Ceramics Now Magazine: You are strengthening your career as a ceramic artist year by year. What was your first contact with ceramics and when did you realize you have a passion for it?
I took a ceramics class in my junior year in college, and that changed my world instantly. I was constantly in the studio. I had worked with wood and metal prior to clay, but it was amazing to find one material that possesses the qualities of many materials. Throughout its various stages, clay is plastic at first, then flexible and strong like wood, then hard like steel. This is over simplified, but basically I love the metamorphic qualities of clay. It is an incredible material that twenty years later, I am still very passionate about.
Assisted Nucleation, 2011, Low fire ceramic, washes, glaze, rubber cord and steel fastener, 20H x 30W x 10D inches - View his works
What is the most difficult part in constructing a new piece? Tell us about your creative process, from sketches to the final display.
I usually work on multiple pieces at one time, so that they feed off of each other as a series. My work is often an amalgamation of forms and details from mostly natural objects and landscapes. I have a lot of natural objects and photographs around my studio. I use these details as a starting point for the forms and surfaces that I create, often manipulating the scale or color of the details that I am interested in.
I often start by sketching in a notebook to quickly work through ideas, then I move to a large chalkboard for some full scale sketching. My sketches are often covered in words that inform the themes I am working on. Once I can visualize the form I want to create I move on to construction, my favorite part.
The most difficult part of constructing my larger work is managing the appropriate humidity. I allow certain areas to dry enough so that they have strength to support the form, while other areas are wet enough so that I can continue adding more clay. All of this happens while maintaining a smooth gradation of humidity between those areas to avoid cracks. I spend several weeks working on one piece, often jumping between other pieces while I wait for one to dry enough.
I rarely build my work in the position that it will rest. This does two things. It makes it easier to move the piece around to work on it and it keeps the orientation of the object open until the end of the building process. I can have most of the form completed and then cut and dart areas to modify the form. Once the main form is completed I smooth and refine the surface. This step is very meditative for me. It has a rhythm and fluidity that I enjoy.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You are a very young ceramic artist. When did you discover the potential of this medium? Did school have an important role in directing you on this path?
Ruth Power: Like most artists. makers or craftspeople, I have been interested in art and working with my hands from a very young age. I had a fairly basic art education in secondary school in Ireland (largely based on 2-dimensional drawing work) - quite the antithesis of what we do in third level education. However, I decided that I wanted to attend the National College of Art and Design (Dublin) from a fairly young age and my art teachers in school encouraged me to do so.
The college has a great system, by which everybody does a Core Year in their primary year (four years in total). From here, the student embarks on their first steps towards their professional formation as artists, designers and educators. The student has the opportunity to sample the diverse courses the college has to offer and in turn, discover where their strengths, weaknesses and passions lie. Many people (such as myself when I began) have no idea what department they wish to pursue when they enter, so this system works really well. Throughout the year, I did a lot of 3D making and intricate work with wire and found objects, so I decided to go into the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Department, specializing in metals. However, when I entered the department I fell in love with ceramics and its diversity. I knew nothing about the material, glazing or mold-making. The only experience I had with clay was when I made a pinch pot in 1993 for Mother’s Day. I painted in neon pink and yellow (which was in vogue at the time!) with ‘Ruth Power, Age 5’ scrawled into the base. I was in instant awe of the abundance of potential of the material, and the infinite amount of creative and scientific exploration that could be done with this ancient medium. Thus, it was only until I was in my second year of college that I discovered the potential of ceramics.
Breasts (Cephalophilia), 2011, 48cm wide x 42cm long x 14cm deep; porcelain, LED light, cord, plug, wooden box with black paint and flocked interior (Black and white image) - View her works
Your works are debating subjects like censorship, mainstream pornography or sexual repression: did you choose these topics in the hunt for controversy?
I have identified with being a feminist for many years now and these subjects have been of huge importance to me. I had researched and discussed those topics for quite some time before merging them into my artwork, when I was in Third/Fourth Year. I wrote my thesis on a very similar subject (how pornography is influencing mainstream trends). In Second Year, we focused on skills and techniques and thus, did not get the chance to incorporate much of our own expression. It wasn’t until Third Year that we were taking on self directed projects and had the opportunity to entirely immerse ourselves into our own fully developed concepts.
To me personally, the work is not controversial; it is dealing with issues that I believe need to be addressed urgently and discussed more openly. Its just that sexual politics and pornography are not usually deliberated, and the naked body is still taboo in our culture. Moreover, because I have had a considerable interest in such topics for quite some time, any of the initial ‘shock’ factor had been lost on me a long time ago. So, for me, the work was never really controversial (especially since I have an open attitude towards sex, sexuality and the body). It was bringing to light issues that I believe need to be confronted, issues that affect me personally.
Since its inception in 2005, the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin has been an oasis of cultural exchange for ceramic artists in one of Europe’s principal artistic centers. Founded by Thomas Hirschler and Kaja Witt, the residency program provides a creative sanctuary in the midst of an exhilarating city where artists from around the world can create artwork stimulated by their surroundings and experiences. Developed after the couple spent time at the Archie Bray foundation in Helena, Montana, the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin welcomes artists to a city that is, at once, standing in history and bursting into the future.
Ceramicist Allison Luce, who lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina (USA), participated in a residence at the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin between May and July 2010. Inspired by a city with such a tumultuous past, Luce was amazed at the beauty and resiliency of life that was Berlin. This residence allowed her to experience the city in a different way than previous trips that were characterized by quick visits to the main tourist sights. By taking bike rides along the Mauer Weg, following the path of the Berlin Wall, she was able to weave between the former East and West Berlin in a way that was impossible for 30 years and experience where the wall divided the city. Since Luce was there during the spring, she saw the quiet garden of the residency transformed into a blossom of life. As the weather warmed, she also went to various monuments and landmarks around the city, such as the Soviet War memorial, which is tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood. Luce was amazed to experience a city’s metamorphosis woven from a web of history into something thriving and beautiful.
Evaporate, 2010, 14.5” x 13” x 5.5”, Fired Clay with oxides, watercolor, mixed media. Photo by Allison Luce.
In Berlin, Luce developed a body of sculpture, collectively entitled “The Serpent Tree”. Referencing nature as well as the body, “The Serpent Tree” works, such as Mandrake and Echo, as vessels of birth, growth, death and, even, life through death. The theme of residence has been a central theme of Luce’s ceramics for many years. Her work materializes the twisted processes of organic growth. One of the advantages of clay ceramics, born of earth and fire, is its potential material affinity with the viewer. Luce’s work takes full advantage of this affinity. Working in clay, the material out of which all of humanity was created, her sculptures explore the ephemeral nature of our existence and the belief in the promise of life. Just as the body is the residence of the soul, Luce’s sculptures are residences of presence and meaning.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You are presenting yourself as a sculptor even though you have a BFA in Ceramics. What are you currently working on?
Jenni Ward: Although I’ve been educated in all aspects of ceramics; pottery, functional hand-building or sculpture, I’ve chosen to focus on abstract sculptural ceramics. I feel that if I say I’m a ceramicist, people either don’t know what I’m talking about or they assume I throw pots, so I feel that introducing myself as a sculptor who works with clay is a more precise description of the work I create. Right now I’m working with organic forms that have holes cut into them and those forms have other ceramics pieces that are trapped inside. This process of trapping forms has manifested itself into multiple series of work. I’m conceptually playing with the balance between trapping and protecting an object and simultaneously exploring abstract ways to express that in clay.
Nest Series IV, 2010, ceramic & high temperature, wire, 12” x 10” 8” - View her works
What triggered the passion for ceramics in you?
I have always worked with clay, my parents still have the first coil pot I made as a kid and I just never stopped working with clay. I was lucky enough to of had an in depth ceramics program in my high school. That exposure gave me the experience to explore clay and know that it was going to be my focus at the university level. I also really love the process of working with clay; each stage that you go through from a soft malleable material to a fired finished piece offers the chance that everything can go wrong at any step in the process. Having the ability to balance control over the clay and letting what happens happen is always a battle for me that I’m very attracted to. I’m constantly learning new techniques or possibilities with clay whether it’s through taking a workshop or seeing another artist at work. Clay is a very basic, primitive material that can be used in such varied and technological ways; it’s a constant learning process.
Ceramics Now Magazine: The versatility of your work is very inspiring and makes the viewer ask himself whether he should play with your works or just to admire their universe. When did you begin to create such intricate pieces?
Suzanne Stumpf: Thank you for your kind words. I began to create interactive sculptural pieces about 7-8 years ago, after I had been working in clay for about about three years or so. From the outset, drawing the audience in to touch and explore has always been a goal. But also, I have intended for each work to have its own strong essence that invites contemplation/reflection.
Modularity and interactivity are two main characteristics of your work. How much time does it take to complete a new work? Do you make many sketches?
My interactive sculptures generally take many weeks. The germination of an idea and realization of each work can also be a lengthy process, particularly when there are complicated construction or even “engineering” issues involved. I can sometimes spend a couple of months in the “head-scratching” stage and work on other projects while I sort out the steps and best approaches. I do keep a notebook with sketches and notes, but I do not personally find it easy to translate some of these projects onto the page. With a fairly good aptitude for spatial relations, I hold much of the planning in my head initially. Because I build primarily in porcelain, extremely slow drying is key — I cannot emphasize this enough. And, of course, this also adds to an already long creation process.
Spike, 2008, 5.5”h x 8”w x 3” d, wheelthrown and altered porcelain with handbuilt components; black slip and shellac resist; oxidation fired to cone 10 - View her works
Some of your works consist in multi-component pieces that, put together, metamorphose each time in different compositions. Do your Interactive Sculptures illustrate the ludic dimension of art? How important is this element for you?
My answer depends on the tenor of the word “ludic”. Although the mere invitation to rearrange components may seem a playful act and some of my sculptures may even possess qualities of games, the interaction by the audience has never seemed aimless to me. To the contrary, I witness people being extremely thoughtful about what they are creating as they rearrange components. The idea with these works is that there are nearly innumerable permutations that the viewer can create, all of which will reveal different aspects of the sculpture’s essence for contemplation.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You are both a painter and a ceramic artist; is one medium closer to you than another?
Cindy Billingsley: Both mediums have equal places in my heart. It mainly depends on the subject or idea I have, clay is sometimes better at conveying my passion or idea then paint is. There is nothing like the feel of clay in hand. I can say in Ceramics what I can not with paint. Clay is felt with all, the eyes, hands and the heart. No other medium can do this. Clay comes from the earth and has that feeling of being alive if sculptures right. If you look closely at a ceramic sculpture you can see the finger marks, the hand prints — it is made by the hand and touch of the artist.
I love in clay that, as an artist, I can take that lump of clay and make it into something magical, something others can touch and see the passion I had for my idea. This is what drew me to clay as my medium.
Chamber Nautlius, 2005, 15” x 18” x 9”, raku clay, hand built solid, hollowed for firing, low fired, cold finish acrylic and wax - View her works
There is a visible fascination for the world of animals reflected in your work; where does this interest come from? Tell us more about the subjects you explore.
Since childhood I have had and felt a closeness with animals. I have lived in the company of animals more than in the company of people. So naturally, I would follow that path with my art. In Ceramics I could finally convey the gesture and mood of an animal with the strokes of the clay without a lot of detail. I have always been more interested in capturing the spirit of an animal or its essence than making an exact model of an animal. Clay freed me up to be able to do this, with quick clay marks here, and strokes of clay there. Clay has that wonderful freedom to it. And Clay sometimes has it’s own ideas about how a piece will come about, that I might not have thought of until I was in the middle of sculpting it. I am drawn to the less familiar animals in my sculptures, like the blue ring octopus, Okapi or fruit bats. These animals fascinate me. Trying to make clay appear like soft fur is the challenge and the fun, like with my Koala sculpture.
The American sculptor Tim Rowan’s personal quietude belies the depth and activity of his process. He allows his work to be his voice but sometimes this leaves much to the perceptions of the viewer. The work often depends on the viewer not only to intellectually grasp it but to intuit it as well. The Japanese aesthetic of Yugen or mysterious essence is an important part of his presentation. This work not only occupies gallery space but it also has a placement in the context of his studio and land. When you see his work in its birthplace you realize you are standing in the presence of one of the world’s great Poets of Place.
Tim Rowan’s work does not refer directly to the history of traditional Western ceramics. Of course aspects of all ceramic sculpture processes are universal but his work does not travel to us out of an evolution of Western form and surface techniques. By this token they barely travel out of Japanese form either, though there are parts of the process that refer to it obliquely; firing technique and flame markings for example. But his cups are not chawan, and his sculpture does not quote Bizen form. His urns are not mizusashi. If there are any references at all to the work of his teacher, Ryuichi Kakurezaki, they come from Rowan’s responding to that work despite the Japanese legacy that work comes from. When you look closely at Tim Rowan’s abstract pieces the implications of his freeform place in history come home to roost. You can compare his colors perhaps, his textures perhaps, his melted ash perhaps, but his forms are his alone. They are not utilitarian objects trying to break free from tradition. They are however, utilitarian to the eye and the soul, used in aesthetic contemplation and the cerebral and ephemeral pleasures therein. He is saying new things in an ancient language.
I am not sure I would label Rowan as anything but a Contemporary Artist. His expansion to found and shaped stone forms extend his ceramic vocabulary. He is a Minimalist but that is more a description of his affect than of any philosophical viewpoint. The tension in his pieces is not minimal. His work covers power with a veneer of control and calm; a dangerous directed power. It seethes. The spikes on his cups or in his bowls, the cracking and splitting of his geode-like forms whether ceramic or metal, reveal mineral turmoil and convey a universe that can be ominous and/or aggressive even in its quietest moments. He creates a geological ethnography with objects that have resonances beyond the membrane of our ordinary aesthetic recognition.
“The environment is in a delicate balance between well-being and decline. For a healthy society, we must be responsive to the fact that all of our activities affect the Earth. My sculptures express the beauty of nature and the tension created by man’s manipulation of our environment. I use the beauty of form to increase the viewer’s emotional connection with nature. This connection to nature can expand one person’s, and ultimately our society’s compassion for the natural world.
Historically we have manipulated plants by gathering seeds, grafting limbs, and controlling pollination of plants with traits we find favorable. These qualities were gradually developed over countless generations. What is different about our more recent modification of plants is the far-reaching selection of traits from organisms that would not be accessible without genetic engineering. For instance, splicing a fish gene with a strawberry to make the strawberry more resistant to cold could not occur if not for techniques developed by scientists. This kind of manipulation is dramatically different from our prior system of plant selection and has potentially profound effects on the Earth.
I use manufactured elements in my work to create a tension meant to bring about a consciousness within the viewer, to open a dialogue about contemporary society’s association with nature. This discussion can raise awareness of the danger that our current situation poses. A lack of responsibility and stewardship for the Earth creates many problems for the planet, among them degradation of our basic life support systems, as reflected in the loss of biodiversity, increased toxicity of our food systems, inefficient use of natural resources and global climate change. I hope that my art will encourage viewers to educate themselves and become increasingly proactive in assuring a sustainable future.” Steve Belz
Jason Hess: New Work / Plinth Gallery, Denver, CO, USA
Jason Hess: New Work / Plinth Gallery, Denver, CO, USA April 6 - 28, 2012
Opening reception: Friday, April 6th, 6-9 pm.
Jason Hess is a professional ceramic artist and professor who lives in Arizona and instructs at Northern Arizona University. As an “avid wood firer”, his research for over 15 years has focused on the alchemy of the process — how the clay color, wood type, kiln design, and ash dispersion at high temperatures work together to “render a surface that is unattainable in other ways.”
A desire to have objects that fulfill specific purposes inspires him to make functional pots. The infinite and elusive variety of texture and color attainable through the various making and firing processes has generated an interest in the notion of presentation. Some of his work is presented so that a viewer might notice and appreciate subtle diversities in form and surface. By grouping similar forms of differing size and color the compositions create a visually dynamic display, which invites the viewer to enjoy the tactile nature of each individual piece and how they relate to one another.
His ceramic art has been featured in over 125 exhibitions worldwide. Jason has participated in residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation, in Montana, and at The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China. He has also received numerous research grants from Northern Arizona University to research his medium and for the construction of the kilns. Jason’s work is either utilitarian or refers to utility in form while the presentation is more like characters relating to one another. He holds an MFA degree from Utah State University.
Gallery Hours: Thursday - Saturday, 12-5 pm, and by appointment.
Nicolae Moldovan: The minimal form / Galateea Gallery, Bucharest, Romania
Nicolae Moldovan: The minimal form / Galateea Gallery, Bucharest, Romania March 29 - April 16, 2012
Galateea Gallery, Bucharest, presents a new ceramic exhibition by Nicolae Moldovan, comprising a series of minimal objects. The show runs from March 29 through April 16, 2012, with the Opening Reception on Thursday, March 29, from 6pm to 9pm.
"The Minimal Form" exhibition brings together works that live through their clean shapes and through the essentialized force given by the form. From time to time, the ‘original form’ interacts with elements from other materialities, starting a conflict and aggressing the original.
Nicolae Moldovan graduated in Ceramics at the National University of Arts, Bucharest (1998), being one of Alexie Lazăr Florian and Doru Marian’s pupils. In the last twenty years, he participated in group exhibitions in Romania, Germany, South Korea and Bulgaria.
Reopened in 2011 at the initiative of the Romanian Fine Arts Union, Galateea Gallery is the first contemporary ceramics gallery in Romania, located on 132 Victory Avenue.
Saint's Sculptures between the XIX and the XX century / Casa Vestita, Grottaglie, Italy
Saint’s Sculptures between the XIX and the XX century / Casa Vestita, Grottaglie, Taranto, Italy March 29 – April 15, 2012
Opening reception: Thursday, March 29th, 18.30 pm.
For the first time ever, there will be exhibited over 95 votive terracotta figurines representing some of the saints venerated in Puglia, a tangible sign of the widespread devotion to Southern home.
Fifteen photos by photographer Ciro Quaranta will open the exhibition, who in the last thirty years has been conducting a thorough research on the popular faith in Puglia, managing to put together a file that describes moments of faith and devotion that are cyclically repeated during the centuries.
The exhibition “Sacralità domestica”, maintained by the archaeologist Simone Mirto and ceramist Mimmo Vestita will open in Via Crispi 63/A on the 29th of March, and runs until 15 April, enriching the range of cultural offerings in regional during the Easter season when many tourists reach the Salento to enjoy the balmy spring temperatures or to attend the renowned Holy Week Rites in Taranto.
The votive statues accompanied by the photographs tell the intimate relationship between man and the sacred, an extraordinary exhibition which takes visitors through different eras of environments, all enclosed in the picturesque setting of Casa Vestita in the heart of the “City of ceramics”. Grottaglie is thus prepared to the first exhibition that puts a spotlight on an aspect of popular devotion, at a specific time such as Easter, in which the mystery of faith is particularly felt by the community.
"A recious and rare exhibition" - Simone Mirto, curator of the exhibition. Sacralità domestica is the first exhibition in Italy that traces the lower production of votive terracotta figurines made in Grottaglie.
“My work is strongly political and inspired by the invention of Japanese tentacle pornography.
It all began when I typed in ‘tentacle’ to Google Images. 90% of the images that showed up consisted of violent tentacle porn. Tentacle porn has been around for centuries, but only became hugely popular in 1980, when a Japanese animator named Maeda wanted to make an erotic anime called Urotsuki. However, at the time, Japanese law forbade anatomically explicit pornographic drawings. Illustrators were always looking for ways to get around the law, so, instead of depicting an erect penis, Maeda depicted brutal tentacles.
Moreover, it was illegal to show couples taking part in sex where the man penetrates the woman with his penis for mutual pleasure, but it was perfectly legal to show tentacle rape. This contradiction of censorship fascinated me. The restrictions on the latter substantially caused the former: the return of the repressed as huge, aggressive tentacles…and this is what I found to be most fascinating.
Thus, the tentacles in my work symbolize sexual repression. I am very worried about contemporary sexuality, with women still derogated for acting sexual and mainstream pornography becoming more and more brutal. I pay a lot of attention to the media, which further influences my work. I use casts of my own body parts to express how this state of deformed sexuality is affecting me.” Ruth Power