Thursday, October 27, 2011

"I Don't Want A Pickle......

...I just wanna ride on my motor- sickle".....
While i promised myself that i'd get back to work on finishing Part 2 of the Potter Heroes , it became necessary to take a bit of a detour, and, with all due respect to Arlo Guthrie, get out of town on a motorcyyy.......cle
last weekend.

We had been invited out to Lafayette, Louisiana, this past weekend by my friend John Gargano.  John is the ceramics professor at the University of Louisiana Lafayette (ULALA for short,  or.."Ooooh La La"), a terrific sculptor, musician, and all around good guy who joined me in Maine this past summer for an Artists Invite Artists session at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts.  He and his wife, Holly, were hosting a Halloween party featuring his band, The Cones of Uncertainty, and a big pot of Holly's Mom's gumbo.

Lafayette is a 2 1/2 hour drive due east of New Orleans, if you take Interstate 10, and the decision to go was a no- brainer: "Hmmm..get out of the city, ....rock out to some Bauhaus and Misfits covers (as well as the Ghostbuster's theme song) from a friend's band, ...AND get to eat food cooked in a big black pot?!"......What could possibly make this any better?  Well, they for starters, they played  "Godzilla" by the B.O.C.   Even better?


I don't own many things, let alone many nice things.  I've always thought it to be a bit ironic that, as a maker of objects,  i had become a person with very little "stuff". (Actually, this is a topic that i'd really be interested in discussing with some other potters sometime) While i'd partly, and most pretentiously, like to attribute this to some philosophical renunciation  of material possessions, that would be a lie. It's mostly due to the fact that i've never made too much money and the things that i really want tend to be ...well, ...very expensive.

 Let's be real: the cool stuff (which you want) usually costs more.  Yes, you could be reading this on any number of affordable PC laptops but, chances are, you're not.  We're (meaning: You and I) are both sitting in front of a Mac of some sort.  I like using them, they're generally well made, and they look good.  And, yeah, admit it, ..they're cool.  You also could be drinking your coffee out of that Walmart Christmas mug with your name on it ($12) or a hand made cup from one of any number of studio potters in the world (for, say, $40)....Given the choice, take the hand made cup.  It will look better, it will feel better in your hand, and if, nothing else, it will have more "soul".
...and, while it shouldn't ever be your primary consideration when purchasing hand made pottery, .. you'll certainly be able to out-cool even the most angst- ridden, hipster Starbucks barista if you bring your Lorna Meaden or Linda Christianson mug with you when you order your latte'.

For the past 2 years, I have been spending (read: wasting) time (and money) with a 1975 BMW R90/6 motorcycle.  It's not the fastest, or best handling, or badassed- est(?) motorcycle in the world, but it's black with a white pinstripe and BMW hard touring bags on each side.  Aside from the fact it's a large machine that makes me look shorter than I already am , i think it's pretty cool and it suits me well.  Also, the BMW is renowned for its almost indestructible reliability which is perfect for someone like myself, with little to no mechanical skills.  I firmly believe that it's not that i couldn't fix something if it broke, i just wouldn't have the faintest idea how to diagnose the problem:

 (Step 1: Turn off bike -which the Universe has probably done for you since, after all, something is broken.  Step 2: Swear loudly and kick things. Step 3: Drink a beer.  Step 4: Throw tool.).....Repeat.

This machine has also, and almost single handedly, saved my relationship on more than one occasion.  Simply put, I become a better, more compassionate human being at 60mph on a country two lane highway with a passenger on the back.  It's hard to stay mad at one another over a simple misunderstanding or trivial spat when your senses are being overwhelmed with the sights, sounds and smells of the surroundings. The sensory input is spread like butter- cream frosting over the underlying, but ever present,  notion of your own mortality. Even after the road has wrapped you in a daydream, the little reminders that you're always, at that moment, on a motorcycle, are very clear.  Often this comes in the form of some large bug who, unwisely, decides to change course mid- flight, directly into your face. Or, in New Orleans...a pothole large enough to swallow a small Volkswagen.

And there's no talking.  At least, not much of it, anyway, save for an occasional tap on the knee or a point and shout at a particularly fat cow.  This has become one of my favorite parts and it's  a very unique way to experience the unexplored with a fellow passenger.  In a car, sometimes things are missed because we're too busy chatting or foolin' with the radio or iPod.  And then, when you do pass something beautiful or interesting, you're inclined to point it out  or talk about a sense, change the experience and reframe it within the context of verbal communication.  Not that that's such a bad thing, in and of itself, but it does alter the experience.  On the back of a bike, your forced to be reflective. You have little other choice.  It's kind of  beautiful  to know that the other person is seeing the exact same thing that you are, smelling the same hint of cut lawn or magnolia, feeling a change in the temperature, the same time, ...and that you can experience this together without words getting in the way of personal interpretation.  Everything suddenly becomes very real.

Riders in the South (much more so than in the North) wave at each other from across the highway as they pass, which I like.   And we've become pretty used to other people in cars pulling up next to us and mouthing, "nice bike"  through the window.   There's usually at least one other rider who wants to stop and talk motorcycles (which i know very little about) at every gas station or bar, but it's usually concerning the year and model, or something easy that I can pretend to understand for a few minutes.  While this camaraderie is pleasant, it  reveals a side of my true nature, for better or worse.

Simply put:

 1). I bought this machine because I like to be by myself. Or with another person who i really like, and trust, and don't feel uncomfortable having their hands on my waist for long periods of time.

2).  I find that I like to be in control of a given situation, at least, to the best of my ability.  If you happen to be one of those people on an airplane who sits, jaw clenched, with one hand on your plastic cup of scotch and the other on the armrest, knowing that if...for just one relax from  willing the plane to stay in the air with your own mind...........If you have a general distrust of (or contempt for) everyone around you because you secretly believe that they can, at any time be capable and probably will (.... any second now), something stupid that could hurt or kill you. .....I'd be happy to ride with you.   

3).  And, the weird one is, while I own a motorcycle, I have little interest in other people's motorcycles, unless they happen to be like mine (or some other interesting, probably European, make).  I imagine it's like if I had a child, I would probably only really like my own kid, and not really like or care too much about what cute stuff your kid is doing (provided that you're all safe and happy, of course).  Sure,  we can talk about them from time to time as we strive to find a common bond during soccer practice or something, but....don't Facebook me every time they lose a tooth.

Self centered? Big time, for sure.   Immature? Possibly (definitely).   True?....Well, some of the time. Not always.

We decide to avoid Interstate 10, both there and back,  instead dipping  south on US90, formerly the only major route connecting east to west in Louisiana.  This is a much more beautiful and relaxing ride, a two lane divided highway through the bayou country of southern Louisiana.  On each side, the cypress knees stretch out of the swamp and the golden algae covers the waterways and inlets only accessible by small, flat bottomed boats. I like to think that there are alligators hiding in the mud just below the surface, and there probably are.  We've been riding for an hour and a half and the thought of alligator, as in, alligator sausage, makes me hungry, but there's no place to stop and the places we do see are closed on Sunday, as it's the day of the Lord and all.  A 2 1/2 hour drive can easily be turned into a 5 hour ride if your careful to avoid main roads.  No matter, we've got gumbo in our future.

 Crossing from water to land, we pass through cattle fields and into the sugar cane.  Miles and miles of sugar cane, broken up by the occasional Antebellum Southern plantation home and signs for the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.  You know you're in Cajun country now, for sure. Originally, we had intended to pass through the town of Catahoula, but got comfortably lost and ended up back where we started on 86.  That's fine with me. I mostly wanted to visit because I like the word "catahoula", and i like the dog (catahoula), and i like the fact that Louisiana has a "state dog" (catahoula).  Instead, the town of Franklin, Louisiana, presents a welcome alternative. With a canopy of  huge live oaks draped in Spanish moss over the main street, Franklin looks like a Sunday Southern town, complete with the smell of frying chicken.    It sounds cliche',... but i'm leaving it in because it's the truth.

Tomorrow, back to ceramics. With the holidays coming, this is a good time of year to make pots.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"My Heroes Have Always Been Potters..." sung to the tune of My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys...this has been a working title for an essay that I've had in my head for a long time.  Why I feel that this is something that should be committed to print, I'm not sure...maybe for a future Ceramics Monthly or Studio Potter solicitation or something.  Mostly, I find it's an easy way to break the ice as an inaugural entry to this blog.  Much like it always seems easier to draw on a napkin or a roughed up notebook than a pristine white sheet of paper, this entry will serve as the smudgy handprint that will eventually become my Hand Turkey Masterpiece for the refrigerator door!

I always thought that if i was spending time writing my seemingly trivial thoughts and posting them online, it was time that could be put to a more productive use in my studio.  And it probably could.  Just as your time spent reading this could probably be put to better use in your own studio.  Regardless, this short entry begins what I hope will become a regular practice, without expectation or delusion of any greater reward other than that of a brief but unapologetic self indulgence.

In all sincerity though, I have recently found myself fascinated reading the blogs of some of my fellow potters, most notably Euan Craig and Sequoia Miller.  If you've never read either of these, I highly recommend them, especially on the days when you've been second guessing yourself, your work,  and the past, oh, ...say, 15 years of your life: ....."Clay?!, what was i thinking?!....Maybe it's not too late to join the electrician's union or get that real estate license?"....Those are the times to settle in with a nice cup of coffee (or whiskey)....(or, ..whiskey in coffee)... and read Euan's latest post.  I've never met the man, but i have a feeling we would get along well.  At the very least, we would eat well.

Sequoia Miller, on the other hand, I have had the good fortune to meet when he was teaching a fall concentration at the Penland School of Crafts back in the Fall of 2004.  His class was in the lower clay studio and I was upstairs, taking a glaze chemistry course with John Britt and sleeping on the sofa on the studio porch, listening to the coyotes and train whistles in the distance.  Sequoia is a consummate artist/craftsman and a true gem of a human being, as I'm sure any of you who have come to know him and his work, over the years, would agree.

......Crisp, cold October nights in the mountains of western North Carolina and a real goose down sleeping bag!...the smell of freshly cut wood waiting to be stacked and eventually stoked into the don't get these too often down here in New Orleans.  It's coming upon almost 7 years since my brief stay in North Carolina, and i find myself missing it....especially now, as fall is just starting to hint at it's approach to Louisiana, while my friends and family to the north have been cutting wood and wearing sweaters for a few weeks .....

My own studio work has come at a slower pace lately...mostly, but not entirely, due to a very busy teaching schedule this semester, with 3 ceramics courses at Loyola University and 2 others across the street at Tulane University.  I say "not entirely" because, while I feel that I have been very proactive and responsible about waking up at 5am to get to my studio by 6 in order to put in a few good hours before a 9am class, ....i admit that i am a man who is prone to distraction, living in a town ripe with this commodity.

Last night, I had the pleasure of going to see the Amazing AcroCats....a trained cat a friend's theater.  ....Trust me, this was totally worth a night off from the studio!  My favorite was actually the chicken, Hendiana Jones, who played cymbal and tambourine in the trained cat band.  No, seriously, if they come to your town it's worth the $15 to go check it out.

On the way to the show, we stopped by Gallery Bienvenu on Julia St. to see the exhibition of Eva Hilde's unbelievable new work.  I've always admired her sublime forms and the sheer physicality of the work, and these new pieces are some of her best yet.   Of course, this got me thinking, "Hmmmm....maybe you should coil build pieces based on some of your own forms, ...only larger".  And this coming just after a week of resolving to commit to the intimate scale inherent to functional pottery and porcelain, in particular!

Which leads me to my personal mantra for the day: "Just because you Could doesn't always mean you Should".

While this may or may not be true, it certainly gives pause to question the personal reason for making.  Is  my making of this piece in a certain way (in this case, large) a means to an end or is it merely to prove to myself that it can be done..and that it can be done by me?  This is a question that I've asked my students, on occasion: "Certainly, you can make something very large, but how important is that to the meaning of the overall work?"  In other words, doing something for the sake of doing it...or to show off skill...begins as a distraction that can become consuming..and perhaps lead the artist away from the true intention of the work.  

Of course, it could be argued that by doing so, one could reveal an entirely new and otherwise unrealized path to follow....In any case, it's subjective, and should not be taken as gospel.  For myself, however, at least for the time being, I will continue to focus on what I do best.  Only smaller:)

Earlier, I admitted to being prone to distraction and, as I get older, prone to ramble (even more).  I had every intention of writing about ceramic artists, in particular the one's who have come to shape my own perspective of functional pottery and sculptural vessels since first bitten by the proverbial "clay bug" back in back in 1995.  This, unfortunately, will have to wait while i go off to the studio and get my hands dirty.  And,  since this is New Orleans, yes, my studio happens to be in the attic of a bar.  Seriously.