Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Developing a vocabulary of clay forms.

Ensemble of references. Images of a cow in India (above), Brooding Hen, Bruce Arnott . (bottom left) Wedgwood Ceramic Ornament, designed by John Skeaping 1927.

Whilst in the process of making work for my exhibition, I decided to share some interesting incites into the development of my ceramic forms. The bulk of my early work (during the early 80's), my initiation into ceramics, were hand built. I was drawn to the inherent qualities of the clay, and as mentioned before, exploring the plasticity and rigidity of clay. The work was realised in the most basic of hand built techniques; modeling and slab building (influenced by my lecturer John Nowers). I played with the clay, rolling slabs, pinching forms and carving into the surfaces; making intuitive ceramics statements that could only have been realised in clay. This led to the work being very creative, imaginative and innovative. This contrasts sharply with my latest work, modeled, moulded and slip cast; very stylised. For the purpose of this discussion I have included two fine examples (shown above) of stylisation; on the left is the bronze sculpture of my Masters Co supervisor, Bruce Arnott, and on the right, the Duiker (1927), by the Wedgewood sculptor, John Skeaping (first husband of Barbara Hepworth). Above the two works of art and design, I have included a photograph of a cow, including a close up of its head; representative of mother nature.

Draw inspiration from the qualities of the clay.

In realising our ideas and concepts in ceramics techniques and processes (as sculptors), we have to consider the form and the shape of the product; drawing inspiration from either nature, history's fine examples of reference material (photo-documentation) and or both, whilst giving serious consideration to the appropriate (or chosen) ceramic technique and process (hand building, press-moulding and or slip casting).

Fountain of Life (1983).height 360mm. Porcelain hand built. Private collection.

The above photographed ceramic sculpture was the first piece completed for my Masters at the University of Cape Town in 1985. The pinching of the leaves on the trees, the interpretation of the water and various ways of carving the surfaces, reflect an intuitive response to the sculptural concept when manipulating the clay. The technique of hand building allows the ceramic artist to explore the inherent qualities of the clay, including its plasticity and rigidity; a very expressive approach, that allows the sculptor to make formal creative decisions along the way.

Fountain of Life (detail) 1983. Porcelain hand built.

Apples of Hesperides1983. Print of original Drawing.

Hand building in porcelain (high shrinkage) requires great skill and endurance that improves with experience. Starting off however with hand building is important as its lays the foundation for developing a vocabulary of ceramic specific forms (material specific) that become part of the artist's conceptualisation phase of the ceramic statement. It reveals itself in the drawing stage of the creative experience. Hand building and press moulding allows for great freedom in altering the forms and shapes. Additions and changes are clearly visible when comparing the drawing (above) and the final piece below.

Apples of Hesperides1983. Length 360mm, Porcelain hand built. Private Collection.

Approach to construction at undergraduate level.

Work produced during the undergraduate level was far more intuitive and expressive in the use of the clay (see unfired example below). The big difference being the illustrative qualities of the postgraduate work; signs and symbols take centre stage, derived from an investigation into myths (making meaning). The final images is a creative response to the evocative nature of the chosen literature and or myths. The undergraduate work relied on the subconscious to make formal decisions during the construction and manipulation of the clay. There was no need to define the meaning; to analyse the meaning, whilst making meaning. These earlier works demonstrate a freshness and spontaneity in their construction, never really seen again in my work.

Untitled 1982 (height 250mm). Porcelain hand built ceramic work. Private collection.

Saints in Action. 1982. height 100mm, Porcelain hand built. Private Collection Australia.

Impact of drawing and the overriding concept - artist's intent.

This shift occured during the final year of the BAFA degree in Ceramic Sculpture. Drawing inspiration from biblical text, the work became far more illustrative, depicting the lives of the saints and their visions, specifically the vision of Saint John, as described in the book of Revelations. I started to make drawings , trying to illustrate the text, whilst considering the hand built techniques and processes to be followed. The drawings for the figures closely resemble the technique of construction - cylinders manipulated into bodies with hand built extentions (as seen above). These images became frozen in my mind and when drawing for modeling and moulding sculptures (to be press moulded) at postgraduate level, the style of the forms and shapes reflected these inherent qualities. It was as if it became a creative style, reflected in all the modelled, moulded and press moulded sculptures that made up the final body work. The drawing below (detail) clearly reveal these qualities - take note of the shape and form of the body (when compared to the image above), including the handle like shape around the neck of the horse. The texture in the star, including the texture of the horses main, both reflect hand built techniques. Even more convincing is the decorative elements on the costume of the rider (bottom half), reminiscent of the pinching of the clay with your fingers.

Horse and Rider (detail), Ballpoint pen drawing for one of the final pieces of my masters1985.

Magic Carpet, Ballpoint Pen drawing 2008.

Impact of slip casting process.

This drawing is one of my latest works. The work is much more stylised; even though there are aspects in the styling that are reminiscent of the inherent qualities of clay. The incorporation of more sophisticated surface decoration reveals a far great emphasis on transfer decoration (drawings of waves to be translated into ceramic decals. The anticipated technique for construction is slip casting, resulting in the work being far more refined and stylised. Sacrifices that have to be made due to the nature of the process. Now and then it is good to stand back and review our techniques and processes, especially the impact of such limitations on our creativity and the final gestalt of our ceramic works.

The Swine (detail). Collection Carl Landsberg. Porcelain, Hand built - Modelled and carved.

Best of both worlds, but is it the most appropriatte ceramic process.

Seen in sharp contrast to my latest work, is this particular work (details), hand built in porcelain in 1996. The woman depicted above closely resemble the style of hand built figures in the early stages of development, whilst the figure below (Pig) embodies a combination of both; modeled and moulded with hand built extentions and textures. The influence of our mentors and tutors also have a significant impact on our work. This will be discussed in the next entry.

The Swine (detail). Collection Carl Landsberg. Porcelain, Hand built - Modelled and carved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

absolutely love the magic carpet drawing and am amazed at your ability to execute in clay what you've drawn on paper... apples of hesperides is such a great example of that. i cannot even duplicate the simplest of sketches. Looking forward to seeing the wave decals, very cool stuff.