Relax and Drift

When making a pot on the potter’s wheel, the first and most important step is “centering”. With the clay spinning on a disc (the wheel-head) atop a whirring motor (pottery wheel) we seek to create a certain stillness where the clay is evenly compacted in the middle of the spinning disc. This is achieved by allowing the gentle, even pressure of your hands to be a guide while the power of the pottery wheel’s motor does the work. Clay, when spinning wants to go down (gravity) and out (centrifugal force). Our hands tell the clay to go inward and up.

This action is the foundation of every pot ever made on the potter’s wheel. It looks easy. Indeed it is a simple idea, but nonetheless a skill that must be learned and practiced and it does not come easily for many people. Without a centered piece of clay, however, no successful pot can be made.

Pottery is one of those unusual disciplines where the most challenging skill is learned first. We start with the most difficult and important aspect. (it is not brain surgery, but if it were, we’d start with the brain surgery, and take the blood pressure later). It is important and challenging, but it looks easy. Therefore students approach it with intensity and determination. There is often frustration and resistance when centering does not come easily. It is only mud after all.

One of the most common mistakes students make is to take their hands away from the clay too quickly, to grab a necessary tool or get more water. This action of removing the hands quickly can push the clay off-center, undoing all the hard work of centering. I find myself repeating the phrase “Relax and Drift” over and over in effort to remind them that when we take our hands away, which we must do often, that we relax the hands where they are and let them drift or float off the clay. It is a reminder, but also a chant, a mantra, “Relax and Dirft”.

This phrase lessens the intensity and frustration of the experience. I repeat it so frequently that my students tease me, as they rightly surmise that its usage is philosophical as well as technical. It’s cool. Humor is an excellent tool to engage students in any discipline.

When I teach beginning pottery, which I am doing now, my use of the phrase “Relax and Drift” begins to seep into my daily life. When life throws me a challenge or and intense experience, I can try to “Relax” enough to assess the situation with my mind and heart, and “Drift” towards the best action, thereby not pushing life off center by moving too quickly. That’s what I’m doing now.

New Work at American Museum of Ceramic Art

Gallery

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Three sculptures from the “Duende” series have been chosen for exhibition at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) next month as part of the Kilnopening.edu series. Kilnopening.edu showcases college ceramics instructors and their students. All four instructors from Palomar … Continue reading

Options for Aging

Options for Aging : Nubile, Fertile, Futile, Senile

Nubile detail

Nubile detail

“Options for Aging…” consists of four conceptual ceramic sculptures utilizing the teapot format to offer analysis and commentary on the issue of women and aging. This work looks critically society’s expectations of women’s roles during four distinct stages of the life cycle. Each of these stages is represented by a single “teapot.” The teapots are titled, with increasing sarcasm, “Nubile,” ”Fertile,” “Futile,” and “Senile.” Each teapot body takes the form of an egg and relies on placement of handles and spouts, as well as surface imagery to communicate the meaning of the work. This series illustrates the manner in which society undervalues women’s contributions, especially as they age, and asks us to rethink our assumptions.

“Nubile,” representing youthful femininity, is surrounded by many spouts and handles signifying the abundance and ridiculousness of youth. “Nubile” is adorned with images of pin-up girls, fish and seashells. The piece is crowned with pearls and an open seashell as a nod to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” the famous painting of the goddess of beauty and love.

“Fertile,” the second sculpture in the series, looks at common notions of fertility. It has no handle whatsoever but five spouts from which crystal droplets flow. A ripe pear tops the vessel. The surface of the piece is covered with idealized pictures of mother and child, as well as fruit and flowers.

The title of the third sculpture in the series is “Futile.” Depicting women’s later adulthood the teapot has no spout, only handles indicating the demands of homemaking, child-raising and wifery. Images domestic items and food abound.

“Senile,” the fourth and final pot in the series represents old age. With absurd upside-down spouts and a surface of grey and sagging flesh, this pot reminds us that we view old women as doddering and useless. A fat cat gazes expectantly from the top of the pot and images of women teaching children, roses, embroidery and pearls present a more dignified view of old age.

Options for Aging: Nubile, Fertile, Futile, Senile” asks us to pay attention to our simplistic and often negative notions about women and aging through a meditation on the teapot form. That the teapots themselves are, in effect, useless decorative objects further underscores the critical message of the work.

Each piece is about 22”h x 13w”x13d” in size.

Hung Out to Dry

Stacked

“Stacked” from Hung Out to Dry:The Hankie Project

As a figurative sculptor working on a human scale, Hung Out to Dry: The Hankie Project began as a series of small collages which were like sketches, a way for me to capture, evaluate and catalog my ideas for possible future large-scale sculpture. The small collage images, or studies, once transferred to hankies, became a way to express the volume and complexity of the messages and experiences women and girls internalize every single day. The hankie is an effective information delivery system for these ideas. Hankies are small and portable, personal and intimately involved with the female body (sweat, tears, snot…). Coupled with the ghostlike and fragmented presence of the fine porcelain hands,  Hung Out to Dry: The Hankie Project,  presents a distinct and contemporary point of view on women’s issues.

Hung Out to Dry: The Hankie Project represents my ongoing interest in feminist issues and cultural critique. The images and corresponding text on the vintage hankies allows me to present my strong oppositional views on tropes, clichés and widely held beliefs about girlhood, women’s roles, and femininity. I attempt to present this point of view with biting humor, sensitivity, and compassion.

See the project in progress here.

Godiva The Disobedient Wife

Godiva: The Disobedient Wife, 2009 (42"h x 16"w x 16"d) Ceramic, synthetic hair

Godiva: The Disobedient Wife, 2009 (42″h x 16″w x 16″d) Ceramic, synthetic hair

Godiva detail

Godiva detail

The inspiration for this piece came from reading the newspaper one morning thinking about the issue of domestic violence.  I read several short articles from around the country; woman killed by husband…man kills girlfriend, then kills himself…suspected pedophile arrested. This particular day there were several of these small snippets in the paper.

No parallels were drawn, no links formed, just a death in Boise, another in Buffalo, an incident in New Orleans, and so on. There was no mention of a connection because of course there was no actual link between the events. It seemed to me to be evidence of an epidemic. After all, this was only one days worth of news.

Of course the newspaper those days also contained reports from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Violence and death, in unrelated stories, matter of fact. There was environmental news that day as well, global warming, the destruction of oxygen-producing rainforest, loss of animal habitat. Again unrelated, matter of fact.

This got me thinking.Violence has been a subtext in much of my work for ages. In general my work is straightforward in its message, but there’s a subtext of violence, another layer of meaning.

The idea for the piece Godiva: The Disobedient Wife, came from that one newspaper. How could I address violence in an artwork and draw parallels between domestic violence – particularly violence against women, with the violence we perpetrate against other nations/armies, and on our environment?

Many of us are familiar with the story of Lady Godiva. She rode through the town of Coventry on horseback with nothing covering her naked body but her long hair. As I attempted to research the legend of Godiva I discovered that she was believed to be the wife of an Earl who imposed oppressive taxes on his subjects. After her attempts to convince the Earl to repeal the taxes failed, Godiva made this historic ride in protest of her husband and to show sympathy for the townspeople. Both as an individual and politically, Godiva seemed the perfect image for my subject matter.

While it is disputed that Lady Godiva existed at all, the image is compelling. You may disagree, but for me as an artist, an enticing image is necessary. If it is not going to be a cool-looking object, I am not so interested in making it. The work must look good, cool, slick, funny,and/ or colorful but never to the detriment of or excluding its deeper meaning. If art is to be a means of communication, which it is for me, then someone has to be on the other end, willing to talk. If the object I attempt to engage you with fails to hold your interest visually, then you will not stick around for the conversation about its content.

With this in mind I envisioned a lovely nude figure with long blonde hair, thinking this would be enough to entice a viewer into looking further, perhaps an attraction/repulsion response would follow, hopefully then followed by a deeper readying of the image/sculpture itself.

Women & Ceramics

Image

I was recently included in a three-person “Ceramics” exhibition. It is interesting to be labeled a “ceramic artist”.  Although the other two artists and I are unified by the predominance of a certain material in our work, the broad range of art made with clay often makes these categorizations seem absurd. Or maybe that’s what makes them so interesting. I’m not sure my work would have ever shared space with Levi Cassias or John Oliver Lewis otherwise so I am glad for the designation, despite my misgivings.

I have the same problem with the label “ceramic artist” as I do with the label “woman artists” although of course both are true for me. If I look at my CV I understand that many, if not most of the work I’ve shown has been in either “Women Artists” or “Ceramics” exhibitions. Often my sculpture takes as a point of departure the experience of being a human female so exhibitions of “Women Artists” makes sense to me. When I get to see the installation and the work of the other artists included, I am frequently surprised to see the variety of subject matter. Women Artists is a way of categorizing us by gender. This for me is problematic. Sure we all share a gender designation, but what else is significantly similar about our artwork? If there is no common conceptual thread dependent on gender, then the title should not be used. When can we just be Artists?

Exhibitions of “Ceramic Artists” are similarly problematic. It feels like materials-based discrimination to me, although I know that is never the intention. Should we be more aware of how we label each other, and ourselves especially if those labels limit us? It is my job to figure out how to lose those labels and claim the title Artist for myself. Yet again and again I am offered opportunities for which the label is reinforced. And I am grateful for the opportunities. “Thank you, I’d love to participate in this show, there’s just the little matter of the title…” Just as my work is frequently about gender, it is almost never about ceramics.

KaliNevertheless, I continue to work in clay so I will simply explain my choice of material, and why I keep coming back to it. For me there is no better way to make human flesh that clay. When plastic, clay is wet, firm, resistant but malleable. When fired it is like bone. I think we respond to these qualities on a visceral level. I know I do.

Duende

This body of work is different. I gave myself a different challenge at the outset. I wanted to begin with parameters, and create some formal arrangements based on these parameters. My suspicion was that the emotional content would reveal itself in the process, because I work with human figures and features, this seemed very likely. I set out to make highly distilled, technically challenging, formally successful sculpture.

Duende, Installation detailIt may seem odd but I wanted to make the work meaningful while doing less. In the past I have found myself agonizing over every element I would include in a sculpture, forcing and belaboring the details. This time I wanted to interfere less with the message. I wanted to see if I could still imply human flesh, muscle and skin by touching the clay fewer times.

My parameters were physical as well a theoretical: anatomically correct heads and hands, but also line, shape, rhythm, negative space, balance. The repletion of brackets and ropes, the variation in line quality between the nets and the rope, the difference in visual and actual weight between heads and net are all issues that interest me. How can a sculpture occupy space by implying a body?

Then of course the content emerges. It is a fun challenge for me to try to make emotions and ideas visible. How do you take something that is intangible, like a feeling, and make it a physical object that you can hold in your hand? In making Duende I found myself thinking about irrational emotions and longing, the things you feel whether you want to or not. This piece is about the beautiful agony of a desire that defies intellect and logic. Is it brutal and painful? Yes, but metaphorically so. Some of the heads are suffering more acutely that others, some are merely observing themselves in this situation. It is a metaphor for a kind of love. This figure is hooked, she is on the hook for her feelings both by her own doing and in spite of her logic and intellect denying those same feelings. This piece is an attempt to exorcise these feelings as well as to utilize them constructively.