For several years now my work has been largely animal inspired. In my vessels I have been concerned with images of animals, colour, texture and pattern.
In 2003 I began to explore images of the nude in ceramics. This is work which arises from my long standing love of life drawing and painting. These pieces are connected to the animal vessels as they express my delight in the creation of surfaces which can be rough and aged, smooth and yet scarred.
This figurative work is constructed using slabbing techniques. I spend time building up layers of slip on the surfaces, which encourages crazing. I use other materials to embellish the surface and I enjoy both the controlled and the accidental results. The first firing is to 1000 degrees centigrade, after which, using a combination of black ceramic
pencils, oxides and washes, I draw and paint my choice of image onto the vessel as I would onto a piece of paper or canvas. I like this work to have echoes of frescos and paintings on ancient walls.
The final firing is to 1140 degrees centigrade.
Animal Vessels by John Mullin
I feel great respect for the lives of animals and I take delight in their beauty and in the infinite variety of their colours and shapes.
Classical pottery often inspires the forms of my pots, but I also enjoy making spontaneous decisions about form and embellishment. I usually try to have no preconceived idea of how the pot will finally appear and I enjoy the journey as it unfolds.
I frequently use a combination of techniques, slabbing, coiling or throwing to construct my vessel forms. I like to use the textural possibilities of the clay, often employing impressed and sgraffito techniques.
When the pot is dry, I begin to work in colour and to build up texture using slips or wax resist. I use a palette of coloured slips to portray a graphic image of my chosen animal, which is painted in detail. The rest of the pot is decorated with colour and pattern which I feel relates, to a lesser or greater extent, to the animal.
The pots are bisque fired to 1000 degrees centigrade then, in most cases, metal oxides are carefully applied to the surface before being fired to 1140 degrees centigrade.
Smoke Fired Pots by Jan Mullin
In making these pots I have combined influences from different cultures. Many of the shapes I have used are similar to ancient North African pots I have seen. The surfaces I have tried to create were originally inspired by the richness of patina I have seen in Eastern European paintings and artefacts. I have tried to emulate some of their lustrous iridescence of colour and light, whilst contrasting that with areas of ambiguity and shadow.
The techniques I use are sensuous and primitive. After coiling or throwing, the pot is burnished with a small stone and some are decorated with a terra siglliata slip. The first firing is in a conventional kiln.
I use a different slip as a resist to the blackening effects of the flames and the smoke of the second firing. This takes place in the open air and involves huge amounts of newspaper and prolonged crouching over a fire in my garden. Each pot is fired individually and takes considerable time whilst there is a struggle between the clay, the fire, the wind and myself. The pot is washed and scrubbed to remove all the blackened slip, some have a second time in the flames and are washed again. When dry, I polish my pots with a wax polish and they remain slightly porous.
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Art communicates by combining process, materials and concept, this fusion is particularly poignant in the world of ceramics. Peter Beard has explored this area through his ceramics for many years and his success is verified by international reputation.
Making is central to the crafts and arguably it defines the nature of the man, the toolmaker. The earliest ceramics took the form of idols offered to the gods on a fire, thus proving that the act of making has spiritual and aesthetic considerations equalling, or perhaps exceeding, its utilitarian ones.
Peter Beard is primarily interested in aesthetic considerations; his experience transcends the skill needed to create an object. It is his ability to define and create a beautiful object that singles him out. Although Peter is a master of the processes he employs, (usually slab building or throwing) he is not a slave to technique. He draws together slabs of clay to form an elegantly twisting line along the edge of a pot, yet he is brave enough to leave the rim pinched and fresh, acknowledging the act of forming the clay.
If a process is to speak of anything then it must speak unabashedly of itself; the hand forming the clay. Every pot Peter makes bears testimony to this.
Ceramics is one of the few areas where art meets science. The selection of materials is often based on empirical as much as on personal preference. It is when the research and preferences meet that a true sense of the makerís intentions become clear. This is especially evident in Peterís work with glazes.
He is a man who takes risks, glazes bubbling here and running there. These risks have their dividend; the run of the glaze inform us directly of the subtle curves of a form, as gravity takes an opportune moment to intervene before being frozen as the kiln cools. The blisters represent a meeting of the two opposing glazes along a boundary defined by the makers hand; a pattern being too crude a word to articulate the juxtaposition of these two volcanic forces. It is Peter's combination of research, risk taking and self-criticism that enables him to keep up his fearless standard, right to the edge of what even he thinks possible.
Peter is aware of historical ceramic precedents, the ancient art of Egypt is a touchstone for a lot of his recent work. He is no imitator though, and his work is a personal reinvention of the past, at once contemporary yet imbued with an archaic authority.
This reinvention is born of Peterís approach to his work. He sees himself as firstly a maker. It is by making that ideas reveal themselves and are refined. The act of making distils Peterís experiences, be they a favourite landscape or a pre-Raphelite painting. The results bear no direct lineage to any one precedent, but they are a pretty potent brew.
In Peter Beard's work the trinity of process, material and concept are so closely woven that it is almost impossible to tease them apart. Peter's ability to twist such tightly spun cloth shows his immense skill and determination. The end results speak clearly of the potter himself. It is no surprise that his pots have garnered such acclaim.
TERRA SIGILLATA - RAKU
All actual pieces are coilbuilt in different technics from grogged German stoneware clay. They are burnished when leatherhard and covered with thin layers of terra sigillata. That is a very fine shiny slip also used in ancient history in different cultures which I produce from special clay bodies. After a first biscuit firing again a second time layers of terra sigillata are put on followed by a second firing.
Then the pieces are covered with a slip and glazed. They are fired in a gas kiln with following reduction in sawdust. With influence of water the glaze crackles away like an egg-shell, the burnished piece appears again. At least, a thin layer of beewax is put on the surface. Vessels which should hold liquid are made dense.
I call this technic Ą VERLORENE GLASURď ( Lost glaze).
RAKU - A POEM
(The opening speech of José Aerts roughly translated) Raku - Exhibition Deventer Sept. 15 th, 02
According to my books the first time the word Raku appeared in the history of ceramics was round 1600. This was when the Japanese emperor Hideyoshi commissioned a potter in Kioto named Jokei. It was a very special commission, because the emperor had given order to engrave a Chinese character in a golden mirror. This character (Raku) is best translated as Ďjoy, meaningful contentmentí, but also as Ďthe very best of the worldí. Earlier Jokeiís father was asked by an important tea ceremony master to make tea bowls for him.
Tea bowls are essential in the practice of the tea ceremony, which has an important role in Zen Buddhism.
The Raku bowls, that were commissioned, were in fact a sort of trade mark and a mark of quality that was exclusively given to this potter and his family. The name Raku became an honorary title.
The first Chawans, as the Japanese call the tea bowls, were found however in archeological excavations and date from 10.000 years before Chr., when there wasnít any Buddhism yet. These bowls had often an undulating rim and four uplifted corners. The first tea houses, Chashitsuís, were built in the 15th century. In the Chashitsuís the path of the tea, Sado, was tread. For the elite in Japan Sado was the occasion to invite guests and stay together in harmony in an atmosphere of style and refinement. The aimed balance and the serene atmosphere were reached by the careful rejection of the vessels, the precious old bowls, the ingredients and the furnishing. ( Sado was just one path, there was also the path of flower arranging, the path of poetry, the path of fighting; all belonging to Zen.)
In 1911 good old Bernard Leach, father of modern British ceramics went to Tokio. He, in his young twenties was immersed then in the tradition of Zen and he participated in the Raku firing. He was inspired by Ogata Kenzan, Yanagi and later by the legendary Hamada. After this Japanese adventure he went back to his beloved St.Ives, where he settled his own pottery that became famous all over the world because of the introduction of Japanese ways of making, the techniques of throwing, glazing and firing. At present potters are still proud to have been an apprentice of Leach or his sons.
Of great importance for contemporary Raku was finally the meeting of Paul Soldner and Rick Hirsch, both Americans, and a Japanese Raku master. They started a passionate discussion on the word Raku. The Japanese master had great objections against naming the work of these Americans Raku because of the lack of Zen philosophy. Raku in the original meaning was an intrinsic part of that philosophy. Then Soldner was willing to promote his work on the market as Soldner-ceramics but it was too late, his ceramics became known as American-Raku. This quick fired ceramic work fitted perfect in this era where fellow-artists like Jackson Pollock made name as action painters. The work of Soldner set the tone for a western Raku movement in which we potters of today all fit. It is up to you, the public, to start a debate with the artists present here about there opinion on this matter. I will leave the technical part of raku with this and continue on the content part.
While I was Raku-firing myself together with 9 other potters in Macedonia the last 3 weeks I was thinking about a number of things which I want to share with you now. First I was wondering what I have in common with the exhibitors here and I came to the conclusion that it is at least the love for our profession, professionality is reflected in the created work. Work that does suppose we have looked into ourselves. With this I mean that we have done some introspection to find a personal theme before we expose our work to the world. Because when the concept has become mature, the seed can shoot and become fruit when brought onto the market, i.e. shop, gallery or museum.
The poet J.C. van Schagen says:
Being a stone in the sun
Doors come and go
The stone does not move
The great rains are coming
The stone does not move
Nobody knows the stone
No one has ever seen it
The stone is.
And yes here we are, potters impelled by a sort of madness to change an amorphous mass into a form that needs no explanation. Because isnít it all about, that time after time artists try to exceed the language of word. To become speechless and still say everything. To imagine your own story becomes real and touchable.
When today I look at the works of Gisèle, Horst, Martin, Inger, Susanne and Roland, each work touches a different string, each artist however has, with personal interpretations, used the same technique.
The glazes we use in raku are in fact glazes that donít fit so perfectly. They are so to say a too small coat for a too large body. Clothes that are to small tend to crack and tear; so is this coat. But every crack or tear makes us glad like mad, because this tore and cracked surface is an ideal base for our further treatment, CQ our practice of torture.
Why do Raku-fanatics choose this path of fire and flame, of coughing and sneezing, tears on your cheeks, stinking like smoked eel, fire-tongs at the ready, donít forget your gloves, again the eyelashes burnt... and than this moment of magic. The moment you once more defy the fire with body and limbs.
Und in deinem unbenutzten Schimmer
Spielt der Uberfluß der Untenwelt
Where your flickering stayed empty
plays the plenty of the shades
It are these words of Rilke that come to me when I look at what surrounds me here. Isnít it exactly the play of light and dark, of shine and dullness, where Raku derives itís magic from?
The shadow of scorched clay, alternated by fine or coarse crackling, traces of smoke on a polished skin, lusters and oil glow whisper a mysterious poem.
And like a poem also the sense goes itís own way. The obstinacy of the fire caresses with passionate tongues alongside the walls of pots and sculptures. Is raku firing not alike being a child again, allowed to play in the sandbox of time? At the same time the skin of the new work is reflecting eternity. This object weathered, scorched, eroded by fire, itís almost archeologic, but just found, dug by ourselves from our deepest catacombs.
When in your life all is about creating art, literally and figurative: if this fulfils you really and makes you happy and makes sense in living, then the only thing you can do is find the clay that suits you, practise and master skills and firing methods. Then you just go to your studio everyday to translate you secrets into this earthly material time after time. With one unique gesture you try then to make redundant all other gestures. And every time you might hope that what you could not tell in words will be clear and tangible in the emanation of your work. Who would not be willing to explain what moves him or her and find a benevolent ear?
ďOf the countless steps of my heart, he went maybe two or threeĒsighs a Haiku.
So you stay hopeful that every season you will get closer to your own truth. Do you recognise this: you are on an exhibition and you think ďwhy didnít I catch this moment like itís done here. Why do I always try to say too much in a piece of work, while ďless is moreĒis the ambition of many. While the strongest work is almost always empty and quiet, returned into quintessence. Coming to your own quintessence, step by step moving along your own path of Raku. The path of fire and flame, the path of soul and salvation. Every new day you create your very best piece until today.
Pessoa, the poet that never compromised has described it brilliant:
To be great, be whole.
Donít make anything you are bigger or into nothing.
Be all in everything
Lay as much as you are
in the least thing you do.
Now let me lead you to the sculptures of Gisèle and see how groups of clouds draw shadows over her landscape. I carefully take a bowl of Horst in my hands and I concentrate on my breath: my breath goes in and out, in and out... until the tea flows over the rim and warms my lips.
Then I open the lid of Ingerís pot and I hear her heart beating: so lively, but happily so irregular, so especially not perfect. In Martinís bowl I collect tears and laughing through time, but Susanneís boxes I donít open. The Holy of Holies in these tabernacles may stay a mystery.
Then I caress the skin of Rolandís terra sigillata pots and I touch his tenderness. So many stars fell from heaven into his vessels and they all smile on me.
All these works, so much spoken without any word and still so much said.
Colleagues, your work touches me. It is a feast to be surrounded by these languages of form, by your inspiration and your talent. It is a feast that we may festive this with all ceramics- lovers here at Loes & Reinier. Dear people let yourselves be touched, throw yourself OPEN.