Sunday, 30 November 2014

Near the end of the beginning...

A lot of mixed feelings today as the count is on for my residency to come to an end. The last few days have been spent puttering rather than pottering as I was reluctant to start any new work in case it could not be completed in time. The coming days will be busy enough - final group of work is being biscuit fired tomorrow. Then, after another review of my copious notes (there's a sententious word...positively pithy!), it will be a glazing and "salting" bender on Tue., load for final firing on Wed., unload and scribe more notes aplenty on Thu., and pack on Fri. *sigh* But it is hardly the end. Rather, it is the beginning - inizio. Nuovo inizio, to be more precise. While I had a clear plan and certain expectations, the time spent and the work that I have been so blessed to do (Step right up, folks! Get your clichés here!) truly has been more than I ever could have hoped or imagined. And while that initial feeling of exile (with a splash of guilt) in being away from family, friends, co-workers, has not completely gone away, it most certainly has taken on new value. Reading a lovely book today, "Lucie Rie & Hans Coper - Potters in Parallel", I found the following observation by one of the authors, Edmund de Wall: "To be exiled... You are existential: your lens is clear; you read your new surroundings with unclouded perception." Here's to everyone finding their beginning.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

"Were you a Punk?"

It originated a few days earlier at pizza dinner. Pietro extended an invitation to the famous Pizzeria Maroni, so of course, I spiffy up by wearing my assorted rings. One of our little group was well-respected, much-admired (and incredibly humble) English potter, John Colbeck, who has also spent the last few weeks at La Meridiana. [How ever did I happen upon this good fortune?!?] John (first-name basis, no less...) noticed the rings and asked "Were you a Punk?" Crikey! I haven't been asked that since my faux-punk days of the, ahem, '80s New Wave. "Well, kind of", I replied. The question was positively answered a few days later when Pietro and John were conducting Raku firings for the other potter in residence. Ah, I love the smell of Raku in the morning, as my good studio mate, Mary Hastings, would say. So notes John: "Stick with porcelain." Me: "Oh, but I really like Raku." John: "Really?! That's the Punk in you." Yes! That's what is so brilliant about the possibilities of clay: so many different types of clays, forms, glazes, firings, purposes, aesthetics, let alone the assorted history of it all... It's as if pottery can offer nine lives, or at least two, much like Meenoo here, one of the gatti di casa: not quite lurking behind the leaves yet completely basking in the sunshine. Working with clay can allow for that duality of being and purpose: one can feel equally at home whether in the methodical control of functional porcelain or in the chaotic freedom of non-functional Raku. And that's my clay-punk story.

Friday, 21 November 2014

"The Tourist has returned!" [But I don't want to be a tourist!]

And so was the warm welcome (in quotes) from Pietro as I was back to the studio after a side-trip to Faenza (Region of Emilia-Romagna), ceramics capital of the world. Even if [you think!] you have no interest in ceramics whatsoever, and it takes two trains and over three and a half hours to get there from here, a visit is highly recommended, for Faenza è una città bella! Friendly people, good food, easy navigation, and best of all - hardly any tourists, at least this time of year! It was a bit jarring to be travelling again, going through Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence on the way there and back: "Who are all you people?!?" All of this made me really reflect on a discussion we had last week with Isabella, a ceramics teacher from Insituto Lorenzo di Medici, at La Meridiana with a group of students for the day. It was my good fortune to join them for lunch (prepared by the lovely Alessia, the office assistant), and we were talking about travel and Florence and how, once one has spent any time there, one can really want to call it "my Florence". Isabella observed (paraphrasing!): "You are not a tourist. Tourists come and go and try to see everything in a day but see nothing, because they're too busy taking photos, and trying to see everything. You are a traveller. A traveller takes time to experience the culture, to live in the culture." Yes, even though I have travelled little, I am a traveller. This had already come more clearly to light from the forward in the book, "Betty Woodman. Teatros. Théâtres. Theatres." (2005), which observes that "Any traveler in principle warrants a safe harbour." in discussing that potter's time split between homes in New York and Tuscany: "Two very special places...which evidently feed her creative force." I am blessed to have Ontario and Tuscany, the latter if only fleetingly but more than ever, always with me, travelling.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Elvis ha lasciato l'edificio...

Here is some of the work so far, now waiting for biscuit firing (digging the English terms used here!) Nothing out of the ordinary, save for it is quite different from my work at home. Not sure if it shows in the photo, but the one with the cup on its side in the middle shows how they have been super burnished with a metal rib to be shiny and smooth as marble. The prospect of finally decorating with the metallic salts is a bit daunting. And so, whilst having afternoon tea proffered by a well-known English potter working here for a few weeks, the other [recreational] potter in residence commented how unusual and rewarding it is to just spend the day, after day, working in clay. I wholeheartedly concurred, much - I think - to the surprise and/or delight of our founder, Pietro. "Yes, it's so great to really focus on what I'm doing, not putting pressure on myself. Instead, I work to really keep with my work/study plan, but as I work, new ideas are coming out of that. It's really great." Pietro nods in agreement, then goes to read a wall post about which I had forgotten. He says that he is the author - he is certainly the author of its location on the wall (!): "When you start working, everybody is in your studio - the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all your own ideas. But as you continue, they start leaving one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you're lucky, even you leave!" Like Elvis so famously did, I think I have left the building.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Lessons Learned

Lesson one of this pottery adventure (you know how I loathe the word "journey"), is that one who wears glasses would do well to carry one of those emergency eyeglass repair kits. Yes, not even completed week one, and a nose pad popped off yesterday. Fortunately, there was an un officio ottico open in the nearby town of Castelfiorentino, and presto! good as new, and no charge! It was market day in the town - I can hear Diane Lane's voice narrating about the scene in Cortona early in the film, "Under the Tuscan Sun". (Lesson two is that November really is a rainy month, and there have been devastating effects in parts of Tuscany.) And what a great market: vendor stalls of frutta e verdura, formaggio, arrosti, pesce, various household items, clothes & accessories (of various quality, though some quite good - didn't need to twist my arm!), and best of all, it was spread over and around a couple of piazzas entirely una zona pedonale. It was my good fortune to make this trip to the market with the lovely Giuliana Rodolfi, who was an integral part of the origin of La Meridiana (with founder & life-time director, Pietro Maddalena), and whom I just met this week. She offered to take me and another potter in residency on this outing from "the monastery" as they call it (?!), for it is considerably quieter than during the hectic days of rotating one and two-week workshops that run most of the year. But back to Castelfiorentino! First stop was at a bar for colazione or breakfast, consisting of the freshest croissant con crema known to this person, and a cappuccino. Lessons three, four and five: (3) We need "bars" like this in Canada! There is something quite special in partaking of a such a commonplace activity. "Going for coffee" just doesn't cut it. (4) Three croissants and three cappuccino's cost a grand total of 6 euro. SIX EURO! It costs almost the CDN $ equivalent of that for only one such breakfast back home. (5.1) I already learned these lessons, but they're worth the second, intense look; and (5.2) Sometimes, the most productive thing is to simply enjoy a croissant and cappuccino while taking in the atmosphere, and feeling just for that little while, that you are part of a community, one that can seem so foreign yet so alluringly familiar. (5.3) Be in the moment. Yes, it is so cliche, but that's because it's true, and thus, no photos of market day. Instead, a Tuscan terrazzo. Last lesson for today is to emphasize simply enjoy, whether those words be used separately or together. Live simply, enjoy fully. A dopo! (Later!)