Ceramics

New to New York

This week marks a special time in my life, in that I will be traveling to New York City for the first time. It has been called the city that never sleeps, at least so I've been told by every main stream media outlet that references the place. But for me it's going to be a non stop, go go go kind of adventure looking at art, going to a super art conference, and eating everything I can get my hands on. Jessamy (my grad school battle buddy) and I are going up there this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the annual CAA conference, which is summed up as:

The College Art Association Annual Conference is the largest international gathering of professionals in the visual arts. The program is filled with opportunities to join more than 250 stimulating sessions and meetings on a wide range of topics on art scholarship and practice; to engage in in-depth discussions on new scholarship, innovative art, and issues in the arts today; and to connect with colleagues from across the country and around the world.
— CAA

We will be staying at an old international student youth hostel in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, two blocks out from Central Park and only a short subway ride to the conference center and all things New York. What I am most looking forward to aside from going to NYC, is the conference itself. CAA is the largest art conference currently, and I feel like I have been climbing the ladder up to this point. Although I am not presenting at this conference, I hope to do so in the future. This year I applied for a number of things at CAA, but it was all revolving around simply attending the event. I applied for the graduate travel grant which allows students from far away access to the conference with a travel stipend, and lodging, as well as complimentary conference admission. Unfortunately however I was not awarded that grant, but I was offered a position to work the conference by Katie Aspey, the Director of Programs at CAA. She was very helpful in attempting to get me involved in working the event, but after some talk with my professors they advised that this first go around I should just attend the conference and explore the city. Ms. Aspey gave me a rain check for next year's conference so theres hope for the future in getting more involved like I have at SLSA and SECAC. As for the conference, Jessamy and I will be using the new and improved CAA-Pay as you Wish day passes for the conference. Which gets us in for the day and lets us not be so locking into the full registration of the conference cost, even at the discounted student rate.


Lately I have been reading up on things to do in the city and places to see as well as artists who might have shows going on that I have to put on my to do list. What has been extremely helpful has been the New Yorkers "Goings On About Town" column online. You can actually click through what sort of things you want to see and the art column is fantastically jam packed with the current things to do and see in the city. Galleries such as the Gagosian Gallery on 24th Street, The Pace Gallery downtown, Matthew Marks Gallery, and the Sean Kelly Gallery are a few on my list of maybe swinging into and seeing what exhibitions in a top tier gallery are like in person. In particular the Gagosian is having a showing of a new Mark Tansey work called "Reverb" which he completed just early this year. I really enjoyed learning about Tansey in class with Julie McGuire, and the theoretical reasoning behind his work has always interested me. His work deals with:

Each of Tansey’s paintings is a visual and metaphorical adventure in the nature and implications of perception, meaning, and interpretation in art. Working with the conventions and structures of figurative painting, he creates visual corollaries for sometimes arcane literary, philosophical, historical, and mathematical concepts. His exhaustive knowledge of art history accumulates in paintings through a time-intensive process. Images are mined from a vast trove of primary and secondary sources assembled over decades—magazine, journal and newspaper clippings, as well as his own photographs—which he submits to an intensive process of manipulation. The strictly duotone paintings have a precise photographic quality reminiscent of scientific illustration, achieved by applying gesso then washing, brushing and scraping paint into it.
— Gagosian

Next up lets talk about museums. New York is the stomping ground for good art and some of the best museums around are located in the big city. On our list of places to see are The Met, the MoMA, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim. If there were any bigger names in the art world this blog couldn't handle them all at once. Old school Velasquez paintings art housed in the Met, but then right down the hall new works by up and coming artists flood the walls. Down the road in The Metropolitan Museum of Art there is an exhibition on Maiolica, Italian Renaissance Ceramics by Timothy Wilson, which I know some of the ceramic students would love to hear about since they just completed their very own maiolica project last semester.


As for a quick update on whats happening in my studio...here's the deal...I have no idea, well, yes I do. I put up on my wall about 725printer points worth of color images of all sorts of things. Let me just leave you with some images of what has been happening, and I'll explain more later. For the rest of the day I am going to Savannah to grade assignments, read heavy theory articles for homework, and probably have some kind of fancy dinner.

Understand Fear as Modern Curiosity

As a child I was taught to always be curious, but never too curious.

Things in this great wild world we live in tend to be mysterious and beautiful, with a subduction that can draw a young child in. Especially, one like myself, who was more often than not free to roam the outdoors unaccompanied for hours on end.

Detail of new work in the studio, January 2017.

A majority of my childhood up until I started high school was spent outdoors. I remember living in Louisiana and my brother and I getting our first TV, a small heavy box of a thing with a screen about the size of a standard sheet of writing paper. It went in his room, because he had the bunkbed but we were only ever allowed to watch it after we had finished our homework and gone outside for a bit. Honestly, I think my mother just needed a break from us, but back then going outside was not as dangerous as it is today. My family lived on a military base and it was completely normal for a group of like aged kids to walk the streets until the lights came on. All the families dads and mothers probably worked together on base in some way, and it was customary for parents to feed each others kids snacks in a kind of unspoken agreed upon rotation. Today that would never happen. I remember there being some houses that I was told not go inside of, even though I was friends with the kid that lived there, but these were just rules I followed. The woods were a different story. Rules did not apply the same way they did while in the neighborhood. It was all up to me to keep myself safe, aware, and alive. It may sound a bit of a exaggeration, but some of the things I did as a a child should and very well could have killed me. Jumping off the water tower with a rope around my waist, climbing into the sewer during a thunder storm, shooting bottle rockets at other kids in a game of war---the list goes on and on.


What I am getting at here is that "sense of curiosity" and what it does for an artist. In the woods, particularly in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia---there are plenty of beautiful, colorful, and eye catching things in nature that can hurt you and still be so interesting. My professor Jeff explained to me that in my work there has still got to be some hope, something that gives the viewer a sense of curiosity and most importantly hope. Snakes, spiders, and four legged things are not the things that give people hope and are the more obvious ones people list off when they talk about dangerous creature sin the woods; which is why I was always interested in the smaller more unassuming plants and critters that were around me. Bugs, mushrooms, creepy crawlies, ivies, fungi, and what lived in the ground where smaller than me so I guess I was more curious than afraid. These things were just as dangerous as the larger counterparts but without fail I collected them in glass jars like the old Victorian glass terrariums seen below, and brought them home. Only to then get scolded by my mother for bringing them in the house. But I loved them. Loved them to the point where I'd create tiny habitats for the critters I captured, only to have them die after a week or two of captivity despite my best efforts.

It's been a good long while since I was out in the woods just to explore though. Something changed mentally and that curiosity I used to have shifted. The fear I lacked as a child only grows the older I get and something about going out in the woods alone as an adult is extremely terrifying and at the same time oddly appealing. But I believe the fear itself has transformed too, because its not that I am scared of whats out there, it's just that I know. I am more educated, and more prone to overthink situations rather than just take them at face value like I did as a kid. That idea of dropping everything and walking into the woods- it's the pioneers dream and probably most cubicle working adults.


I feel my work in the studio lately has the same love that I had for the tiny critters in the jars I collected as a child. I've gone back and researched images of things that are common in the woods where I grew up and the pieces I am developing scream "natures bounty." They reference Bernard Palissy, whom I've mentioned in previous blog posts but they also have new influences such as Mister Finch, a textile artist in the UK. I've seen his work before, in passing while trolling through Pinterest, but it was not until I came upon his series from 2014 called Specimen, where combined various clashing nature forms that I really took interest. He explains the work in this collection as:

Here’s a new collection of my latest work. I wanted to create specimens that look like they have been collected from somewhere else... wherever that may be.... Ive mixed wings with fungus and plants with foxes....spiders with feathers and a bird with translucent plastic fins underneath its plumage and over sized feather collar.
— Mister Finch

I related to this because my most recent work has been combining what I find in nature as well as what i find in the domestic space, and creating new works from that combination. But when I went hunting form more artists who use the theme of domestic spaces with nature in their work artist Giselle Hicks came to light. Her work from 2013, where she created floral arrangements on the wall influenced my work with a few floral additions into my sculptures. Turns out she too went to Alfred for her MFA in 2010-which is apparently where all the great clay people come from! She has taken part in various artist-in-residence programs including the Anderson Ranch Art Center, the Arts/Industry Program at the Kohler Company, The Clay Studio in Philadelphia (where I believe a former student here at GSU now works, Lois Harvey), The Greenwich House Pottery and The Archie Bray Foundation. Her resume is also quite extensive and has given me multiple opportunities to now look into. Most importantly however is her view on the pieces shown nelow, where she describes the domestic space as:

This work investigates the sites within a domestic space that are routinely and ritually inhabited, particularly the bed/bedroom and table/dining room. For me, the bed and table personify human relationships. Their design and function determines our proximity to one another affecting our actions and interactions. I imagine their surfaces as absorbent, retaining traces of our presence and our histories. This work is an abstraction of the expansive and complex life experiences that take place across surfaces of these sights within the home
— Giselle Hicks

As for my personal studio work this week, I have really worked hard for my first critique of the semester which is Monday and Tuesday of this week. I have two pieces complete and ready to show in addition to three smaller pieces that accompany the larger two. I had a third, but it collapsed under the weight of the materials I was adding to it, despite me efforts to keep it upright. Lesson learned...and learned hard. But thats ok-because it's body parts can now be used to build something else.

Nothing is ever a waste in clay-it can always be remade and reused.

Art in the Big City

What a week this has been.  This past week was my first Spring Break in over 3 years, my first of my graduate career, and although I had planned to fill it with relaxation and easy going days...very little of that happened.  The first weekend of my break I went and saw The Lady Chablis in Savannah, she is the Drag Queen featured in the famous book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.  It was her 59th birthday celebration and I somehow managed to get the entire crowd to sing her happy birthday while she was on stage.  And in doing so I was brought on stage and received a gift from her in return, a photograph of her and John Cusack which she kissed with her bright red lipstick and gave me a hug.  What a night that was!

The middle of the week was full of work however once I returned to Statesboro.  I spent all day Monday throwing bowls for the Club mud sale coming up near the end of March and then Tuesday consisted of trimming, loading two glaze kilns, and a bisque kiln.  I made new porcelain tests, recorded all of my fabric tests in my journal, and made a five gallon bucket of porcelain to work with later.  I also unloaded two of my newest pieces from the kiln, which are total tests in my book.  They are both made from stone ware and cotton, coated in white engobe, and then coated in a porcelain overlay.  In my mind, this should give me the white-blue color I am dying to see, but in almost a cheating sort of manner.  It'll be porcelain, but not actually a porcelain piece, just an exterior shell of porcelain.  Pretty sneaky if I do say so myself.  Those two pieces will get glazed and fired for my upcoming critique on the 30th, so stay tuned for photos of them soon.

Art wise I made my way up to Atlanta to see the last day showing of Ceramics at the Marcia Wood Gallery on Monroe Street.  This trip was so worth the drive up.  The ceramic work on display was amazing and actually gave me numerous ideas/solutions to questions I had about my own work.  I saw ceramics with hair, ceramics made from hair, ceramics made from slip casting, ceramics on shelving, ceramics on bases, ceramics made from porcelain and stoneware....I saw it all.

While I was gawking at the delicate works on stone bases by Dawn Holder, I met her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Holder.  They were in town to see their daughters work on the last day of its showing and I by chance began talking to them about how much I appreciated her use of a base, with ceramics.  Her father said "I have not clue why she uses stones to place the work on, probably because they look bad on a shelf alone and thats just what she wanted to do." (This answer made me think of my own father, who would also give a similar non-invasive answer to a question he had no clue how to respond to.) Her mother was just as welcoming to my inquiries, and we talked about Sister Wendy, and what the difference in viewing a 2D work is to viewing a 3D work.  She also asked me about my work and to see images, which I gladly, and as calmly as I could muster, showed her on my phone.  We came upon my bubble wrap, hair piece called Wrap and she insisted I giver her my information, seeing as she worked at UPS.  She had just met the people who make bubble wrap, the creators, and told me she would forward my work along to them seeing how I transformed their product completely but retaining it's original integrity.

Then the unthinkable happened.  A woman walked up, who I had thought was an employee of the gallery (due to my ignorance) and began talking to us.  I didn't recognize her as Marcia Wood herself, the gallery owner.  I told her I was a student of Komatsu, one of the ceramicist on display in her show, and how I had enjoyed speaking to Mr. and mrs. Holder about their daughter Dawn's work.  She graciously walked us around the gallery and explained some of the processes behind the works, answered my questions, and listened to the three of us babble on about the layout and overall aesthetic of the show.  We finished speaking and I asked if there was any type of printed media I could take with me, since there were not labels on the walls.  I was handed a printout, I thanked her for sharing her information with me.

And seeing the art, made all the difference!  Dawn Holders work was very inspirational.  She uses stone bases for her slip cast ceramics.  Which actually look perfect with the pieces.  They seem like barnacles laying on rocks, but she too uses natural materials in ceramics and then burns to material out in the kiln.  So it's a different kind of slip casting, more like slip bunking...which is pretty much what I do, just with different materials.  I've seen her grass works in person too before, but her work at Marcia Wood was much better in my opinion (probably because I could decipher the process behind them!)

Tomorrow though, I must return to school and get back to work.  I've spent the week running like crazy, while inserting a little fun, food, and laziness along the way but now I've got to head back to Statesboro.  It's a three hour drive from Atlanta, could be longer depending on traffic.  I celebrated my sisters 25th birthday, saw a drag show, ate copious amounts of food, saw some fantastic art, and received notice that I made it into my third conference and will be going to Ireland 100%.  I'd say it's been a pretty solid, productive, and crazy awesome week.

Process and Porcelain

It's one small step for some, but it's one giant leap for me!  I have transitioned to working in porcelain this week and can't wait to begin working in this new, strange material.  Over the week I have made eight different test tiles to run through both reduction and oxidation, in hopes to find the purest white of the whites...to the point where the clay has an almost blue hue to it.

Its been a pretty complicated process but I enjoy making the small 100 gram batches of liquid clay and then pouring them out on a plaster bat, to watch them dry almost instantaneously.  I've learned a lot over the week about what roles materials play in clay bodies, and how to manipulate them.  I won't go into the details about how I make the tests and what kind of notes I take from the results, but its all been very exciting!

I made my way down to SCAD Museum on Friday and saw some great fabric and bead work by Steven and William Ladd.  They have a show titled Blood Bound on display from February 16th- May 1st and it's a must see.  The reason I wanted to write about them this week was that they work in tandem, in collaboration with each other.  One brother is a master seamster and the other is a master bead maker.  They lived apart for a while doing their own work but then came back together and started to create elaborate beaded fabric works together.  Later this month I'll be working on a collaboration project with my friend Jessamy, and I believe it'll be a bit of a challenge at first to get used to making things together...especially when we'll be painting together on the ENOP Bird.  (Plus the way their signature was stuck up on the wall was very cool!)

More than anything though, I spent this last week working solely in the studio.  I really want to transition from working in stoneware to porcelain. [crazy right?]  I made a new burlap piece out of stone ware, and tried something new...but I'm not sure how I feel about it at the moment.  And I just took out my largest piece thus far, a Cone 4 Matte White box piece...which I'm in love with.  Guess I'll see what happens in the studio this next week when I make a large scale batch of this new, strange white material!

(Above are some images of the process in making the clays and glazes.)  

[This process secretly makes me both a mad scientist and an artist!]

Finding Purpose and Direction in Your Studio

It might be the fact that I've been listening to the soundtrack of Shawshank Redemption on repeat, or that another month of school is slowly ticking it's life away, but lately I have been having a hard time finding the purpose behind making work.  Countless hours spent in the studio till odd hours in the morning must produce some sort of reasoning right?  When does this moment of "ah ha" happen, because I am not finding it.  (I assume this is a normal conclusion for someone in my predicament, but it is never the less frustrating.)  All I am getting is more and more questions. Questions like what happens when I wrap and tie my ceramics up to the point they look constrained and bound to no end? What does it mean to want to contain this space within, to restrain it from escaping with strings, twine and bindings? What does color do to the pieces, does it make them less chaotic or more so?

Never ending questions that I still can't even begin to answer.


But enough of the whaoo is me, I can't figure out the meaning of life bull crap!  I have made some big leaps since last week.  First off, I am going to my second conference of my grad school career in Savannah this upcoming weekend and will actually be Chairing my very own panel session.  This is a big deal people! Its through the British Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies International Conference and I am one of four conference liaisons that will help host, direct, and chair the conference as a whole.  I am extremely excited about this since it's a major opportunity to learn the insider scoop on how conferences work and how to properly chair panel sessions.  I will be watching a number of sessions on Friday at the Conference, and then actually running a panel by myself Saturday, called Gender Equality in a Postcolonial Context with three foreign presenters discussing their papers.

This week also brought about my first exhibition of the semester, in Gallery 303 at Georgia Southern called Inspired.  It's a mixture of student work, both graduate and undergraduate level and will be on display for just over a months time.  I also applied to the Vermont Studio Centers residency program in hopes to land a residency over any of the school holidays later this year.  We'll see what happens I suppose.  There's also one other major event that happened but it's still under the radar so I won't be able to disclose it this week but maybe next week I can spill the beans on another great opportunity I received.  Until then I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the best!

I found a number of different artists to highlight in this weeks blog, and narrowing them down to one I really wanted to discuss was tricky.  Right now in my studio I am dealing with figuring out the right size my pieces should be, their color, and their texture.  The artist I found that helped me most answer these questions is Canadian sculptor Susan Collett.  She creates large scale ceramic works that she pushes towards the edge of collapsing by stacking hand built clay slabs one on top of the next.  He pieces are extremely sculptural which is something that I like because my works also have no functional purpose.  This May, her and two other ceramic artists are exhibiting in Montreal at the Galerie Elena Lee in a show called Master Ceramicists.  She's had her ceramics displayed all over the world, in places like Dublin, Taiwan, and New York to name a few.

Two of her body of works from 2015, called Aggregate and Maelstrom are probably the most influential to me at this time simply because of their visual qualities.  Maelstrom is mostly black and white while Aggregate is full of color.  The contrast in surfaces in the two groups has shown me that one artist can swing both ways and doesn't have to commit to one style.  The works are very much alike structurally, but their glaze coloring groups them into different collections-something that I want to try in my future pieces.  I miss working with bright obnoxious colors, but making that happen in ceramics and it not look muddy or like a big accident is a logistical nightmare.

I completed four new pieces this week and tried color out for the first time in them.  I am still not sure if I like the results yet or not.  I am working with stains that do not run or flux much, but that leaves them almost with a milky surface texture.  I only glazed the string and twine a color, leaving the body of the piece a soft white.  So now I am left with collapsed and slumping forms wrapped and tied down with bright yellow, orange, green, and black "string" which isn't actually string at all because it's all just ceramics.  One piece in particular which I have named Box is encased in black thread, even across its gaping opening.  But one yellow piece of string works its way throughout the encroaching blackness on the white body.  It's a pretty powerful looking piece in my eyes, but I think only because I know how much went into making it work.  I'll have to see what the audience thinks about it, and it's fellow colorful companions next critique.

The newer pieces I am working on have scaled up in size, as well as techniques.  I've changed clay formulas, adding more alumina hydrate to stiffen the mix, and sprayed white engobe on the forms to give them a whiter base once bisque.  This should increase their opaqueness once glazed and the underlaying clay body will not be as visible.  I will also be making a porcelain body clay this week to try out, because the type of clay a person uses is just as important as what the final piece looks like.  Not saying that my clay body is bad, but to a ceramicists, a stoneware clay, and earthenware clay, and porcelain clay all come with different difficulties and qualities once fired.  I'm going for a whitest of whites clay body, so porcelain is my next move.  I may not know all the reasons yet as to why I am making the things I make, but I at least have a direction and that's all that matters at the moment.


Sketch Books and What they Do for Artists

No one tells you in graduate school to keep a sketchbook.  In fact your professors won't even do those cheesy notebook checks to grade your content and thought process.  Instead it's kind of an understood given fact of life that you, as an artist, should be keeping an active sketch book even if you don't "draw".

For me however, sketchbooks are probably the hardest thing for me to actually commit to, aside from going to the gym on a regular basis; which I will never master.  This whole past week I have been putting extensive thought into how I will continue making art in Ireland over the summer and all I keep coming back to is a travel sketchbook.  Last year I had the opportunity to jump across the pond to London and I spent just over two weeks traversing the city for a second time in all it's glory.  While there I took very little photographs, instead I wrote often and sketched the places and things I was seeing.  I returned home with a book full of memories instead of just a couple of selfies, and my sketchbook is a work of art in itself.  For centuries artists have been keeping active sketchbooks, so why is it so damn hard for people to keep them nowadays?  I believe the answer comes in that we no longer write things down, instead we text it.  We also don't see the need to draw whats before us because we can now capture it through few quick taps on a cell phone.  We don't use our hands anymore, I am guilty of this just like anyone else.

But I am going to change that, or at least try to.  I think writing this blog, although it is electronic, is making me actually think about what it is I have to say; and most importantly is it even worth writing down.  I was searching for exhibitions of artists sketchbooks and had a harder time finding them than I thought I would, seeing as how most artists keep them in some form or fashion.  I found that a number of museums have a sketchbook or two of the artist on display, you know the famous ones like Picasso, or Monet.  But I couldn't find any dedicated to todays artists, those making art right now.  The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University is currently exhibiting 29 sketchbooks of late abstract expressionist painter Richard Diebenkorn.  For years his sketchbooks sat in a cardboard box in his home after he passed, and his wife pretty much was against letting the public see "such an intimate view" of her husbands works.  I am completely with her on this, because my sketchbooks contain more than just drawings, they also contain vast amounts of writing.  It would be giving my audience an in-depth view into how my mind works, and I'm not sure if I am up to that just yet.

I also found The Sketchbook Project which was founded in Atlanta, but is now based out of Brooklyn, NY.  It's an actual place where artists can donate their sketchbooks to be cataloged and digitized, then housed for the public viewing.  It's a library dedicated to your thoughts, in New York, at the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg...how else could you sketchbook live on for an eternity?  I plan on donating some of my old sketchbooks to them as soon as I get the muster up to part ways with them.  It's like letting go of a piece of yourself, and again, I'm not sure if I am ready for that just yet.

The last type of sketchbook I found came from a group of people that hold a special place in my heart, and thats the trail hikers journal.  I know this sounds a bit off topic, but if you have never seen a trail hikers journal or sketchbook, you are missing out on some of the most honest and real types of writing there is these days.  See I plan on hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, all 2186 approximate miles when I graduate school.  I was going to start hiking it this year in January 2016, but I was accepting into a graduate program, so now the plans have been delayed for a few years, but it's still going to happen.  Artist and hiker Kolby Kirk made this journal on his hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, another trail I hope to tackle one day.  And artist and illustrator Chandler O’Leary, the watercolor sketchbooks featured at the top, has traveled extensively around the United States documenting her travels in a way that basically replaces the need for photography all together. Just the idea of being completely unplugged from the social side of things makes these sketchbooks so real, so powerful to read.  They have seen the miles, seen the pain, seen the days.  I think If I keep a log similar to these on my Ireland trip, I will return with a real understanding of what it means to try and make art abroad, out of my comfort zone, without any of my usual materials.

 

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