Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Manufraction; Ceramic Shard as Vessel.

Eugene Hön. Manufraction1 (detail) porcelain vessel Press-moulded.
Digitally printed Ceramic Transfer of Ballpoint pen drawing of Iris Trioana.

A shard can be classified/viewed as a piece of broken ceramic, metal and or glass. Synonyms for the word shard are; fragment, particle, sliver, bit and or piece. Further investigation extends ones vocabulary to include a slice, unit and or segment.

Eugene Hön. Visual Label (Detail) Preparatory ballpoint pen drawing

I first encountered ceramic shards during my two-year stint in the navy, spent at the Naval Base Simon’s Town (SAS Simonsberg), during the late seventies. There I picked up ceramic shards in the shallow waters of the harbour. They were reminiscent of blue and white Chinese-inspired Willow pattern transferware. The nature of the weathered body, I can now recall, were fragments of earthenware or pearlware, rather than vitrified bone china or porcellanous wares. These pieces of ceramics were deposited on the South African coastline as a result of shipwrecks and or trade in blue and white wares from the 1600’s.
Shard Collection 50. The Wani Shipwreck.
Accessed October 2016. 
“The effects of the D.E.I.C on South African ceramics is due to the establishment of a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. Ceramic wares came to the Cape on Dutch ships from China, thus starting South Africa’s history of blue and white porcelain and hence the reason many Chinese, Japanese and later European blue and white antique wares are to be found in museum collections in South Africa – such as the pieces from Iziko that is now on display in the La Motte Museum.” (Read: cited 23/6/2016 la-motte.com)

Eugene Hön, Manufraction1(Detail), Porcelain Vessel, Press Moulded.
Digitally Printed Ceramics Transfer of Ball-point pen drawings.

This encounter with blue and whites ceramic shards is to play an important role in the forms and shapes of my latest contemporary ceramic statements. However before I explain this any further, I should mention that it was also my first exposure to the world of clay. With no knowledge of ceramics, its history and traditions, including techniques and methods of making, the impact was life changing. Even though I did not know it at the time. I went onto study at Michaelis (UCT), graduating with a Masters in Fine Art, specializing in Ceramic Sculpture.  As students we were discouraged from producing ceramics with a utilitarian and or decorative function.  My mentors enforced a modernist approach in making, with a strong emphasis on form follows function, declaring decoration a crime. We graduated with the belief that we were artists working in the medium of clay, avoiding any form of surface decoration.This mindset impacted on my form making and surface development right trough my art career. In all the years of making I have never really been able to produce ceramic works within a strong and obvious ceramic traditional discourse. 

The idea of an up-scaled shard, designed and made with a utilitarian and decorative function, presents creative scope for a wide range of contemporary ceramic expressive statements. Its abstracted form and vessel like shape with jagged edges, on a large scale, lends itself to a unique approach to surface development.  Reference could be made to the blue and white ceramic traditions from our colonial past, mentioned above.  However archaeologists and anthropologists have also made reference to ceramic shards in their research in defining traditions and cultural diversity amongst rural ceramists throughout South Africa.
Hard-fired ceramic shards have always fascinated scholars and artists because they give tantalizing clues to the past. This is especially so in relation to social, cultural and technological perspectives. A ceramic shard’s ability to remain relatively impervious to the weathering action of seawater, wind, frost, fire and dampness over thousands of years allows us to read it in ways other community remnants such as metal, paper and textile often cannot provide the archaeologist.

The shard is a most suitable vehicle for personal expression at this juncture of my creative development. Especially when scaled up in size as a ceramic vessel with an expressive, decorative and bowl-like utilitarian function.  There are two distinct ways to approach the form, shape and surface decoration; firstly as a weathered object with a battered and bruised surface, formed and shaped over time and the glaze crazed (images above and on the left). 
Prototype of Shard, much larger, thinner to be more fragile
once verified and glazed fired with appropriate ceramic surfaces.

The second is to be read as a recently broken fragile piece, its edges sharp, crisp and clean (image above and on the left. The shard can also be viewed as a section, a slice, a sliver, a portion, a segment, and a fragment – with the emphasis on fragility. There is the possibility to combining manufacture and fragmentation, leaning towards the notion of ‘manufraction’, a suitable title for the body of work.
Bouke de Vries, Memory Tobacco Jar 2, 18-Century Dutch Delft
drug jar & glass, 2015. Photo Tim Higgins.
Ronald Kutchta, the editor of Ceramic Monthly, made mention of its relevance to ceramists at the beginning of the New Millennium.

There seems to be a preoccupation with the beauty of fragility, impermanence, or apocalypse in art in general and in ceramics particular and appropriately often a romance with the shard or the fragment – in essence I observe a profoundly elegiac art in the works I so admire of Stephen De Staebler, Takako Araki, Jean Pierre Larocque, Steven Montgomery, Carmen Dionyse, Laszlo Fekete, George Jeanclos 
and other.
Yeesookyung. Translated Vase (TVW8), 2013.
Ceramic shards, epoxy, 24k gold leaf.
Collection Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

The impact of digital technology and globalization brings into question craft values, in particular “the relevance of traditionally understood markers such as virtuosic and dedicated skill, visible handwork and tactility, functionality, and associations with beauty, domesticity, and decoration”. It is within this context that I wish to embrace the gestalt of the shard in a series of porcelain ceramic vessels. Knowing it is fundamental to archeological research in studying our cultural and traditional past, whilst its fragility speaks of fragmentation and acceleration of the digital onslaught. Reference is made specifically to fragments of indigenous coiled pit fired pots and imported blue and white shards from Europe and the China. 
I wish to realise my ideas in appropriate ceramic techniques and methods. Best expressed by Emily Wilber, “to preserve past modes of making, placing emphasis on the cultural, aesthetic, and historical significance of certain material practices amid rapidly changing fashions”. The shards surfaces presents a wide range of possibilities; drawing upon the past, embracing present advances in technology, whilst celebrating the hand made well into the future.  Making use of my drawing skills (ballpoint pen renderings), I will create digitally printed ceramic transfers, applied to the porcelain press-moulded shards. (Wilber, Emily. Crafted: Objects in Flux, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2015)

I will do so with the intension of choosing craft as a creative endeavour for contemporary art practice. However, to borrow the words of Emily Zilber, I will resist the notion of craft as a bounded set of parameters with a specific hierarchy of values, and instead seek to destabilize, engage, and activate the object in unconventional ways”.  

New Publication - Crafted: Objects in Flux. Author. Emily Wilber. Contemporary art and craft presents a profusion of paradoxes. It bridges ancient traditions and state-of-the-art technologies, cutting-edge concepts and enduring tenets about skilled making and beauty, and in so doing blurs the lines between art, craft, architecture and design.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ballpoint Pen Drawings Digitally Printed Ceramic Transfers

Finally the creative moment has arrived. I am able to translate my ballpoint pen drawings into digitally printed ceramic transfers/decals in all shapes and sizes. Every mark is there and clearly visible is the drawing technique referred to as crosshatching, mastered to create the three-dimensional modelled effect of the rendered subject, in this case a flower. The creative opportunities are endless. This was not possible with the silk-screening decal/transfer manufacturing processes with on-glaze colours – silkscreening flat colours (layered).

Enclosed are images of plates (readymades*) with the ceramic transfers/decals in a variety of patterns, created from a ballpoint pen drawing of an iris flower titled 'Iris Troiana'. The drawing formed part of an artists book installation titled, Read Peep Reap.

A renowned collector of artist’s books purchased the artwork towards the end of 2014, at an artist’s book group exhibition at Gallery Art On Paper, Johannesburg. Follow the provided link to a blog post showcasing the work in the gallery. The drawing is one of three components that make up the purchased artists book installation (image on the left). Of particular interest are images of the original drawing (framed drawing) and a few images of the patterns - exploring symmetry and asymmetry. The designs were digitally created using the form and shape of the rendered flower.

The next phase is to develop an appropriate clay form and shape to best utilise the showcased digital ceramic transfers. My friend and colleague, John Shirley and I, have had numerous discussions as to a possible and suitable solution – a ceramic end product. We came up with a few concepts and ideas, three to be exact.

The first concept is to design and develop forms and shapes, sculptural and or vessel based, that in one way or another reads as pages and underscores ‘bookness’. This is an obvious route to follow, the idea derived from the artists book installation – a ceramic statement as artist book or vice-versa. 

Captured here are preparatory renderings exploring obvious vessels forms and shapes - initial sketches. The digital ceramic transfers will include the preparatory renderings, reference material, text and final drawing (exploring the codex of the book) and patterns re-enforcing the notion of artist sketchbooks, expressive vessels, and sculptural books, albeit in the medium of clay.

This would make sense, as I am a ceramic artist with a passion for drawing, especially ballpoint pen renderings. I have about 25 sketchbooks full of drawings, first started as a master’s student at Michaelis. It also falls within the ambit of my latest creative and research output in which I celebrate the handmade, with strong concepts and meaning that straddles the disciplines of ceramics, sculpture, drawing, artist’s books, digital printing, ceramic installations with projected animations and including design.

The second idea is to collaborate with a ceramist creating digitally produced clay forms. The challenge being an appropriate smooth glazed ceramic surface. The idea is to combine digitally produced clay forms with digitally produced ceramic transfers that were hand crafted in its conceptual development phase. Here I am thinking of the work of Jonathan Keep, image on the left and below.

The third idea is to complete the modelling and casting for the pop-couture ceramic statement – a stylised popcorn with handcrafted surface development options – follow link to concept renderings etc. Each work will then be a one-off, exploring various drawings selected from my sketchbooks, celebrating the concepts and ideas afresh.