A Current Version of My Artist’s Statement and a Few Points of Visual Reference

Artist’s Statement

There are inevitable gaps in our understanding of each other. Language is our sometimes-successful attempt to bridge that gap. However, since language can’t fully communicate and often confuses, language is, paradoxically, both a connection and a barrier. I make ceramic works that reference functionality, written language, systems, and natural forms. Using coats of glaze, I create layers of writing, spaces, faded words, and patterns. The layering, melting, and decorative arrangements of words render the language illegible or obscured in places. The forms themselves hint at a mysterious hidden volume or reveal layers at their edges.

I feel that humans are sometimes more honest and meaningful when they write because they aren’t physically confronted with the evidence of the other. The pressures to written communication are felt but they are less overt and the sense of intimacy and privacy in writing and reading remains. Written language is somewhat insidious in that it seemingly speaks only to you.

I want the texts to have layers, both literally and figuratively, to be discovered over time, imagined in some places, where the meaning has been lost or distorted beyond recognition. Functional objects offer ideal circumstances for the discovery of these layers and secrets. Through use and play, through the simple act of tactile exploration, users know an object over time, comprehending, imagining, uncovering. All art can be known and discovered over time, but functional objects, however fantastically decorative, are mundane; they are just as insidious as the written word in that they are both highly charged and commonplace.


My current project, my thesis show, is informed by an ancient form of time keeping called a water clock, as well as communal tables. 



The Beginning of the End

Semester Plan of Action/Proposal

Themes and Concepts

I want to create a work that speaks both to the romantic fantasies associated with the craft of pottery, as well as to the realities of labor. One of the central motifs of the pottery profession is a romantic view of the communal table. Pottery is, when defined by many contemporary potters’ statements, about sharing, about joyful gatherings with communities, about connections between user and maker. In many ways, these notions are romantic fallacies. Platters in museums do not participate in joyous feasts. Expensive sets are brought out for only the most formal occasions. For the most part, to those who buy these objects, the joyous everyday is not for art pottery. But, fallacy or not, they speak to the intentions and romantic ideals of the pottery discipline.

This romantic fantasy of the communal table is a cultural touchstone for more than the pottery community. Western culture, indeed, many cultures, hold a romantic ideal of the family table. This ideal is pervasive in literature, art, and all forms of commerciality: entertainment, advertising, etc. Judy Chicago referenced the dinner party in her work The Dinner Party, as a connection to traditionally feminine craft as well as consumption.

The main device of my installation will be modeled after ancient water clocks, which told time with vessels and water. Vessel forms will be placed in a pool of water, into which they will slowly sink as they fill. This is a representation of accumulation—the accumulation of time, of labor, of words and meaning, and of memory.


Display Methods

This project is a gallery installation. I want to use the Dorsky Museum to provide a foil for relational objects by placing them in a constructed setting that mimics the artifice of some social interactions.

There will be two tables. On table will be set, the surface crowded with functional forms, part elaborately set tea party, part hoarder’s table overrun with a proliferation of forms. The structures of the objects themselves will mimic the layering of the forms and surfaces. The groupings and forms will suggest the breakdown, entropy of human interaction, and at the same time, the wild profusion and fertility of connection, the miracle of the persistent romance to the contrary that makes any communication at all possible.

The second table will actually be a table-like pool of water, in which the forms from the first table will be floated, until they finally sink to the bottom, accumulating masses and layers of forms that will sit below the surface of the water. Some vessels will not sink and will remain floating.

Surface decoration of the vessels will include written texts. Using coats of glaze, I create layers of writing, spaces, faded words, and patterns. I want the texts to have layers, both literally and figuratively, to be discovered over time, imagined in some places, where the meaning has been lost or distorted beyond recognition. Functional objects offer ideal circumstances for the discovery of these layers and secrets.

All art can be known and discovered over time, but functional objects, however fantastically decorative, are mundane; they are just as insidious as the written word in that they are both highly charged and commonplace. Pottery represents communal, empathic, relational objects. Their pervasive, pedestrian nature allows them to be as accessible as the written word in our modern world.


a tavola

In our Design and Production class, we are working with a local restaurant to design tableware, barware, and accessories. a tavola is a really interesting little restaurant, with a rustic Italian menu, expertly mixed old-fashioned drinks, a local farm to table philosophy, and a casual but intimate atmosphere. Excited by a tumbler that I picked up at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia this summer (I’ve been meaning to post about that cup–I’ve fallen in love with it), I chose to design barware. I really wanted to translate traditional glass barware into ceramic form. In my once and future life, I worked as a wine buyer at a beer, wine, and liquor store. I also tended bar on and off for years. Because of this, I am very familiar with the intricacies and rituals of wine, beer, and liquor tasting. In my opinion, there is no reason to exclude ceramic as a viable material from which to enjoy wine and spirits. There are considerations, sure. The rim should be thin or smoothly contoured or both. The color of the glaze on the inside of the cup, while it doesn’t have to be white, should be luminous, bright enough to reflect light back through a liquid, illuminating the color of the wine or spirit. I drink wine from a cup that Rebecca made all the time. I am constantly admiring the way the celadon interior glows through the wine. The weight of the cup should be balanced. It can be weighty but it must be satisfying to hold, not difficult or precariously balanced. Sadly, from our initial interview, I could tell that the client really wanted mugs. That may or may not be because pottery and mugs are synonymous sometimes.

We have been designing, ideating, and refining for weeks now. Our second visit with Nathan and Derek (the owner/chef and bar manager respectively) was this past Friday. We showed them some tangible, material examples of our more fully realized designs and asked for their feedback. I stupidly chose to pursue more than one design, making my life a little harder. But I am stubbornly holding onto the idea of classic cocktail glasses in ceramic form, so I am going to continue making the tumblers below, despite the fact that Derek and Nathan want mugs, in case they see some merit in them when I am finished. I’m making mugs too. Cups are my favorite form, after all.

The first picture is my very first design, a mug that is shaped like a hoof. The second version of that design morphed into a very traditional teacup that has a hoof-shaped foot, which fits into a hoof-shaped imprint in the saucer. The original sketch has an ornate blue and brown pattern. I have to work on a different, more subtle pattern but I will still use blues and browns. The tumbler is in bisque form but I am very happy with the mishima (slip-inlay) technique so far. It’s not practical for production but I think that I just wanted to do it to prove that I still can. The last design is another cup and saucer set, this one with botanical and biological diagrams. Both saucers are currently cooling in a kiln.



The Mystery of the Missing Meaningless Message

I have been searching for more on the practice of inscribing nonsensical or asemic calligraphy onto pottery. The example that I have of that practice came from our visit to the Smithsonian museums in DC last year. A fellow grad student at the time was studying Islamic ceramics as an independent study and we were looking through the galleries devoted to this area of study. Separately and then together, we read the information card explaining that the calligraphy said nothing and was meant for an illiterate population, discussed the implications, marveled over the meaning that must have been ascribed to those meaningless marks. And now I can find nothing on the production of such vessels. Do I seriously have to travel back to DC to find this pot? For now, I am going to contact the Smithsonian branch (The Freer Gallery?) responsible for curating this collection and request some information.

I did come up with more background on historical inscriptions on pottery. The following examples are among the oldest and stem from Islamic and Greek cultures.Image

Pots with inscriptions, such as this one pictured here and in a previous post, are commonly referred to as epigraphic ware. There are examples in Islamic lusterware, Samanid, and Seljuk pottery. Samanid pottery was inscribed with proverbs and morals. Seljuk ceramics came later and focused almost exclusively on poetry, specifically love poetry.  A typical inscription reads as follows:

            In the world of love, grief is no less than joy:

            Whoever is not glad to grieve, is not happy;

            However wide the wilderness of calamity may be

            I have seen that, for the foot of love, it is not even a step

What does love poetry have to do with pottery? To me it speaks to the poignancy of everyday objects, to the wish to have these words always with, perhaps even on the lips of, the beloved, to be forever within reach of the heart in need of those words. Fired and permanent, fragile and precious, held close to life in use, the immortal sonnet made material again. 

There are also examples of Greek inscriptions on pottery that indicate some sort of erotic love but have not been satisfactorily explained by historians and anthropologists. Inscriptions on these pots compliment a specific person on their sexual attractiveness, usually by saying simply “X is beautiful,” where the word “kalos” or “kale” meaning “beautiful” carries an erotic connotation.



So, even though I am distractedly more interested in the asemic examples of calligraphy in these traditions, I am very much intrigued at the choice of message for inscription on pottery. It seems that dishware, pots, and vessels have been used as records and tokens of love for longer than jewelry or adornment. Though both forms would eventually serve as material for messages of love, domestic pottery seems to have come first, or at least simultaneously. To me, that implies that adornment was, at first, status-oriented alone and that lovers and teachers held more domestic intentions for their words of love and morality. Or were these pots prominently displayed, like hunters display heads on plaques, their tender or self-righteous words held out as evidence of one’s desirability and morality? Could the greek pots be nothing more than notches on a bedpost? And still, what an odd place to put those notches.