Thursday, 7 December 2017

Arriving and leaving...and arriving

It was seven weeks ago today that I arrived in Italy in anticipation of an eight-week mentored residency at La Meridiana International School of Ceramics (with funding support of the Ontario Arts Council, which is gratefully acknowledged).  It has been time spent working and learning, such as you lose some...and you win some! One teapot - one of the visually best I've made - completely jettisoned off its handle and into the glaze bucket. Evidence of poor making; ergo, lesson learned.  This teapot is also one of the visually best teapots I've made.  By no means is it "perfect" (to one's own standard), yet it perfectly encompasses so many of the things that I've learned in the last seven weeks.  Both the making and the finishing are not at all my usual style:  a pulled handle, hot wax resist, a seated lid, scratched-through glazing, and not to mention a cracked rim deftly repaired-at-the-drying stage (by mentor John Colbeck).  It took an inordinate amount of time to get on track with my time and purpose here, to make "Purposeful Porcelain", but I shall leave next week having just arrived at where I next need to be.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Decisions, decisions...

There have been so many gems of wisdom imparted over these past few weeks, one of which is now posted at my workstation:  "Whatever you do, you've got to be decisive."  Well, isn't that oh so much easier said than done?!  Taking a ball of clay and knowing what you will make of it comes from more than just planning.  It comes from deciding, certainly not from dithering.  One of the first goals assigned to me came as "You're very meticulous; you need to be more "fluid". (fluid being quite different from "free")  Fluidity is not easy to accomplish, requiring a level of attention easily equal to that of being meticulous.  It has been a contemporaneous challenge with the three-minute throwing exercise, whereby you practise throwing basic shapes in three minutes.  Once you take heed to the challenge, you're struck by how much time there is in three minutes.  Not only do you learn an efficiency of process, you also acquire - if only the smallest modicum at first - an element of fluidity, because you made the decision to do so. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

First Day of School

As always when embarking on something new, it takes a day or two to really settle into it, even if you have what seems like a very clear vision of what you expect to effect from the task.  There is the getting to know the people, the surroundings, the materials, the procedures.  And maybe amidst all that is the getting to know yourself, that amidst all the "squirrel moments", you realise you might have a better handle on things than you think.  In his introductory talk for the Piccolpasso program at www.lameridiana.fi.it, John Colbeck spoke about the complexity of simplicity.  I may have only thrown two decent cups out of many attempts today, but I learned a tremendous heck of a lot.  Ergo, rather than pictures of the day in the studio, here is one of dinner:  valeriana inalata con pollo arrosto, ceci, e pomodori secchi sott'olio siciliana...and of course, a little something to drink.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Is that all there is?

Settling in to tutti zone (all areas):  time, weather, culture...  As I sat on a ledge earlier today in Piazza S. Iaocopo & Filippo, eating a somewhat flavourless panino di pomodoro e formaggio (if that's possible) (And yes, ONE sandwich is a panino, NOT a panini - take THAT Tim Hortons et al.!), it would have been impossible not to savour every bite, infused as each was with the flavour of the time, weather, and culture by which my humble sandwich and I were surrounded.  It was more than a moment of reflection after my shopping spree, as a fitful walk to the coop (supermarket) yielded a necessary bounty:  shampoo, chocolate, and socks.  Afterwards, I scored another windfall of pens and carta trasparente (transparent paper, which fortunately the shopkeeper figured out from my attempt to describe tracing paper as "carta di cipolla pelle" - skin onion paper).  They say that the shopping in Italy is fantastic; it's all there is and more.

Saturday, 7 October 2017


It's the Thanksgiving holiday weekend here in Canada, the notion of which is a bit of a slippery slope in this hopefully enlightened time of truth and reconciliation.  Hopefully as well, though, may those of us (which is most of us) whose ancestors are from other lands, be truly, respectfully, and compassionately thankful to be on this land.
This weekend sees members of my pottery group having our annual show and sale, a change from our timing of late November.  It was a brilliant day, with marvelous people who'd not been aware of us but decided to stop in on their ways to and fro! There were familiar friends, too, who rounded out the day of good conversation and company, all in support of us as local artisans.  It was a day to be thankful, indeed, particularly after a bit of a figurative fall of my own at one point.  Most of us will slip and fall from time to time, in all manner of ways.  May we be thankful for those who are there to catch us.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

How many parts make a whole?

"Each separate part was a simple fraction of the whole."  This is Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man", as displayed in Napoli's Stazione Centrale in 2012.  I was reminded of the original sketch this weekend as we prepared to dance our community piece "Array" at Illuminate Barrie.  One might wonder if Da Vinci could have conceived of the impact of this image and the many purposes it serves.  This visual compels one to think spherically and laterally, to think not only physically but energetically.  Thinking in those terms has allowed for the many parts that have made this one incredibly whole Summer, from being involved with the choreographic creation of "Array" as part Simcoe Contemporary Dancers' presentation of Dusk Dances Barrie, to receiving an Ontario Arts Council grant for an upcoming ceramics residency in Italy, to seeing my niece and nephew play their guitar recital pieces, to catching up with old friends over a Raku firing.  Yes, this is all very me, me, me!  The thing is, it wouldn't be me without all those incredible people in all those parts around me, and for that, I am so very grateful.   

Monday, 12 June 2017

Musing and Mummenschanz

Earlier this year, I weighed in on a Facebook thread trying to analyse and hypothesise over a call for entry to a ceramics exhibition. More than half of those in the discussion thought the terms of proposal sounded rather high-minded, ergo it naturally warranted an in-kind submission. On a lark, I began crafting my statement – with a little inspiration from artybollocks.com – and many things came to mind. Foremost, it seems that a great many artist statements comprise many words and little substance. Perhaps that comes from a place of insecurity, of writer and/or reader. Or, perhaps it comes from my own insistence that my words, and my work, have substance.
Of course, I couldn’t craft a statement without an image – it was rather meditative to make patterns in soft clay spread out on a plaster drying table. And then it all came together as I was immediately reminded of Mummenschanz*, a Swiss theatre troupe that performs in silence. They appeared on The [original] Muppet Show with a performance of two characters communicating by means of molding and manipulating their face masks of clay. It was freaky and fantastic! It was also a lot of substance, without words.

Looking now at what I wrote, it was a good exercise, as it seems that the general intent of my practice is still there…it’s just buried amongst the words.

“Ode to Mummenschanz 2017 (in process, detail): porcelain with organic stain, thrown and altered, unfired
This work was inspired by recent studies into the consequence of the deconstruct of the ceramic medium as a metaphor for each of our own personal journeys across the vast expanse of life. Temporal derivatives become transformed through diligent and academic practice, leaving the viewer with an insight into the outposts of our culture. As a conduit for communication, the work resonates a most primal need of the human condition, to find the commonalities amongst us in bridging the inherent crevasse between the sublime and the ridiculous.”

(*Check them out! www.mummenschanz.com )