit. The situation is complicated by the well-known fact that Gaudi wished to create an aura of silence around his persona."   Juan-Eduardo Cirlot

It doesn't get much better than Gaudi. What kind of a person decides to build an enormous cathedral in the 20th Century? A deeply spiritual man, with a mastery of all applied arts, and a devotion to nature.

Gaudi was incredibly spiritual. His work is replete with religious symbols. Even his non-religious projects. His work depicts an intensity, and a reverence for nature. It is easy to see his love of this world, by his dedication in reproducing it, after his own manner. It is the work of someone who intimately understands the divinity of the creative process.

Gaudi understood the applied arts. He seemed to know how far a craftsman could go, and then he asked the craftsman to push a bit further. Ceramic, tile work, woodworking, masonry, ironwork, and glassblowing, were known quantities to him. The ironwork on his buildings is absolutely breathtaking. It can appear to be ribbon, kelp, palmetto, dragon spines, all with the appropriate texture and finish. The woodwork in Casa Batllo shows impossible curves, openings, and budding doors. All pieces are hand joined and fitted. It is as though all the craftsmen in Catalonia were called upon to prove their skill.

Gaudi was entranced by nature. His study of natural forms showed his interest in math, and in all of the scientific disciplines. The nave of Sagrada Familia is a mathematical enchanted forest. It is said that Gaudi planned the stained glass windows in the nave, to shade and shimmer like sunlight in a forest. Although it is based on nature, Sagrada Familia is unlike any other place on earth. The parabolic arches that Gaudi loved to use, make the vented laundry loft in Casa Batllo, into a living, breathing biological body.

Antoni Gaudi lived alone. He spent most of his life, devoted to his profession. He died after being hit by a tram, while on his daily walk. It is said that the streets of Barcelona were full of mourners as his coffin made it's way to be buried in the crypt at Sagrada Familia. The cathedral above him, is still a work in progress.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Memorial Celebration

Today, I attended the memorial celebration held for my former ceramics teacher, Kathryn McBride. It was very comforting to listen to an assortment of friends, students, and family members talk about the influence that Kathryn had on their lives. Each person had a story to share, and all of the stories held Kathryn's kindness in common. I always suspected that Kathryn was the kind of person, who travelled through life in a wide circle of friends. But, that each person in her life felt that Kathryn was his or her exclusive treasure. My grandmother had the same rare quality. I knew that she had dozens of grandchildren, but when I was with her, it seemed like I was her one and only. None of the other grandchildren really existed! As I learned from today's speakers, mostly, it is the taking of time, and the showing of care that makes the difference.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fond Farewell

Selling work is not easy. The money is fabulous, don't get me wrong. Especially these days, with pay cuts, and looming strikes. But, saying goodbye to a piece that you love is really difficult. I have pieces that I think are landmarks. In other words, out of the steady stream of work, they are standouts. They might represent a change in style, a new glaze combination, or a new direction in thinking. To me, they sparkle. The landmark work often ends up in the house, and becomes part of the decor. I bring them into the house, because I want to look at these pieces, to let them soak in. All other work ends up being stored in the clay shed studio, out in the yard. That way, I don't become too attached!

These two landmark pieces recently went to a new home, luckily the same home. So long old friends. Off to new adventures! Here's hoping you end up on the mantle or the nightstand!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Practice Makes Near Perfect

The Museu Picasso in Barcelona has hundreds of sketches and paintings that Picasso made while he was a young man, still living in Spain, before his move to Paris. There are seascapes painted on pieces of cardboard box, and sketches on thin pieces of wood. Case after case contains sketchbooks of landscapes and animals. It appeared that if, in the Picasso household, there was a scrap of paper, or box, or cardboard around, it was immediately sequestered to become a small painting. Why?

My theory is that some people feel the obsessive drive to constantly create. As one author once noted, "Genius comes in fragments." When we complete an artistic task or solve a creative problem, over and over, we start to see closure. We also start to see a sort of perfection, and the work becomes more fine, and our skills slowly advance. But, this progress cannot be made without constant practice.


Several years ago, I worked in display design for Macy's. It was a very creative job, and I seemed to have no problem supplying a seemingly endless amount of solutions to display problems. I started to worry that my creativity would "dry up", with overuse. As a painter, I had hit slumps, when I felt frustrated and unproductive. So, about every two weeks, I would make my way to the public library, and check out five or six large art books. Each morning, while eating breakfast, I would fuel my creativity by browsing through these books. Although, I was half asleep, the images and ideas were somehow imprinted on my subconscious. I often thought that this technique kept my mind nimble and creative. But, now that I look back, I think it was the daily practice of solving display problems that actually fueled my creativity. 

The biggest part of art is in the doing: the getting down to business. I think that Picasso understood that quite well. This explains why he was so prolific as a painter, and a sculptor. When you constantly create, not every piece that emerges from the studio is a dazzler. But, without the flow of constantly making, the pieces that shine, would never appear.