One of my interests is the “space” between the “art buyer” and the “artwork object”. Initially when a piece of art is purchased there is a connection, possibly a wisdom or a beauty – an aesthetic magic, a ‘wow’ factor, the feeling that this object is something special – I have to have it, I need it.
I wonder how can I as the artist creating these small unique small gifts, continue to support the buyer to maintain this feeling. As a maker, my connection for the time this work interests me, is ongoing and consuming. There has to be more exploratory work to do. Once this connection changes for me I will make no more of this particular work. I make limited editions. My connection with the work is multifaceted. Always there is with the visual satisfaction I experience from the finished work, but it is the process of making that keeps me most engaged with it. Plus there are some deeper thoughts that are usually taken for granted and not articulated. So this is my first attempt to think this through.
In my Liminal Process blog I have been writing about deepening relationships with my art and my journey with words, images and a healing journey with cancer. The two blogs are interrelated, and as I keep writing and reflecting, it is helping to gain clarity.
These little porcelain bowls were a story that began a few years ago. They are slip cast, in little plaster of paris moulds that I bought back from Jingdezhen, China. Making them was driven a year later by learning how to slip cast, then the design and playtime came later. Let me explain.
The story of the porcelain bowls – first the technology
I use southern Ice porcelain clay as I love its blue whiteness. It was developed by master ceramicist Les Blakeborough. I make this clay into casting slip. This is a liquid clay with a few additives to make it thixotropic (I love this word, it means that it is a jelly consistency, but when its stirred it becomes more liquid). This property enables it to be poured into a plaster of paris mould and then be poured out again without leaving drip marks. In 2016 I did residency in Arita, Kyushu, Japan at the Kouraku Gama Factory and worked alongside the factory workers to learn how to slip cast.
The slip is poured into the mould and left for about 10 minutes until about 3mm of slip has set in the mould as the plaster of paris absorbs water from the slip. Then the excess liquid slip is poured out, back into the bucket and the mould is drained upside down for a couple of hours. After trimming any excess slip and cutting the rim the bowl, the mould and bowl is turned the right way up and allowed to dry. After drying for a couple of hours it becomes leather hard it can be removed from the mould.
When bone dry it is tidied up, the rim is refined, and the bowl is wiped with a very fine sponge. As the bowl is so thin (less than 3 mm now as it shrinks when it dries), I cannot decorate it as it would break, so it is bisque fired to about 1000 deg C. After this firing it is decorated with coloured stains dissolved in casting slip (I like the consistency of brushing with casting slip). This is playtime – with mark making, colour combinations, and using latex and cold wax resists, and different brushes.
I don’t plan the decoration stage, it is a liminal space surrounded by the structures created by the slip cast process. The colour combinations, the lines interacting with the resists, the way the colours work together are all unpredictable.
THE FORM OF THE BOWL – STRUCTURE/TECHNOLOGY – CREATES THE
LIMINAL SPACE FOR PLAY AND EXPLORATION.
After decorating they are glost fired to cone 5 – about 1180 deg C. Southern Ice clay starts to vitrify at this temperature which means the silica in the porcelain has started to melt. If at this stage I am not happy with the result I will rework them with more resists and slips, and refire. Usually they are ready to polish and finish off using wet and dry sandpaper in water, I remove any irregularities, and smooth them to a soft luscious porcelain surface. Sometimes silky smooth, and sometimes textured. I love the result.
The progression – playing with colour, playing with words… exploratory writing
Things can change in an instant, and I find myself in a parallel universe since being diagnosed with a sarcoma cancer in my leg. First stage of treatment involved being in hospital for 4 weeks, in bed, cannot move, working out pain relief, feeling very sore, going through radiotherapy, a long journey to being healed and healthy again, I will be housebound and on a healing journey for a few more months.
So each morning I wake early and play with coloured watercolour pencils to organise my ‘playbook’. I was wide awake and clear headed (from the drugs). There is a special quality to that quiet reflective time of the day, when there is no pressure to do anything but just BE ME.
What an amazing opportunity to plan, muse, reflect – #onespecialdayatatime #myhealingjourney #creativespace – anything goes in this book – a stream of consciousness time – sometimes 4.30 or earlier, the quiet before the dawn. In the hospital I needed to do something before the blood pressure monitoring, the tablets, and the life of the hospital ward -began, I wanted, needed to write and draw.
I choose art as my healing therapy (as well as the radiation). I can lose myself for hours in the territory where I can enter into that autotelic “flow” state where there is intensity of focus and the feeling of enjoying the process for its own sake. The effects of being in this state and its effects on well being and health, is an emerging area of interest for researchers (recent Philosophers Zone podcast).
I have been wanting to spend time developing my drawing and writing, the 2D arena, and the opportunity was right here. I set a structure with a small journal – a drawing and a haiku a day. And publish on Instagram and Facebook where old and new friends are connecting with the work. A starting place.
Just to write and draw what what happening to me and what my senses are experiencing, as I am working out my new existence in this strange and unfamiliar (yet familiar) parallel universe, like a time warp, surreal.
Back home now as radiation, stage one is finished, and while I am still in the process of dealing with the cancer tumou , and its associated pain management, I am able to start work in the studio again, move around within the confines of pain relief and rest.
I can do some of the things I want to again… have just unloaded a kiln of small porcelain bowls that I painted a few weeks ago. As I have more time to reflect I realise I there is a cross over with the colour play in hospital – playing with colour, thinking about colour palettes, how do colours interact, what are my colours, how to make the marks that I love, how to use the materials. How am I thinking about these explorations.
Meanwhile these little bowls are off to the Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre Gallery Shop, do visit and find these and more of my work.