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Our kitchen at Château-Noir
At the age of twenty I was in art school studying painting in Aix en Provence, France. I was enthralled by the landscape. I yearned to express the vivid color and contrasts I gleaned from the landscape in my pottery, but I had no idea as to how to represent the power and allusion to life found in Nature. Was it through some form of abstraction of shape, movement and touch or should it be through decoration and color?
I clearly remember a specific dinner at the Chateau Noir--at one time Cezanne’s studio and the subject of many paintings, now divided into apartments--at a big round table with a group of friends. We used a smattering of my pottery off of which we ate, drank, and served. We got involved in conversation about art and landscape and the use of color to define form and my mind drifted off, focused upon the table setting. My dream was to make an evocative setting of plates, some cups and a teapot to nourish my friends and to fill the table with pottery. Nineteen years later , having achieved the technical ability, I am still exploring this aesthetic desire.
Prior to my experience in France I had been aware of the paintings of Cezanne. I found that the watercolors spoke to me more than the oil paintings and I saw his place in art history as a precursor to abstract painting. From my first night in Aix when I drove with a friend out the route du Tholenet and saw the view of Mont Sainte-Victoire my perception of Cezanne changed. To compare the motifs actually used by an artist such as Cezanne to his paintings reminds the viewer of the choices, the quality of the gaze and the combinations that were employed. As the viewer gains an understanding of the purpose and vision of Cezanne, one perceives both how truthful and what variations from nature were chosen.
Underglaze Karatsu (Japan) Plate, early 17th C
with pine tree and plum designs
h 1.5" x w 7"
I was struck in a similar way by iron brush painting on Karatsu plates. Before visiting Karatsu, Japan, I thought the representation of the pine trees seemed invented and strange. But on visiting there and seeing similar trees I gained a deeper understanding of the vision of these potters and how their brushwork was truthful yet at the same time distilled. These trees, as drawn, are a record of a specific time and place--neither a mere figment of imagination nor a habit of perceiving and representing.
The tea men of fifteenth century Japan knew how to read the landscape--both in nature and in the shading of ink painting as well as in the abstraction of glazes and shapes in pottery. Some pottery was seen as raw and sullen, barely touched with color while others are as spirited as a spring day. Stained and cracked slip and glaze was interpreted as a map showing a piece’s history of use.
As I adapt their insights and knowledge into the language of pottery, I seek not only a visual and tactile tension but also an emotional one. While ideas or inspirations can be derived from historical work, they are always implemented through my own available materials and a consciously limited choice of palette filtered through my artistic intuition, resulting in a modern expression of my local landscape. With a lack of artifice I aim to distill simplicity from complexity. The goal is to appeal to the senses with the same variety, directness, and power that one finds in nature.
In late ninth century China the poet Xu Yin was inspired by pottery and he drew contrasts among the varieties of Celadon--some fresh and youthful, others far more weathered: some greens evoke feelings of the tenderness of new growth and the renewal of life and youth, while other greens remind us of ancient lichens, clinging to rock, yet ever growing.
In the same way I seek poetic combinations in my pottery by weaving together all the available elements of the process, for example, the choice of clay, throwing or forming, finishing, how slip is applied, thick or thin glaze and choice of firing. Each aspect of the process represents many choices and many opportunities for expression. How they are all balanced and employed creates infinite combinations, some perhaps, which may impart a sense of age and roughness or may express grace and youth. The allusions of pottery serve to enhance and deepen the user’s experience.
Storage Jar, 15th C Shigaraki, Japan
h 18" w 16"
In my studio I aim to find indigenous interpretations of the spirit found in the Virginia landscape. A great number of aesthetic choices are made in creating shapes and decoration. Yet I feel I must bridge the particular and emotional attachment I have of this specific time and place with a broad enough conception so as to capture something elemental. I photograph, draw, paint, and collage in the search to find an appropriate means of simplification and representation without stooping to create a literal imitation of my landscape.
Landscape Vista Plate, 19