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Interview by Andra Baban for Ceramics Now Magazine - Issue Two
As a contemporary artist with extensive knowledge in the field of ceramics, can you share with us a significant experience for your career?
There is no doubt that growing up in a family of artists had a major influence on my life and artistic career. The chance to develop myself in an artistic environment, to be in contact with different genres of art, cultivated my taste for diversity. As a defining experience, I can say that the time spent in the ceramics studio during high school was the most interesting for me. In that period, the studio was an experimentation lab and I was encouraged by my teacher, Judita Crăciun, to discover new things, and so I gathered knowledge that further helped me build my artistic identity. A similar stage was during doctoral studies when I had the opportunity to reshape and enrich my knowledge and vision regarding ceramic art.
What inspires you and how do you start a new project?
New projects usually occur after reflecting on certain subjects, items or concepts that caught my attention and which I want to integrate into the work. Other ceramic projects come as a response to a challenging and interesting thematic for a special event or exhibition. What I particularly like is to closely observe plants, animals and insects, and to study their surfaces with a special attention to the countless details, drawings, textures or structures. The miniature elements extracted from the vegetal and animal world are translated into my work through a personal alphabet of shapes. Besides this, in my work I often use details and anatomical fragments as inspiration. In some works, these fragments lose their original identity and transform into volumetric expressions and complex reliefs.
There is a visible preoccupation for texture in your work; how do you make it and how important is texture and surface for the message you want to send?
The decorative elements are completing the volumes and have an equal importance for the ensemble, the details becoming in this context a work by its own. The texture makes the work more pretentious and transforms it into an object that requires more time and close inspection in order to be discovered. The structures are completing the volumes with nature inspired shapes, vegetal and zoomorphic elements. These graphic traces, reliefs or applied elements on the works’ surface are growing together with the shape. Some of the reliefs are taking form in the process of constructing the work by pressing the material on textured surfaces, and other work surfaces are transferred by imprinting, cutting and etching, or by applying mixed glazes to the surface. It is a big pleasure for me to collect in my kit of tools items that can help me later on with my work. This kit, made over the years, consists of lots of items that are indeed a small treasure - a chest with instruments out of the ordinary and tools made by me for the purpose to obtain new textures and more complex patterns.
[…] Read the full interview in Ceramics Now - Issue Two
* Digital Issue Two will be published on December 2012
In 2010 you held a conference in Paris on the topic of Romanian contemporary ceramics. In this context, what can you say about the context of Romanian ceramics? Do ceramist artists have opportunities in Romania?
The presentation of Romanian contemporary ceramics was part of a larger project together with a Romanian contemporary ceramics exhibition with Cristina Popescu Russu as curator. The exhibition, held at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Paris, was one of the most important events for the Romanian contemporary ceramics in the recent years, being included in the program of the 44th General Assembly of the International Academy of Ceramics (International Academy of Ceramics - ICA). Fourteen artists attended the exhibition but 46 Romanian ceramists were promoted through the materials presented throughout the ICA events. Following this exhibition, new contacts were established between artists.
The visibility of Romanian contemporary ceramics, both nationally and internationally, plays an important role in creating a professional, competitive and creative-stimulating environment which can generate exchanges between renowned and emerging artists, and arise new opportunities for collaborations. Following the records of contemporary ceramists from different generations, with a very original vision in this field, we can notice big differences in the thematic approach, style and forming of ceramic material. The various concerns of the artists for materiality, color, scale or accuracy, and the simplicity of shape are building the identity of Romanian ceramic art. An overview of Romanian contemporary ceramics makes us notice the multimedialism, the interdisciplinary dimension of it, and the new forms and ways of artistic expression generated by new materials, techniques and technologies.
13 Ways of Looking at “Natural Great Piece” - Meditations on a performance in clay by Cybele Rowe and Lauren Ari / REVIEW
13 Ways of Looking at “Natural Great Piece”
Meditations on a performance in clay by Cybele Rowe and Lauren Ari
Review by Daniel Fleischmann for Ceramics Now Magazine - Issue Two
1. “Natural Great Piece” is an intricate, intimate, communal performance in the medium of clay. Like a dance or a concert, it is more overtly bound to time than most sculptural artwork, and it ends dissolved into the past.
2. Cybele Rowe and Lauren Ari make a large and detailed clay sculpture. It emerges from an improvisational score fed by their combined 60 years of art making experience. Passersby are invited to create self-portraits in clay to be incorporated into the artwork. Its surfaces become covered with these figures, which are painted with underglaze.
At a certain point, the construction is complete. Its size is such that it can easily conceal a large adult from view. The words of Tibetan lama Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche are carved into the unfired clay:
Rest in natural great peace this exhausted mind,
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thoughts
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.
A brief performance marks the culmination of the process. Then the Natural Great Piece is dismantled.
3. Rowe and Ari first manifested “Natural Great Piece” at the 2nd Ceramics Annual of America in San Francisco, October 5-9, 2011. They were joined by singer Bridget O’Keeffe and dancer Juliet Lin. In addition, roughly 250 fellow artists, ceramics aficionados, art students, and visitors contributed small figurative moments to the sculpture.
Circumnavigating its concave exterior or squatting in its embrace, you could see a red dragon, a female figure growing from yellow coral, a gnome pouring a jug of water over a balcony, a bloody ghoul, a colony of barnacles, a waiter bringing a head on a tray, a cluster of pink faces on a blue man’s torso, and countless more visual poems and paragraphs.
The chaotic and fascinating fresco captured the essence of the eternal cycle of birth, differentiation, suffering, death and rebirth—in short, samsara. Yet as varied as the details were, all came together in the single, curved wall. Reminiscent of both cave and womb, it described approximately three quarters of a circle and measured about 3m in circumference, 2.5m in height at its apex, and 900 kg in weight.
4. There is no reason to believe that “Natural Great Piece” has a quintessential appearance. Rowe notes, for example, that the moisture in the air at Fort Mason, which sits on a pier above San Francisco Bay, forced her to build a stockier wall. One wing of the sculpture even threatened to collapse on Saturday, calling for quick reinforcement. In a drier clime, the taller shape could easily emerge given Rowe’s gift for stretching the proportions of clay.
For another example, because the venue was a ceramic conference, many participants were artists themselves. Rowe and Ari conceive of this work having an expression in a space where most passersby would not have artistic training. It would yield something quite different and perhaps more compelling to Ari, who says, “The point is that art is for everyone. Everyone gets to express. For me, it’s very powerful to invite people to art making in a way that makes them say yes to the process.”
5. “How do you fire it?” is the number one FAQ. The answer is simple, but few can hear it without questioning further.
“So you’re not going to save it?”
“Then what are you going to do with it?”
“Are you going to take it apart and then fire it?”
You have to have compassion toward these reactions because it’s clear that great effort has gone into building this mother cave. The structural ingenuity, the input of so many people, even the cost of the clay—surely it must be saved.
But when a saxophonist stops blowing, or a monk rises from a meditation of pure surrender, or a trick pilot pivots a plane like a beached fish in midair and then recovers, nobody questions why the transcendent emergence has to end. Nobody asks the pilot, “How will you save that moment?” And even fired clay is only a pause in this fluid reality.
(The second most common question is asked by people who have given Rowe and Ari their clay self-portrait: “Where is the piece I contributed?”)
6. Last summer, Ari and Rowe got together at Rowe’s studio in the hills southeast of L.A. Together, they built two small structures to explore the way their languages combine. They also painted two large drop cloths in prismatic colors to serve as a foundation for the sculpture. Their daughters, Galatea and Mirabai, fast friends, played together while their mothers worked.
The artists first met the previous year at the First Ceramics Annual, but even before that, Ari had seen Rowe’s work and recognized a kindred spirit. “When I saw [it], I thought to myself, ‘If I were to make something big, I’d want it to look like that.”
Rowe had also been instantly attracted to Ari’s work, and had actually set one of Ari’s images as her computer’s desktop graphic before the two ever met.
“So when we met, we quickly started talking about collaboration,” Ari relates. “We had similar energy and ideas.” Over the year, these ideas coalesced, leading them to Fort Mason on October 5, 2011, where they spread the canvases, poured a ring of sand for a base, and began to grow the artwork from the ground up.
Interview by Vasi Hîrdo for Ceramics Now Magazine - Issue Two
Translation by Anca Sânpetrean
You are a young ceramist who had started her artistic endeavor early on, during college. How did you discover the passion for ceramics?
I guess it was while working. From one work to another you get new ideas; you get excited, you make things. I remember that at the beginning, in high school, I was fascinated to discover how a crude glaze that was a washy orange became dark green after the firing. When you are applying glazes, a significant part of the process is a mental/ imaginative one. While you are mixing and combining them, you need to imagine their true colors, revealed by the firing process.
What message or feeling do you wish to convey to the viewer through your works? Is the goal of your artistic process one of searching and experimenting?
Absolutely! It’s an experiment which starts from the early stages of the work, and includes the viewer’s reaction to the finished piece. The message is open to various interpretations, depending on the power of understanding and interiority of the viewer. It is important for me to create a starting point for a debate.
The refinement and elegance of your works are the result of the techniques that you employ, together with the subtle interventions on the shape. Tell us more about the creative process of your works.
There isn’t anything new or unusual to it. First of all there is the idea. For me it’s important to know if what I’m going to produce is suitable to be made from ceramic material, that the idea will be best expressed with this medium. Then I carefully choose the material, so that it matches and supports my idea. Most of the time, I prefer white clays or sandstone. The majority of my works are composed of more than one piece, so I usually make plaster molds, in which I press the paste, and then I interfere with the form, depending on what I want to do. When I made the ceramic boats (No Direction Home, 2010), I had to do various tests, including testing the paper’s reaction with the ceramic slip. It had to be not too glossy, but neither too rough or to absorb much water. Furthermore, it is essential to know where and when you should stop.
Oriana Pelladi, The dowry, 2011, Stoneware, White glaze, Wooden pillow.
In 2010 you was an artist in residence at Fule International Ceramic Art Museum (FLICAM), Fuping, China. What was the result of this residence?
China is a fascinating country. I lived within a culture with a rich and vast history, one that relates significantly to ceramics. The residence at Fuping has been perfect for me. First of all, I was taken out of the daily context in which I live, away from the little mundane things that interfere with the work. I had my time, I could think and create. I could choose freely from several types of ceramic paste, with high plasticity, provided by the local ceramic factory. It was incredibly nice to work there. Beside this, I experienced working in a studio together with other Romanian and also foreign artists from all over the world - from different generations and with different points of view. It was challenging in terms of creativity, which is a good experience. The residence in which I took part ended with the opening of the Museum of Eastern Europe. Over several years, numerous residences amounted to the creation of the International Museum of Contemporary Ceramics; the museum was composed of several pavilions representing different countries or areas: Scandinavia, America, Australia, Asia, etc. It was a wonderful project, and I was lucky to be part of it. There are many events which deserve to be mentioned. It was captivating. China inspires you.
Firstly, an attraction toward the household objects led me to ceramic. I am deeply fascinated by clay and the gesture of the hand cupping the bowl.
Beyond the objects, my interest for this art was aroused by a strong link with the origin of humankind, the ancestral tradition of making household objects out of that universal and natural clay. Finally, meeting with ceramists and contemplating their work was a strong incentive to become part of that story.
The refinement and suaveness of your ceramic pieces are given by your attention to detail. Tell us about your educational background and other related experiences.
I had numerous trainings in France and Belgium with ceramists, during which I learned, observed and appreciated the simplicity of the gesture of the first movement. Permanently, I think of the first gestures man performed in order to create a clay or stoneware object.
I love the primitive aspect of this job whose rules have not changed for thousands of years.
How did the architecture of the North of France and the austere aesthetic of the Flemish still-life affected your work?
I am of Flemish origins, I have always lived in the North of France. I don’t believe in plain inspiration, it comes through our environment and culture. In my region and in the near Belgium country more particularly, the black color is omnipresent: in my ancestors clothes, in the colors of the walls, in Flemish paintings. When I walk around cities like Amsterdam or Gand, or along the enbankment in Anvers Harbor, or wandering in Bruxelles, what strikes me is the simplicity and efficiency of architecture, either XVIth century and ultra-contemporary. Streamlined shapes, huge openings to catch maximum light in spite of often grey skies.
My country is also a landscape of industrial wasteland. Former silos, unused steel factories, traces of a bygone industry in which concrete and rusty steel beams are the ghosts of that prosperous era.
Virginie Besengez, Brimming Over, 2012, Stoneware and porcelain, Diam. 50 cm x H. 40 cm. - View Virginie Besengez’s works
The monochrome compositions that you create give the viewer a subtle remembrance of the object design of the 60’s. Why did you choose not to use color in your works?
Color makes no sense to me, for me it takes too much space and leaves no room for subtlety and details. You need to have a poetic mind to be moved by the grey sea of the North, by the dull skies of Flanders.
Grey and black change according to the light, they are not permanent, thus the object has several lives in one day. I am particularly interested in the numerous shades of grey that light can enhance in a monochrome composition, depending on the clay, its closeness to an immaculate porcelain and the way pieces are laid out.
I have been influenced and inspired by Morandi, but also by urban wastelands, steel compression ready for recycling, odds and ends piled up at the back of an old scottish shop.
By accident! When I was in high school I studied painting and I believed that nothing could rise to its value; that painting is part of my soul and the only way of expression for me as an artist. But this had changed when in university I have met ceramics, felt in loved and couldn’t separate since. This is mainly due to my professor, Ernest Budeş, the person which showed us all the ways of expressing through this medium, using clay, stoneware, earthenware or porcelain, each with its specific techniques. He taught us that ceramics is made with a lot of patience, dedication and most of all, love. He also educated us to love what we do because an object made with all these “ingredients” cannot be otherwise than good: it lives, vibrates, transmits.
Is ceramics for you an opportunity for introspection?
Art in general is an opportunity for introspection. Ceramics is a material that allows many possibilities of transposing artistic ideas, therefore can be both two-dimensional (decorative tiles, painting, graphic, photography) and three-dimensional (sculpture, installation). In conclusion, clay has a wide range of artistic expressions that can help you translate almost any idea. Unlike other mediums, ceramics implies using all the primordial elements -earth, water, air, fire- to get the final result; this gives you a lot to think about. To give shape to earth you need water, to dry it you need air, but then, giving it to fire (and I say giving because from this point the fire detains most of the control and often is the best adviser and critic that reveals your mistakes and never forgives them) for objectification, fixing, vitrifying, finality.
Tell us more about your creative process. Is there a balance between concept and execution?
The important thing is to have the idea; the rest will follow naturally. When you master the ceramic techniques, you automatically consider the idea in connection with the execution possibilities; it is like the relation thought – word – grammar. You own the concept, the idea, the thought, and can transpose them using a grammatical structure. The same is with ceramics: you visualize the whole process to the ending, and you start to work, meanwhile transposing your thoughts.
It may happen to change the idea in the process – mainly because the difference of time between thought and action is longer than in other artistic media - for example in painting everything happens almost simultaneously (thought, gesture, action and result) but in ceramics, the execution time is slower and the mind begins to work - the reason why changes can occur in the initial idea but also in technique. Usually, I try not to diverge too far from the main idea, but I have to be very careful because if I let myself flow in experiments, I can easily derail and fail to reach the destination, in other words to what I wanted to convey. Ceramics doesn’t give you much opportunity to step back in the process, instead it forces you to take it again from beginning.
Aniela Ovadiuc, The book, 2011, Stoneware, Metalic oxides, 15 x 38 x 3 cm.
[…] Read the full interview in Ceramics Now - Issue Two
The book is a recurrent element in your creation. What are the origins of this passion?
During Master degree studies I had as research the theme of the Library (Bookcase), concluding that it is the sum of human preoccupations. If Schopenhauer names the book “the paper memory of mankind”, my work “The Library” (Bookcase) wants to put in light the human – library relationship. The library has the meaning of a book depository where the books reflect the man himself. To understand this I had to ask myself: What is a library? - A book depository; What is the book? - The memory of mankind in the shape of words, images and signs; What are the words? - Language, signs, symbols, gesture. And still, what is the library? – Is purely a human product, which stores all its history and emphasizes the development path, all thoughts, feelings and human desires. All these are in the Universal Library, and man carries it with himself all the way. The library and the man go together, have a common, inseparable route, like a carried and projected shadow. So from now on, I remained faithful to this theme, because it is very complex and inexhaustible, because we are in constant motion and evolution, but especially because the book as an art object is as Daniela Frumuşeanu said - “an exhibition itself!”
Ryan Blackwell: Spick-and-Span, 2012, Ceramic, Variable upon size of room. Each dustpan 2.25 x 2.25 x 0.25 in.
Ryan Blackwell: Mother’s Bad Dreams, 2011, Ceramic, Human Teeth, Resin, Metal, Wood 3 x 7 x 6 in.
Ryan Blackwell: Mother’s Bad Dreams, detail, 2011
Ryan Blackwell: Untitled (Red Rectangle), details, 2012, Table Top, Clay, Oil, Acrylic, Curtain Wire, 41 x 28 x 2 in.
Ryan Blackwell: Raccoon Skulls with Human Incisor Implants, 2011, Ceramic, Gold Luster, Glaze, Single Skull - 4 x 3 x 2 in.