An Intimate Affair with Clay
An Intimate Affair with Clay
What is it about working with your hands? Simply,you find self-dignity. Up against complex problems of great multiplicity requires full use of hands and head, even if it is non-verbal. Heart too, because you need to feel and understand and it is something that can only come from the heart.. The immutable trilogy, as one is agent in creating an artifact that will never return to the source-well not in its original form or we get into a debate whereby instead of splitting hairs we split atoms.
My work occupies three broad fronts within Contemporary Ceramic Art Practice. Functional pottery, Kilns and Experimental Firings and Monumental Sculptures My functional work uses the ceramic surface as a canvas and decorative motifs are usually inspired by Nature. I may sometimes use the Female Figure for erotic decoration. Functional pottery allows the quality of life to blossom within an essentially human context. I do try and engage users-but then again they do so by purchasing my work and in Japan I know that in almost 100% of the cases that engagement will be in use. I will also get critical feedback telling me where I have succeeded or failed. Intention is to communicate and to initiate a dialogue.
It is common to talk of emerging artists or artists in mid-career. I see myself as a sub-mergent artist that is emerging in mid-career. (and rapidly going downhill) Sub-mergent because I don’t fit into the categories framed by geo-political constructs and especially in an apparently homogenous culture like Japan, which is where I am based (While I write this working in New Delhi!).
I have never succumbed to the “be more Japanese than the Japanese” ethos and have chartered my own course with colourful work aimed at brightening table settings and bringing joy. Which is not to say I ignore what underpins the essence of Japanese esthetics. My work is for use therefore it is “Skauyasui”-easy to use. Pieces do have balance, are not heavy, esthetically pleasing, relationship between hand to mouth is carefully thought out, suited to the season, hamonizes easily with food in it and other pieces in the context of Table Setting. Things that are considered essential (like being quiet) I totally ignore, or that it should be non-symmetrical and look unfinished. Not my culture! As for bottoms being hand trimmed with the “ikai naka, ikai soto”-best for Tea Bowls. However, I do accept that the inside should always be smooth. I use a semi-porcelain body from Seto, underglaze pigments with a clear glaze fired to 1220C in an oxidizing flame.
In Kiln Building and Experimental Firings the emphasis here is to demystify the firing process-make firings something that is accessible and allow potters to experience a side of potting that requires one to launch oneself into the unknown because in the firing process one unleashes the forces of Nature albeit in a controlled way. (So we like to think!) For gas kilns I use a downdraught design and for salt glazing a cat-arch design. For wood kilns I use the updraught Bottle Kiln (Earthenware), cross draught for wood fired salt and Raku and I have experimented with an adaptation of an Arab Kiln that is of traditional design from Spain. Most of them work well and to date I have never bought a kiln in my life! Experimental Firings were born out of my experience with the use of adobes instead of bricks for kiln building at Inter-Accion in Soria, Spain in the mid-80’s.
I also learnt about Paper Kilns from Fina Casaus in a Potters Camp organized by The Catalan Potters Association. Kilns became one-off tools for converting clay into pottery and we also had an immense amount of fun! This has developed into “Le Four Mobile” (made from a shopping trolley) “Mangagama” (made from comic books) “Car Kiln and Flying Kilns. I have also developed the idea of “Kilns as Metaphor” through the kiln known as “The Wall”.
When I started evolving kilns into sculptures and developing process as an integral part of form thereby moving ceramics into the realm of the ephemeral a paradigm shift was created opening up new vistas in our art practice. It started with a realization that a kiln made from clay (in this case a bottle kiln made from adobes) it was more than pots that were fired!!! The kiln fired itself. The ceramic process had been disrupted This led to all sorts of developments- Fire Dragons, Fire Trees, Fire Flowers……which have sprouted in many places to date.
My work now is at a stage where I feel more social aspects have to be taken into account especially within the context of India. John. W. Wood in his book on Mrinal Sen “Chasing the Truth” says something that I feel very close to heart and I wish to continue a life that is and I quote…”enjoys the prosperity of personal freedom, unchained by dogma and prejudice and unrestricted by poverty” .
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