My artistic practice feels like a mess right now. I've been thinking so much about what's next, how to get there, how to present it, how to pay for it, how to make up that cost...etc, that I've not spent much time just being in the present.
Yesterday. though, I opened a kiln and had a moment of clarity.
The mug on the left came from that kiln. It's a pot that I have now reglazed and fired three times. The tea bowl on the right is from the wood kiln at Honeyrock. For about three years now I have been on a quest to see if I could get the richness of what happens in the wood-kiln at Honeyrock to happen in the gas kiln I use at the college. At first I was trying to mimic the wood kiln, but I finally realized that if I succeeded the pots would be disingenuous. So I started to think about ways that the nature of the gas kiln could contribute to the aesthetic.
After much trial and error, I think I finally have something that feels right.
It's a small victory in a way. I haven't put tons of energy into this search for a while; it's become more of a side project while I've been pursuing more "serious" work. But now I'm not so sure which is the more serious work. What I love about these new pots is that they feel more organic, less forced, than some of the other work I've been making. They seem to know what they are, what they are about, and in little need of my justification. They are reminding me that what I need to focus on is what is right in front of me, right here, today, and not in the future.
"Today's grace is enough for today," they tell me, "why don't you sit down and have some some tea?"
I was out shoveling the driveway yesterday in this extremely cold Chicago winter weather and had a little "flashback" to the time I made this video. Going back and seeing it again I am reminded how much I like this little piece, the way it both contrasts and compliments, the way it suggests a connection between two people half a world away, and the way it dignifies simple hard work.
Plus it is somewhat meditative to watch, and oddly beautiful. (In my humble opinion, anyways.)
Here's a short clip. You can see a longer version here.
It's a new year, and I'm feeling reflective. And generous. Sort of.
For the past few months I have found myself in a small acting class with a few of my colleagues (we jokingly refer to this class as "faculty workout") taught by my friend Mark Lewis. I have never taken an actual acting class, in spite of my penchant for performance art and my history as a cartoon character at Carowinds theme park (see picture below). The class has been a remarkable experience.
Mark has a remarkable way of dropping little pearls of wisdom.
"The most generous thing an actor can do for us is to get more interested in what she is doing than the fact that they are doing it for the audience."
This particular one keeps coming back to me. When I first heard it I recognized that it was what I needed to hear in terms of my artistic practice. It's always a potential trap for me to become too focussed on audience, and I feel I planted my foot firmly in that trap this year- in spite of some warning signs.
So, for 2018 I plan to be more generous to you- by thinking about you less. That didn't quite come out right. I'm going to be more generous to you by spending more time letting the work lead wherever it will. I suspect that means I'm going to do/make some things differently. I want to revisit some past works, and revive some ideas for new works I haven't yet made because they aren't "practical:" they either are too big for me to store in my studio, or too expensive to make, or both. Maybe I can find some funding for them, and a museum to exhibit them. Who knows?
In any case I invite you to join me on the journey.
this little guy is part of a piece I started over a year ago, but never finished. Still hoping I'll figure out what to do with him. He seems important.
I wish I could say I thought this out from the beginning.
One of the classes I enjoy teaching most at Wheaton is a two week summer ceramics class at Honeyrock in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The class began 7 years ago, and has been something I look forward to in May ever since. In the first year a small group of students, the incomparable Mark Epler and myself built a wood-fired kiln from scratch. (We also made work, glazed, and fired the kiln all in two weeks, but that's another story.)
For the past two years, however, there hasn't been enough students to "make" the class. So this year I decided to invite some ceramics alumni to fill out the ranks. I had only about 6 weeks to give people notice, so I wasn't expecting much of a turnout. I figured there might be one or two people who were both interested and had the opportunity to come. I was pleasantly surprised by the response, and in the end five alumni were able to join the class, which meant the class was evenly divided between alumni and current undergrads. It was my hope that the alumni and undergrads would get along well together, and that the alumni might act in a kind of "mentoring" role with the current students.
It went better than expected. The relationship between the alumni and the undergrads was more symbiotic than mentor/mentee: while the undergrads benefitted from the experience of the alums, the alums benefitted from the enthusiasm and energy of the undergrads. (In hindsight I should have seen this coming, as I benefit from that same energy all the time.) As a teacher I was thrilled to have the alumni with enough experience to help me with some aspects of class preparation and to have the chance to talk about some more professional development aspects of becoming an artist. Beyond the teaching, it was just great to be able to reconnect with former students and catch up with their lives post-Wheaton. They are amazing individuals at the beginning of great adventures!
With the added energy of the class had I added an assignment I've been wanting to try for years. We scouted the grounds for clay deposits and tested them as a coating (slip) on some of our pots. These fluted cups are coated in a rich chocolate brown clay we found and processed, making these pieces uniquely original to Honeyrock.
This year I was one of four American ceramic artists invited to participate. Keaton Wynn, who helps coordinate the program and who I met last year, as well as Matthew Courtney and Steve Driver. I am grateful to be able to work, travel, and exhibit with such great artists and individuals. The work we made during the residency as well as work made by many faculty and advanced students were part of the final exhibition. While you can find the work I made documented on the "Projects" page, here are a few more pictures from the exhibition.
I hope you will be able to join Joel and I for this exhibition of paintings and sculpture about the journey of watching and waiting.
We dedicate this exhibition to the memory of our friends and colleagues Brett Foster and Roger Lundin.
After our reception at 7:30 there will be a faculty recital by Shawn Okpebholo. The recital features work done in memory of Brett and Roger.
A selection of new work is on display (and, of course, for sale) for the month of October at Cafe K'Tizo in Wheaton. Mark your calendars for the reception on October 13th from 7-9pm. I will have various pots there but the focus is drinking and pouring vessels: pots to infuse a little beauty into ordinary times.
Last month I met with my friends Ken Steinbach and Cam Anderson as Ken and I set up for our exhibition Oversight. My installation "Borderline" is making its Midwest debut in this space, and I have a few other pieces and even some pots there as well. Ken Steinbach's Memoria Animus series is also there and not to be missed! The two bodies of work compliment each other beautifully, suggesting questions about our relationship to the environment, our personal and collective memories, and ways our past shapes our understanding of the present.
More information about the opening can be found on the CIVA website here.
Silk Road Construction
ceramic, found objects (bicycle cart, reproduction Tang dynasty camel, sand)
approximately 9 feet tall
installed at Lanzhou City University
This is by far the most ambitious, and as I like to say the "dumbest" ceramic construction I've ever made. It's "dumb" in that it is a technical nightmare; there are a thousand ways this piece could have gone wrong and any one of them would have caused collapse. So you have to not think about that when your making it. I am really excited about the scale of this piece and how it turned out. The layered glazes are much richer than I hoped for!
The ceramic and sculpture assistants were a huge help in construction, firing, and installation of this piece, as well as Sam Hendley, my "roomie" in Lanzhou who helped me load the beast into the kiln (no small task!). My thanks to all of them!
Pictured are Siu Hi Lin, Qi Zi, and Xie Zhe, not pictured are Zhao Yan and Sam Hendley)
the studio chair
A place for me to ramble on when I need to take a break.