Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ready for spring!

Male downy woodpecker
The days have gotten longer and we have more daylight hours. What a blessing! I like the change of seasons, but like everyone else, I am all done with winter this year! But here we are again, March 25th and it's snowing in Northern Virginia!

Yet, spring is making every effort to poke its head out of its wintry burrow. Early every morning the downy woodpecker drums on the shutters outside my window, waking me to the day and, hopefully, successfully wooing a local female. The day lilies and the daffodils have poked some tentative green shoots through the leafy mulch. The old cherry tree is, once again, full of buds (albeit snow covered ones).

And I am trying new things in the studio. Now that I think that I've thoroughly explored carving my pots, I'm looking at bringing more texture to thrown pots, maybe even by carving out chunks off a thrown pot, texturing it and replacing it. I'm also working w/ dark clay.

Working in dark clay
Cups w/ added texture

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What is it with breaking pots?

"Colored Vases"
I know I'm coming late to commenting on the issue of Ai WeiWei's painted Han dynasty pots. This needed to percolate for a while in my brain. 

WeiWei set up an exhibit with three huge photos of himself holding and then dropping a pot dating to 200BC. In front of these photos was a collection of the same pots painted with industrial paint in garish colors. Maximo Caminero, a local artist, grabbed one of those pots and did as in the photos, dropping it to the floor and breaking it to protest, he said, the fact that the gallery in question did not feature local artists. He later said that he thought it was an interactive display and he was simply mimicking the photos of WeiWei, and was very sorry when told that the broken pot was worth $1 million and that he could face up to 5 years in jail.

I am appalled, not at Caminero, but at WeiWei. After all, Caminero only compounded WeiWei's initial desecration and, if he's to be believed, was only participating in WeiWei's installation. WeiWei's aim was to contrast East and West and highlight consumerism. The pots in questions, while being actual antiquities (from the Neolithic era), are the property of WeiWei and presumably he should be able to do what he wants to with his private property. According to an article in the South China Morning Post (2/18/14), WeiWei made a difference between "smash[ing] his own belongings" and having someone else destroy them. Indeed, WeiWei has been smashing antiquities for a long time and his lawyer has criticized archaeological preservationists for their reaction to these destructions when they fail to protest the Chinese government's treatment of WeiWei, a person.

Yoko Ono and the vase
Yet, these pots are a legacy of the past and whoever owns them, be it a private individual, an educational institution or a national government, ought to preserve them for all of us.

This event brought to mind Yoko Ono's 1966 performance at the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre in London where she broke a vase on the stage and asked people to pick up the pieces and take them home, promising that they would all meet again in 10 years time with the pieces and put the vase together again (I don't think that ever happened).

Which makes me ask: What is it with breaking pots? Do performance artists ever destroy paintings or sculptures as part of their act? 

I don't usually comment about things like this because, not having an art degree, I sometimes think that I just don't get it. But maybe I do get it: Pots are just pots, utilitarian items, and there are many more where those came from. No one is outraged at the destruction of pottery as they would be if someone slashed an ancient painting. So it's easy to destroy pots as part of a gimmick to call attention to yourself, whether you're Yoko Ono, Ai WeiWei or Maximo Caminero.

So, in the end, I'm still appalled and saddened that we can't protect these antiquities so that they will still be available to our grandchildren and their children, but then again, we seem unable to protect the planet so maybe one Han dynasty pot is insignificant.

Chibcha pot
A couple of disclaimers that shed some light on my feelings about this: Some museums have more pottery than they are able to display and they often sell some as a means to finance their research and conservation efforts. When I was in my early 20s, I bought an ancient Chibcha (Colombia) pot from one such outlet. I must admit that, although I loved that pot, it accidentally broke while in my care. The other disclaimer is that a few years ago I went to a private exhibit at the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC, where I was allowed to handle a pot similar to the ones that WeiWei destroyed for his exhibit. It was a very significant experience for me, as I held the pot and felt the grooves left by the hands of the ancient potter.

Monday, February 24, 2014

RIP: Carlos Páez Vilaró

Carlos Páez Vilaró - Carnaval -Uruguay
Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró died today in his iconic Casapueblo in Punta Ballena (Maldonado), Uruguay, at the age of 90. Páez Vilaró was an abstract painter,  potter, sculptor, muralist, writer, composer, screenwriter, and builder. He was a champion of Afro-Uruguayan candombe music and only nine days before his death participated in the "llamadas," a traditional part of Uruguay's carnival. 

Areal view of Casapueblo
He created murals and sculptures for government and corporate offices, private homes and other buildings in Argentina (2), Brazil (16), Chad (4), Chile (3), Gabon (4), the United States (11) and Uruguay (30). Murals in the US include a 162-meter long work in the tunnel connecting the buildings of the Organization of American States and another one in Georgetown University Hospital. The work of which he was proudest is a nondenominational chapel built in Los Cipreses cemetery in San Isidro (Buenos Aires). He is quoted as saying that it was in the design of this chapel that he was able to bring together all the media in which he worked, making stained glass as well as paintings and even the floors for the chapel. He also said that it was a difficult endeavor because "It is not easy for a man who so loves life, to paint for death."
When I visited Uruguay in March of last year I enjoyed a day outing to Casapueblo. Páez Vilaró built the sprawling compound in stages. It ultimately became not only his home and studio, but also a museum with a permanent exhibit of his works, and a 4-star hotel with magnificent views. Google "Carlos Páez Vilaró" y click on "images" to see his works. I leave you here with some pictures of my visit to Casapueblo and other photos of his work.  
More Painted Pots @ Casapueblo

Painted Pots

The painted pots are reminiscent of Picasso's work pottery work. Indeed, Páez Vilaró and Picasso were friends.

Painted wall @ Casapueblo

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Retire early and follow your dream

Throwing a bowl
There was a really interesting op-ed in Friday's Washington Post by Tara D. Sonenshine, titled Why I'm leaning out. The article discusses the issue of women in their mid-50s and early 60s who, even though they have "strong resumés," have decided to slow down their professional lives, "turning down big jobs for smaller, lower-paid assignments" or retiring early.  Ms Sonenshine asks why "women with extensive job experience and children of a self-sufficient age choose to slow down..."

She concludes that there are three reasons to consider.  First: many professional women are simply tired after years of rushing to meetings, taking chances, and attempting to balance home life and career (the latter is my own observation). Second: women are exhausted from worrying about the "barrage of bad news." She says, "We women of a certain age react to other people's pain and loss as if it were ours, alone, to bear." (I am so glad I'm not alone in getting teary-eyed watching the news!) And third: women want to get more involved in their local communities.

The article does not mention another, I think, compelling reason for both women and men to want to slow down or retire early. That is, the need for self-expression. In our world, few people are able to make a living as musicians, painters, writers, sculptors, dancers. How many people do you know who are frustrated artists, unable to express their creativity?
Carving a yarn bowl on the deck outside the studio

I took early retirement at age 57. I had done well in my career as an economist, and then I switched careers, becoming an editor and doing even better. But I had my pottery "hobby" that was calling me. I dreamed of a day when I could devote myself to it. It's been almost seven years since I retired and I couldn't be happier. It turned out that I was not only good at making pots, but I was also good at building a small business that is operating in the black! I get a lot of positive feedback and validation from my customers and peers, and now have a clientele. In addition, I have time and energy enough to babysit my grandkids, play cards with my mother on Sundays, research our family history, travel, and, yes, make pots. Life is good!

Glynt Pottery Studio

Whether it's making pots or painting, traveling or learning a new language, going fishing or writing that novel... we all have some dream that has to be postponed while we earn enough money to buy the house and put the kids through college. When the opportunity arises to leave the working world behind and devote ourselves to those postponed dreams, is it any wonder we all jump at it?

Monday, February 10, 2014

I owe it all to chocolate and young men!

Beatrice Wood

Getting old is not fun. Now that I'm in my 60s I find that I'm not as strong as I used to be. To my dismay, I now have to open up the boxes of clay and carry each 25 pound bag individually into the studio; I cannot carry a 50 pound box any longer.

I'm not taking this sitting down! My routine includes biweekly visits to the chiropractor to get the kinks out of my spine and ensure that my wrists and elbows are happy. Sporadic visits to a massage therapist, just because it feels so good! Weekly yoga to stay flexible and quiet the chatter in my head. And now I've started weekly weight training classes, which are kicking my butt! I can hold my own w/ the arm exercises (20 years of wedging clay help!), but the legs and abdominals are pathetic. 

I'm going to stick with my routine and add some walking once the weather allows because I want to continue playing in the mud for many years to come. In fact, I am planning an expansion to my studio this spring and I'm also thinking of getting myself a programmable kiln (it's about time!). Who knows? I have an aunt who lived to be 100 and Mom is 87 and keeps going like the Energizer bunny.

"I owe it all to chocolate and young men!" That's what Beatrice Wood said when asked about the secret to her longevity. I've got the young man already (hubby is a year younger!), so I guess I just need to eat more chocolate.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Democratizing" Pottery Making

Cups from 3D Systems press release
3D Systems  has just introduced a new 3D printer (called the CeraJet™) that, according to the press release issued in early January will "democratize pottery making ...[and]...  revolutionize ceramic artisanship for the benefit of brands, retailers, designers, shops and hobbyists." The printer quickly produces intricate and detailed ceramic objects that are ready to fire and glaze. Quoting the press release again: "This class of 3D printers and materials infuses the age-old tradition of ceramics with the ability to make previously unimagined complex shapes."

This freaks me out!

I don't mean to behave like a Luddite, don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are machines! And the older I get the more I appreciate them. I'm talking about the pug mill that makes reclaiming clay easier, for example (what did you think I was talking about?). My current favorite tool is Tom Whitaker's ball opener, a neat little invention using nothing more than pvc pipe that saves fingers and wrists from overuse and is easy to make. And, where would I be without my electric wheel and all my other tools?

But, you have to be a potter to use these tools. What I mean is that, at some point, you would have decided that you wanted to learn pottery. Note that I'm saying "learn pottery" not "make pots." And that's the difference that the 3D Systems company is alluding to when they say that this printer will democratize what their press release calls, without a hint of irony, "the ancient artisanal craft of pottery and ceramics." The use of these printers gets rid of "ancient," "artisanal," and "craft" in one fell swoop and just leaves us with the end product. We lose the process, the long apprenticeships, the trial-and-error learning to make that shape you've been thinking about. It seems that now if you can use the software, the sky's the limit as far as form is concerned.

This is great for those people whose interest is in design. They can now bring their idea to fruition w/o "wasting time" trying to figure out how to make it on the wheel or by rolling slabs or pinching clay. And that's a great leap forward for them. For me, though, I make pots because I love the feel of the clay, I crave the solitude of the wheel, I delight in opening a kiln and feeling like it's Christmas morning. And I think that the people who buy handmade pots are looking for exactly that: pots imbued with the spirit of the maker.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

More Texture

Still playing with textures. 

The platter and dishes have a textured slab bottom and a thrown ring for the sides and rim.

This is too much fun!

Keeping fingers crossed so the bottoms don't crack.

Update March 25, 2014: 

Here are the large platters all glazed and finished. I like this a lot and I like the method for making them... So easy!