Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wood-fired Masu

     Our recent kiln opening at NAU yielded possibly my favorite, if not my best, piece of utilitarian sculpture to date. It was a piece I had regarded as a mere exercise in mark-making and almost threw away instead of firing. At the beginning of summer, two weeks after graduation, I had the idea to create some clay boxes as maquettes for larger pieces I may like to make in the future. The goal was to make tool marks in clay that would not be touched, therefore remain sharp, as opposed to softened by handling or refinement. I carved seven boxes from solid blocks of wet clay. One of these was square, the rest rectangular. It was the square shape that almost did the piece in. Squares are...square, boring, lifeless, predictable, dead. I would come to be delightfully proved wrong. The piece was loaded in the front of the Double-Wide Train Kiln which was fired for 45 hours then lovingly reduction-cooled by yours truly. The piece caught my eye only after I had examined every other piece I had made for that firing. It waited patiently as I poured over the flashy surfaces of the loud chunky tea bowl sculptures and small sculptural cups which I had been so anxiously awaiting. As I filled each bowl looking for leaks it sat on the dusty shelf watching. After a conversation about the aesthetic significance of wadding with Kazu Oba I was curious about the bottoms of my boxes. Some of them received long coil wads rather than the small round ones usually applied when loading the kiln. I examined the boxes, giving greatest attention to the rectangles. The square was of so little concern that I had relegated the wadding to chance and had "thrown it on the pile" of other pieces to be loaded, giving greater care to my favorite pieces, even ensuring that they face a certain way on the shelves when loaded. Then, a day after the unloading, I finally picked up the little box. As I turned it in my hand to consider the flashing left by the wads on its bottom surface, the marks nodded gently to the glory of the square. I turned the piece over and over considering its surface, angles, corners and inside. It was then that I saw the potential of the piece as a drinking vessel. The image of traditional masu wooden sake ware flashed in my mind. I walked to the sink to test it for leaks. At that moment, when the water filled its volume, the jeweled green wood-ash-glass came to life. This piece was made to be filled with a clear liquid and contemplated and savored as one savors the drink from it. The next night I carried the piece in my pocket to a dinner date. My friend, a ceramic artist and educated collector of Japanese wares, reacted to the piece as I did, confirming for me that I had incidentally created a pleasing object of sculpture and utility. We headed out to a local Thai restaurant where we drank sake, I from my new found gem and he from his favorite small bowl-shaped guinomi that he carries regularly. As I sipped from the corner of my stone-like masu, I began to understand the dignity and significance of food drink and friendship.

1 comment:

Michele Brosseau said...

I think the process of discovery that happened with this piece adds to its beauty. The picture does not do the interior of the piece justice. I was reminded of water collecting in a cave with the play of light and the look of crystal on the bottom. Plus, the clay itself had such an organic feel to it. I love the association to beautiful underground caverns.