I use ceramic materials because they can have a uniquely lustrous and satiny appearance, and they are often the most appropriate medium to serve a particular concept. I love the way clay can be bent into any (almost) shape I desire.
I am, in fact, totally infatuated with the medium – I even like the ‘chink’ that it makes when it clinks against itself.
And then there is the curious alchemy of putting an object covered with powder like a sugar bonbon into the kiln and twenty four hours later finding it has turned into a magical object with a glaze as smooth and cold as a pumpkin rind.
Some days I literally run to the kiln room.
But there is more to the mysterious process than physics and chemistry. The kiln room itself has its own music and stories. I started collecting the messages that students left for the technician*.
I stuck them in my sketchbook.
I was fascinated by the different ways that students used these tiny scraps to leave a message and, unwittingly, said something about themselves.
And I keep remembering chance conversations in the kiln room with people I had never met before (or since) that seemed very important. It seems that there is a dialogue there that deserves a second thought.
There is something about a kiln room that has a magical quality not unlike a stable tack room. When I was in love with horses (as if I’m still not) there was more to it than velvet noses and controlling a strong body with my skinny thighs. I liked the nuts and bolts of it; saddles on metal racks, bridles hanging to be cleaned, bits and stirrups arranged in stricttaxonomic order, lead ropes woven into bullion knots and hung like bunches of technicolour sausages.
So it be with the doings of firing ceramics.
In the same way that I liked the organisation of tack and harness (and its smell) I love the daily processes and appurtenances of ceramics.
So I find something very sculptural about things as simple as kiln furniture – the lovely oatmeal shelves and stilts, apparently dipped in creamy milk; and there is something truly delicious about toasty home made props with charcoal wires.
I always said that ceramics is an awful lot like pastry making.
Stillage from DJCAD kiln room (most of this is not my own work). there is poetry in the piled up or carefully arranged pieces waiting to be transmogrified (there really is no other word)!
But looking at the work waiting to be fired makes me ponder about the stages in my own work after all. I make my larger sculptures in modules – this has become a practical issue, I do not want to waste time on a sculpture that may ultimately fail so I make them in stages with replaceable units.
I think the Sevres factory sometimes used the same principle.
This is “Mother Goose’ at an early stage – you can see the holes which will later receive the other goose necks.
I made vertebra shaped rings to attach the tubes to the funnels.
At a later stage I assembled part of it and then decided these funnels were not working so I thought again.
I reworked the funnels (slip cast in white earthenware) – I could do this because the sculpture was being made in modular form so it was really easy to make changes to it without wasting too much time.
Ceramics is a cruel mistress – you are literally put to a trial by fire. That is its magic and its agony.
A new regime has come into play at DJCAD.
We have to use these little wooden plaques. Neater but not so personal – those little bits shown are part of an (as yet) unfinished piece Fontana delle Scimmi – that is part of my Boboli Personality project.
I’m not sure if I like the new regime (or my sculpture for that matter)!
Talking of notes – sometimes I write them to myself and later wonder what they mean. Like this one.
I think it must be something to do with my inquiline sculpture; the clue is in the rose hip.
*Sean Kingsley is the wonderful ceramics technician at DJCAD. None of the work shown here would be accomplished without his support.