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Controlled loss of control and my (very controlled) response

A lot of my art is about surrendering control in order to create opportunities for direct intuitive responses. This was the case with my paintings and now is part of my pottery process - even if it may not be initially obvious.

From a very young age I've always been drawing and have had the tendency of working very tightly and with lots of control. I spent years at school doodling with pens.

school doodle

(Ironically I found this doodle on a sheet explaining how lawmaking is fixed within the German constitution - what could be more about control than that!)

I finished high school specialising in art and absolutely hated the art class at my school. I spent three years taking and printing a few portraits, of which one we had to turn into a photorealistic self-portrait, cutting, gluing and sticking block of polystyrene together to make a sculpture and make some architectural drawings of a building. Not my idea of art at all!

Luckily after leaving school I started attending weekly private art classes with Heidi Mayer in Hamburg, Germany. She was a practicing artist in her own right and only taught two courses a week. Our group of twelve people was a very diverse group of people; from people preparing their portfolios for art school application to people who just wanted to balance their mundane work life with something more creative.

by Heidi Meyer

Here two of Heidi's pieces of work. During our course we never got to see any of her own work and with the lack of internet exposure at the time I had no clue what kind of paintings she actually did herself.

by Heidi Meyer

Heidi had a great way of introducing me to painting. Up until then I mostly drawn and not used wet paint. She also encouraged me to use more non-traditional materials such as commercial emulsion paint, sand and gummed paper tape. However, what appealed most to me was using a combination of powder pigments and clear acrylic binder along with the way of applying the binder applying it to another surface, such as paper or clingfilm, which I then could press onto my painting. Once I saw what impression was left I'd respond to that. This has been a technique I've been using for years in my paintings along with the use of other masking techniques. Here is an example:

This part of my way of working where I respond directly to the steps I've done previously without too detailed prior planning is what I'm also trying to bring to my approach of decorating my pottery.

That means:

  • I choose a clay and think what slip would work well with it and pour it over the piece in stages.

  • I then respond to the way the slip interacts with the form of the piece by carving some lines that intersect the decorations and will lead the eye around the piece.

  • Then I add some shellac resist which breaks up the surface in two ways: a) adding contrast by revealing the clay body through the slip and b) adding textured decoration.

  • After bisque firing I chose the colours of design liner with with I will add my detailed decorations. I don't want the piece to by a riot of colours so will restrict myself to a black and white and maybe one or two other colours. If the clay body and slip is a combination of black white I will vary the use of black and white design liners to play with negatives and positives.

  • Once this detailed decorative process is finished and gone through a second bisque firing I will mask out some areas with a resist so that some areas are left unglazed.

  • After a glaze firing I will decide whether I will add some on-glaze decorations such as enamels or lustres to pick out elements of the decoration.

The whole process involves a lot as looking at a piece from every angle and visualising how elements added will change the whole. It feels like I'm constantly fighting with the piece to control it and get it to balance without loosing it to 'decorative' mediocrity. In a way this feels not unlike my painting process except that pottery is more open to processes and accidents that I have less control over, such as what happens during a kiln firing. That is both a bit scary but all exciting and offers another challenge for me to respond to.

Hope this makes sense...?!


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