Saturday 25 May 2013

To Art Or To Craft?

“Peach and chestnut trees bear fruit in three years, persimmon trees in eight. Skill comes in a decade, and art in a lifetime. Pottery takes a lifetime and a half. I need half of my lifetime in my next existence.”

These beautiful lines were written by the Japanese potter Wakao Toshisada. If one considers that Wakao's pottery lineage goes back more than 700 years, it is not surprising that he thinks of pottery as larger than life. I read this quote in Ceramics Monthly Magazine* back in 2001 and I pondered it over and over again ever since. His statement seems to be both humble and arrogant at the same time. 

In general, there is a disagreement on whether pottery is craft or art. Potters who produce hundreds of identical functional tableware in a row are often considered craftsmen. At the same time, these pots can be ornamented and painted by the same potter who gives his vessels a creative and arty touch. Are we talking about arts or crafts here? Maybe both?

On the other hand, there are potters who create unique pieces and limited pottery lines. Is it correct to label those potters artists just because they don’t do mass production? And after all, who has the right to judge a potter as an artist or a craftsman? 

Well, one thing is sure, to do some decent pottery one needs to master certain skills. Also, it takes time and endurance to achieve those skills. There is another aspect that should be mentioned as well: It is that hard-to-describe force that provides the potter with imagination, creativity and inspiration. It is that little bit extra that gives a cup that has been made in the same shape for thousands of years that genuine personal imprint. 

 Bowl, wheel-thrown stoneware, 10 cm in height, 20 cm in diameter.

So, don’t let yourself get pegged down with any kind of label. Instead let your inner art flow through your hands and just create. You may need a year or two, a decade or two or even a lifetime or two to get yourself where you want to be. I think it is not about when. It is about how and if.

*Richard Busch: Visiting four Japanese Potters. In Ceramics Monthly, November 2001, S. 74-77.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Sludgy Reboot

Although I have a lack of time because of my two years old boy, my ceramics activities and my big garden, I am actually reading a lot. Not during the day but at night, before falling asleep. The problem is that I can’t read just one book: Beside my bed I have up to five books that I am reading more or less synchronously. 

There is quite a similar situation in my studio: I am working on several projects at the same time. This can be both, rewarding or frustrating. And when it switches to the frustrating side I have to make a short break. Usually I use this hiatus to thoroughly clean the studio and the tools. Last week I used the break to recycle the clay. 

When you work with clay, you always have clay scraps. I have a huge lidded container, where I put all of the clay leftovers. I have experimented with many different types of clay during the last few years so I decided to use one container for all high-fire stoneware clay bodies. The porcelain has its own canister.

Before I put clay scraps in the container I let them dry well. Dry pieces end up in the recycle-canister where I pour enough water to cover them completely. At this point you can actually hear the dry clay scraps absorb the water. As soon you get a sludgy consistency you can start to recycle the clay. I put this sludge on the plaster bat for a few hours. The plaster will soak the water out of the clay-slurry. When the clay sludge doesn’t stick to the plaster any more, I turn it around like a pancake. I wait again for clay to stiffen a bit, taking care it doesn’t over dry. Now I can wedge the clay to ensure it gets nice and smooth and without any air bubbles. Since I am recycling huge amounts of clay I have to store them well so that they don’t dry. The freshly prepared clay will be wrapped with plastic and kept in an air-tight container. 

This whole process is quite easy, but it requires some time. When I notice that I am losing the focus in my over-creative state of mind this is the perfect thing to do. Stick your hands into the dirt and let your brain reboot. 

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Of Fish And Abyss

Before I create a piece of tableware I usually have a clear idea of its future function. So, if I want a nice soup bowl for the pumpkin soup I am considering the best possible colour and shape for the bowl. At the same time I am trying not to forget the functionality. The tableware should be user friendly and yet have the artistic value. 

Several years ago, I have decided to make sushi plates. I knew that I wanted them to be blue, small, square and with some kind of fish-skin pattern. The biggest challenge was to achieve the fish scales look. I have even been pressing some real big fishes on the slabs of clay to get the pattern, but the result wasn’t satisfactory. And finally, those poor beings should be treated respectfully before they end up on the plate after all. Since I wasn’t in the mood to carve every single of those fish scales by hand I have decided to use different fishnet stockings. 

Here you can see two of my favourites. 

Sushi plate, slab built stoneware, 18 cm in length.

Sushi plate, slab built stoneware, 21 cm in length.

This particular pattern may not look like fish scales but at least it gives the sense of the sea. Fish, sea, blue, fisherman, fishnet... it is the same semantic field, right? I can even recognize some kind of sea monster with its tentacles on the first plate. The second one looks like the sparkle of light in the ocean abyss. Can it get fishier than this? Here you can have a look at the closest I got to the fish or some will say snake scales look.

I have mentioned earlier that this glaze has its own ways. These two plates were glazed with the same glaze and they were situated on the same place in the kiln. Isn’t it amazing that they have turned out so differently?