Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Tea Bowl Process

     As requested, I'll give a not-so-brief description of my process for creating my tea bowl forms (pictures below). A little more than a year ago I was "invited" by my professor to abandon wheel-throwing and work solid. His advice was appreciated and heeded readily. I had been struggling to find myself in my pots. Every vessel I made was more sculptural than utilitarian. Adding to the frustration was the ever present glaring eyes of my influences staring at me from the clay. Working solid allowed me to explore surface and volume with diminished attention to historical ceramic form and without concern for utility. (Older posts will reveal the results of the past year's work with solid ceramic sculpture.) I was eventually able to find my own marks using anything but clay tools. My work now focuses on surface as the primary component giving the impression (no pun intended) of an artifact, incidental to another process, re-appropriated to a new purpose. In non-art speak, marks you wouldn't expect are found where you wouldn't expect them. Or, someone picked up a piece of junk and made it look like art, etc.
     After graduation I finally felt like I could make art just for me instead of making to satisfy my professors, assignments, or other artists. I wanted to apply what I had learned from the solid forms to my favorite utilitarian form, the tea bowl. Being a wood-fire clay artist I admire the history and aesthetics of Japanese ceramics. Way back in the 1990s a teacher of ours, Don Bendel, told us "If you don't know what to make, make tea bowls." I came to see the tea bowl as the artist's signature. They bear a character unique to that artist and an individual artist can be recognized by his or her execution of that form. It is very important to me to establish "my tea bowl" in order to see myself as a successful clay artist, bona fide if you will. I am still developing my interpretation of this form, simplifying the process, focusing on key elements as needed. I don't often impose the traditional terms, chawan, kodai, etc., on these pieces or their anatomy because I still need to think of them as sculpture first to allow for an openness to the process.
     Still reading? Okay, here's how it's done. I start with a solid lump of clay. It works best if the clay is relatively stiff, un-throw-able on the wheel but plastic enough to take marks readily. I form the lump into a solid cylindrical shape. I roll a rough rock, piece of asphalt or concrete, or other rough surface over much of the clay. I compare this to a painter toning his canvas with a wash of thinned earth-tone before beginning the actual painting. I find it best to work with the clay at eye level on a piece of newspaper for ease of movement. I then begin to develop a composition of marks made with objects I've found in the trash, while out walking, working in the kiln yard, or otherwise near at hand. Examples include; portions of broken brick, a landscaping stake, rusted bed-spring, broken band-saw blade, and mystery objects on whose purpose I can only speculate. It's important that they don't cost any money and can be kept or discarded without the feeling of great loss. Once the composition is established I begin to hollow out the form. This is a process still in development. I have used the potter's wheel and banding wheel in this task only to be met with my old obsession over detail and symmetry thus overworking the lip into a cracked and stretched ugliness perched atop an otherwise acceptable sculpture. I have found it more efficient to just scoop out the clay while rotating the piece in hand atop the newspaper. Once the inside is complete I cut the lip. I purposefully follow the composition of marks, undulating the lip to accentuate different surface elements. Then I set it aside to firm up enough to allow me to cut the foot of the piece. I hold the piece upside-down in hand and rotate it while cutting up to 3/8 inch off the outer edge of the bottom of the form leaving a foot with a rough edge in the middle. I then address the outer edge of the form to unite the outer and under-side surfaces, the latter being much smoother by contrast. Firing methods will differ according to the character of the clay body and surface. While the example pictured is unglazed, others may have liner glazes or clay slips applied to the exterior. More examples will be posted after the next kiln unloading.
     If you've made it to the end of this explanation you're admirably persistent and probably deserve some reward, or perhaps your television is broken. In either case, thanks for your interest. The piece pictured was fired with out glaze or slip at the bourry box end of the new switchback kiln at NAU. The bourry box was not used for the inaugural firing. Instead, the last side-stoke hole was used to achieve even temperature at the back of the kiln. This piece was directly under the side-stoke. Unfortunately or fortunately, a large sculpture fell on top of it at some point shielding it from further ash deposits lending a subtle surface and color variation that serves the piece well, I think. Due to my own impatience to get pictures, there are a few pieces of sea-shell on the surface that need to be soaked in water and dissolved. Otherwise, a good sign of things to come for these forms and the switchback kiln affectionately nicknamed by Sensei Takashi Nakazato "Twin Dragons Kiln".


cory said...

eugene. thanks for the explanation. fun. love the gestural forms. cool ! carving out the piece is a little like how raku kichizaemon carves his chawan 'blanks' . cool ! cheers, look forward to more posts and more firings. i studied w/ nakazato sensei in hawaii. would love to attend a NAU firing gig one day soon ! i'm in japan now. cheers, cory

Eugene Brosseau said...

Thanks for the feedback, Cory! I check your Flikr feed from time to time (found you through Tracy) and LOVE your work. You have to make time to come to Flagstaff. Your pieces would make the kilns here very happy! I'm green with envy that you work in Japan AND Hawaii. All the best.(By the way, I suspend all comments for review to avoid spammers. So, rest assured, your comments, which are always appreciated, are delayed but will be posted when I log in.)

Anonymous said...

This reveling look into your methods, processes and mindset is appreciated. Good to see it naturally come out.

The work in progress to the wonderful transformation in the special firing is fascinating.


Eugene Brosseau said...

Thanks, G! I'm pretty excited about the process. I have some similarly made smaller sake/whiskey/juice cups to be fired soon. My favorites so far. I'll post pics of them in a week or so.