Last night visiting friends we lingered at dusk picking blueberries. Their bushes were brimming with berries.Today mid-afternoon we went back and filled more small containers. We felt rich and lucky, loving the ease of the southern high bush berries versus the tasty wild low bushes in Maine. At our house we are between harvests. The earliest is all done and the mid-season has not yet ripened. Our bushes are somewhat shaded. The deer and birds often snack, but to my knowledge the bears have not discovered them.
Some berries fall: those are for squirrels. Some are unripe, reserved for bears. Some go into the metal bowl. Those are for you, so you may taste them just for a moment. That’s good times: one little sweetness after another, then quickly gone.
In 2012 we did an exhibition of plate and bowl sets with Omen-Azen in New York City. When we were working on the calendar/catalog Mikio felt that each set should have a poetic name. Warren and I tended to give our pots pragmatic names like fat vase or iron brush strokes. Mikio suggested thunderstorm or moon vase. We had to listen hard to hear the names the plates used to refer to themselves. Since that year we have tuned our ears to hear the names of the pots.
Give me the names for things, just give me their real names, Not what we call them, but what They call themselves when no one’s listening —
-Charles Wright, from The Writing Life, in “Appalachia,” Farrar, Straus Giroux, 1998
I try not to repeat myself in a given series either in the pots I photo, or the flowers, or veggies, or quotes. But sometimes I work as if I was touching the undersides of pots. So the plants in the garden and the objects all need to be touched again.
I’d rather be loose fire Licking the edges of all things but the absolute Whose murmur retoggles me. I’d rather be memory, touching the undersides Of all I ever touched once in the natural world.
-Charles Wright, from Bicoastal Journal, in “Oblivion Banjo,” Farrar, Straus Giroux
In the studio today I made dust prints on teacups. This involves sifting wood ash on my table surface and scribbling through it then pressing/rolling the cups into the words on the table. I work from a specific text, a poem that I have recently read or one written by my mother and found in my archive of her words. The process feels like a mix of a meditation on a poem and a form of time travel that allows me to visit the mind of my mother. Whether it’s a poem about walking in Greenwich Village on a Sunday or her worries about what her children would do with her collection of books, when I get going with the transcription it’s as if the words come so fast I cannot stop for spelling; sometimes the words come out as squiggles or straight lines or like the bitter sweet vines that tangle with the milkweed. The more I dig in my mother’s work and play with asemic text I think the line between poems and drawing is very thin.
“I’m working as fast as I can I can’t stop to use periods / sometimes I draw straight lines on the page because the words are too slow.”
-C. K. Williams, from Yours, in “Poems 1963-1983,” Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988
Last summer’s woodfiring had a lot of experiments. In January 2020 at STARworks in North Carolina I had spent three weeks making small clay body batches based on wild North Carolina clays in different combinations. As I made pots with each mix I not only numbered them so I could trace back to my notes, but I made them different scales and shapes so that they were easily identifiable. In this year of staying home I am working with one clay body, using a few different materials for surface prints.
In the spring the New York Times asked 75 artists, “Did you make anything that mattered?” “Who and what comforted you?” “Which moments will you remember?” “Which ideas would you like to forget?” “What would a do-over look like?” “What’s still on your to-do list as ‘normal’ comes into focus?”
If they asked me I would say I don’t know yet if what I made this year mattered, but I am grateful for the habit of the studio. I have thought of yellow as my color of protection. I bought a pot of yellow pansies at the grocery store. I loved having them on the porch and gained strength as I glimpsed them out of the corner of my eye. Now as they fade in the heat I am studying the Calendula each day as I make my way to the studio, gaining strength and commitment from the power of the yellow blossoms.
Sean Scully (artist) “Lately, I have fallen in love with yellow. At the moment, I seem to be using it in every painting. I’m not sure I understand why, though maybe it offers a kind of protection against the cold, or against the sorrows of Covid. One of my new paintings is called “Yellow Yellow.” Another is called “Wall Orange” and has blurs of yellow and orange seeping into each other. Yellow is complicated.”
From The New York Times: 75 Artists, 7 Questions, One Very Bad Year [Linked] Musicians, authors, directors, comedians, painters and playwrights open up about trying to be creative, and sometimes failing, in quarantine.
When I went to France in 1977 I did not take a camera. I wanted to experience things without the framing by a lens. Focused on being a painter I thought a camera would interfere. Three years later when I went back for a summer I brought a camera and took photos of all the things that had stuck in my mind–the mountain, Mont Sainte-Victoire, the Chateau Noir, a camping trip, and my roommates. A friend recently reminded me of a hitchhiked car ride. She spoke much better French than I did. Our ride was with an angry man who hated the Arabs and spewed spit on his windshield as he vented. He dropped us off far from our destination. I remember the look of the trees and she remembers the angry words. I think about how sometimes foreign traveling without speaking the language allows you to experience a place in more childlike ways. You cannot adopt another person’s attitudes–you have to trust the visuals and your instincts.
When I work in the studio I try to work in that childlike way– working with my visual instinctive language. I don’t worry about the rules, but follow my nose, pursuing the energy and charting the tactile clues. It’s like working in a different language, one that resides below the radar that a camera can capture.
Now I live my life through my camera. I take photos of the wildflowers on my walks, progress in the garden, forms in process, and the pots as I imagine than to be used: the bud before the blossom, the fallen petals after the bloom. If I wonder when something happened I scroll through my photo archive to date the event. I love the freedom of a digital camera. I can take multiples of an idea. I can shoot really bad images just as markers to later work from. I am an artist in my own home trying to see it as a traveler in a foreign place.
In the past we listened to photographs. They heard our voice speak. Alive, active. What had been distance was memory. Dusk came, Pushed us forward, emptying the laboratory each night undisturbed by Erasure.
Before I had the visual language for pots I loved the raw materials. If my father was still here he might tell you about the time I tried to wash the car with mud or the times we spent making pinch pots out of clay found by the beach in Montauk. He might tell you about how he encouraged me to make a glaze out of crushed Coke bottles and Elmers glue. These experiences are like stories from another age. When we cleared out my parents loft I went through their cabinet of pottery. I could recite the history of the pitcher from Mexico, the albarello from Italy, the blue and white bowl from China, and the George Ohr from Biloxi, Mississippi. My brothers knew my parents loved these things, but they sat on the shelves like obsolete trinkets from another age. These objects spoke of my material loves, a special language moving beyond the holes in my socks and into the wild stems and flowers we picked from the roadside and put in odd vases.
Before I knew words for it I loved what was obsolete crumpled at the foot of a closet lost in the street left out in the rain in its wet story from another age in a language that was lost like the holes in socks I loved the rust with its steering wheel in midair above the forbidden chassis and the mouths of tunnels the eyes of dust no floor with its pedals that I was never to touch because all of it was dangerous and the touch of it would never come off though I could tell that no one really believed that as it stood there behind the garage that had floated to us like an ark from the days of horses and I stood at the corner and listened
– W.S. Merwin, from The Moon Before Morning, (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). Copyright 2014 by W.S. Merwin. [LINK]
I have been looking at a group of bottles on our dining room table, each one from a different firing, each with a different focus on form and surface. On my studio docket today was to make a new series of bottles. I often think about still lives. I remember an interrupted conversation I once had with Gwyn Hanssen Pigot. We were at the Garth Clark Gallery in New York City and I asked her if all the pots in a single still life parade came from the same firing. I wondered if pots ever hung around her studio waiting for the right mates to come along as she composed her parades. Her Australian friend interrupted us–admonishing me as if I didn’t understand how successful Gwyn was–so I never got to return to the conversation. Gwyn was inspired by Morandi’s still lives. When I take photos I often think about his painterly universe of form and structure. I imagine him looking hard at his objects as if any extra effects had been scraped away, as if the emptiness of the canvas was filled through his objects.
Over there’s the ur-photograph, Giorgio Morandi, glasses pushed up on his forehead, Looking hard at four objects— Two olive oil tins, one wine bottle, one flower vase, A universe of form and structure.
The thunder feels green in the moments before a looming thunderstorm. I make a loop outside to make sure nothing was left out that can’t get wet or won’t blow away. I close barn doors to the studio and cover my work in progress for the night. These are June walking loops. They reflect the garlic I am growing–even if this year the garlic lays flat like the deer have been sleeping on it. Besides the culinary uses I grow garlic because I love these loops of the scapes . These loops resonate in my fingers and through my brush like the Music this variety is named for.
Green was the silence, wet was the light the month of June trembled like a butterfly
On Monday mornings my routine is to take a walk by myself–no dog, no husband–to set the tone for the week. But this morning as I headed out I stopped to pick blueberries, then take photos, and wash tools in the studio, a different way of setting the week’s tone. Over the last 15 months we have had a few trees come down or need to be taken down. One of them was a white pine our daughter Zoë planted as a seedling brought home from preschool. When the top of it blew off in a big windstorm it caused major car damage. The good news is now that it’s gone more sun reaches the blueberries.
My friend tree I sawed you down but I must attend an older friend the sun