Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What To Do? (42398A)

Oasis Amidst the Wasteland (42398A), 1998 

I have been getting lots of inquiries lately as to why my writing about these platters has dropped off recently. There is a short answer and a long one.
The short answer is that I don't have it in me to write more at the moment.

The long answer is harder. It takes time for me to shape. And it hurts.

These platters came into being at a time in my life when I was finishing grad school in Utah. I felt like my whole life was in front of me. I was starting to apply for professorships all over the country. My daughter was almost two and a half years old. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Yep, it was a train. At some point I will try to put into words what that train wreck was like. At this point, the part that matters most is the emotional content these platters still carry for me. I can't see them through other people's eyes. I certainly don't want anyone to see them for what I saw them for.

But after having been boxed up for more than a decade, seeing them out of their crates, in the daylight or under the strobes in the photo studio... it is a whole new experience. While I remember all that went into making them (right down to the feeling of mixing up the glazes and the texture of the slurry through my hands as I glazed these big monsters)... but also the emotions that filled my mind as I was making the series.

In retrospect, it wasn't the beginning of a whole new world as much as it was the end of one. I just didn't know that then.

Monday, October 29, 2012

82598A - Frozen Puddles Cracking in the Baking Sun

Whenever these platters are exhibited, I get scores of questions relating to the technical nature of the glazes. Ironically, that is NOT what these are about. At first they were ALL about the technical. As I got farther into the research, they became emotional canvases for me to express the profound relationships I saw between materials and temperature. Yeah, that sounds like total bullshit. I know. My professor thought so too. I don't really give a shit anymore. What I learned was tremendous. Things that I assumed to be absolute truths are in fact very lazy observations. Conservative and optimistic assumptions. By discarding those assumptions I was treated to a completely new experience... in glaze. 

One thing I wish I had been able to experiment with (and maybe some day it will happen) is trying to get these glazes OFF the clay surface. Seems counter to the concept of how pottery works. Imagine these disks of color, suspended in front of a glass wall.... no opaque clay behind the surface.... just letting light pour through the cracks and thin translucent areas. It would be fantastic! I was never able to explore the idea of creating a releasing agent to free them from their clay frame. Definitely something I would love to see some day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Frozen Waves, Caught in the Act - 87981

There was a brief period of about three months, where as I made these platters, I combed my fingers across the bottoms of the form as I was throwing. Some of these waves ended up looking like the ripples in the sand that is often seen at the seashore after the tide recedes. Lovely ripples and pools of glaze quickly following the ebb and flow of heat and melt.

I am often asked how I see these platters. Do I see them completed before I begin making them? Not even close. Because so much of the process was so disjointed, I would often be glazing a platter I had thrown months earlier. In many cases, the glazing process was happening with glazes I hadn't even dreamed up back when I began throwing the form that they would eventually meld with.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Swimming Upstream - 102798B

Swimming upstream. You don't need to watch Animal Planet or Wild Wild Kingdom or National Geographic to know what that means. We all do it. Sometimes we get stuck in that place. Swimming upstream.

Sometimes the river dries up as you go father upstream. Dries to a tiny trickle. Everyone fighting to stay cool in the tiny rivulets that remain.

As you pass over gravel beds warming in the thin rushing water, you can almost see the ones beside you, the ones who couldn't make it farther upstream. Their bellies up and bloated in the autumn sun. A few more miles, you tell yourself... a few more miles. And head down, you trudge ever upward and onward. Driven.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Holes in the Sea - 93098A

This is another one of those platters that exceeded my expectations by first disappointing me, then frustrating me, until finally revealing something so amazing as to be sublime. Go figure.

Looking at the glazed surface now, you would have no idea that this platter had a very textured and rippled bottom surface. It appeared much like a tidal sandbar after the tide had pulled out. My plan was to glaze it with some opalescent blues and purples... expecting to see tons of depth and ripples. Yeah.... that didn't work out so well.

After a 16 hour firing and a 22 hour cooling, the unctuous opalescent glaze turned more matte, and bubbled. BUBBLED !!! DAMNIT! For over a week I considered giving this platter the business end of the hammer. One day, a fellow potter sat in my studio, dutifully popping the blistered surface as though he was popping zits in front of the mirror. No shame, no fear... just pop pop pop... and suddenly... WOW.

He looked up and asked if I had looked at the glazed surface UNDER the blisters. I allowed as how I had not, and immediately was wowed. Once we popped the majority of the remaining blisters, there was still an incredibly sharp edge to contend with,... and the last thing I wanted was to injure someone who wanted to buy this platter. So we took many MANY sheets of wet-dry sandpaper, and basically polished the entire surface. In the process, the blisters became almost like air bubbles, moving through water.

At my exhibition, this was usually the last platter than anyone noticed. It doesn't scream with color or patterns. Once it was discovered, people would linger, point... and sometimes, reach out to touch. In the end, I think this was one of the most successful of all the platters I made that year. Surprise!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Failure is Sometimes the Only Option - 42998VII

Failure is Sometimes the Only Option - 42998VII 
I feel like there is an assumption about these platters. Either they are a "planned" painting in glaze, where every variable has been hammered out and glaze is treated like paint.... OR.... everything is unpredictable and I have no idea how things will turn out. 

No matter how many times I have heard those judgements, they still sting. Neither concept begins to come close to how I experienced these platters. On the one hand, experimentation was a constant theme throughout the two year experience of making them. Failure was a given. I lost over 90% of what I made. I filled dumpsters with entire kiln loads. 

I also had wild successes. I had firings where I might only have one failure...and shelf after shelf of awesome platters. 

Through it all, many of the potters I was working with in the studio begged me not to smash so many of the less-than-successful platters. In some instances I could be coerced to leave it around the studio for a few weeks... see if some aspect of it grew on me. Most often though, my initial impression is what stuck with me. The hammer was ever-present in my studio throughout the making of these platters.

Getting back to failure... we seldom learn from our successful endeavors. We may gain self-esteem, but the depth of our learning is stymied by our very success. Failure however, offers endless opportunities for growth. In the case of this platter... I was experimenting with the idea of trying to create a localized reduction (silicon carbide, in a very fine mesh size, combined with copper oxide and tin) in hopes of creating an oxidized copper red that looked like a reduced blood-red copper glaze. It is readily apparent that this glaze didn't come close to my expecations.

It did however, teach me a great many things. For instance, the islands floating above the ultra-fluid crackling glaze, are made from titanium and rutile and a fair bit of frit. It never occurred to me, that titanium's matting effect on glazes, and its tendency to create micro (or macro) crystalline formations would inhibit the colloidal copper form forming. 

The sad thing: not one potter in the studio back in grad school gave a shit. None of this was of interest to them. Not even learning amazing things about how materials interact when pushed to the absolute extreme ends of the glaze spectrum. It left me feeling very adrift in this process. I am sure that is part of what the immersion in the grad school experience is supposed to happen... but it really reinforced the separation I felt/feel from other potters. 

In the end, failure was really the only option. To have succeeded would have left me learning nothing.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dried Up Toothpaste, In Bed - 111398A

This was another one of those massively wide-lipped platters. Because that rim is actually hollow, it is one of the lighter platters I made. Probably only 15" in diameter, it is a good five pounds lighter than a platter of a "normal" rim.

The inside of this platter was originally supposed to be bright fire-engine red...and crunchy! I think in my hurry to get things ready for this firing, I cut back on my thoroughness in the glaze lab, and didn't mix this glaze as thoroughly as was needed. My guess is that the lead frit in this glaze simple settled in the slurry.

In the end, it is certainly not what I expected, but it also has intriguing aspects. And it does really resemble dried up toothpaste, in bed.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Certain Dessication - 101198A

Certain Dessication - 101198A
16" diameter, fired for three days and cooled for five days. Thick titanium and iron crystals over a fluid cryolite and feldspar base, colored with copper oxide.  Price available on request.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vulcan's Christmas Wrapping Paper -101298A

Vulcan's Christmas Wrapping Paper -101298A

Imagine my excitement pulling this platter out of the kiln. The gnarled surface was crinkled and raw. It begged to have fingers run across the textured surface.

So, one of my peers did just that.

Broke right through the paper thin blistered skin of the glaze. Shattered the tiny bubble of crustiness that separated the outside world from that jewel-like interior.

As we worked our way through our week's critique that night, I kept chipping away at some of the more offending (obvious) bubbles. I knew full well that most of them wouldn't make it through the week without being popped. Almost like leaving bubble-wrap laying on the floor... someone HAS to pop those bubbles.

Leaving those edges raw served as a deterrent though. Everyone knew how incredibly sharp that glaze edge was.... like a ginsu scalpel! In the end, we are left with a tiny view inside the underside of this glaze. I think if I had made more of this style, I would have taken the time to sandblast off areas, just to expose this amazing interior.