Thursday, December 6, 2012

"I feel a Change comin' on... and the best part of the day's already gone"...-Bob Dylan

New Work: Bobtail cups with celadon and crawl glaze.
The following post was, in part, inspired by a young woman, Laura, from the ceramics program at Indiana University who contacted me for some information about my work for use in an artist report.  Answering some of her questions renewed an inner dialogue on the subject of change within one's work.  

 Actually, I've felt a change coming on that is almost 2 years in the least, I've been thinking about it for almost 2 years....Any leap takes time and courage (two such things that I never seem to have enough of).   When looking at my work, I'd too often hear the murmuring in my head of "I love you, but I'm just not in love with you"...famous last words, I know!  Change in one's work and, more importantly, giving yourself permission to change can be a formidable challenge that can result in a creative quagmire, particular if you have had some success and received recognition for the work that you intend to change.  Gallery owners, collectors, some case, colleagues and even students..have come to identify you with a certain body of work- or, at least you'd like to think they have.  To make the conscious decision to abandon, even temporarily, a body of work in order to facilitate change, growth and development causes confusion and may even call to question the integrity of the artist.  Clearly, this attitude is counterproductive and serves merely as an obstacle on one's creative path.  And ask yourself,  who's steering this ship, anyway?

However, what people often fail to see are the years of small internal changes manifest  as subtle shifts in the work over time. This is not really any ones fault, as sudden dramatic changes are always easily noticed.  And, let's face it: as artists, we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves and our own work.  A lot of time. Only many years later is it possible to look back and observe a common thread that weaves together an otherwise apparently disparate  body of work.  Looking back, an element can be traced to a particular time of development in an artist's work, and further scrutiny reveals that the result of  a small change or experiment  suddenly becomes  more cohesive over the course of several years.

More interesting, is the idea that you need to give yourself the permission to change.

Thanks to Robert Long, Lydia Thompson, and all the folks at MSU for
their hospitality.  Not the most flattering picture, but you get the point ;)
At a recent workshop that I gave with Robert Long's ceramics classes at Mississippi State University, we touched on this idea several times throughout the course of the 2 days I was there.  The gist of the conversation went something along the lines of this:  It's easy to blame academia for this "artistic identity crisis"...but academia, in and of itself, is not entirely responsible.  The structure of a 4 year BFA program encourages young students to choose a major, choose a medium, and choose a style, which they are then expected to develop into a comprehensive BFA thesis or exit show.  The next step is to apply to residencies of post - bac programs, and then on to a 2-3 year MFA program in which another body of work is produced for an MFA thesis show....and then on to apply to more residencies and, ..eventually...teaching positions.  And then it becomes your turn to perpetuate the cycle.

Granted,  this is a bit of a pessimistic interpretation of the way things work, although there certainly is some truth to it.  A better way of looking at it is to consider the parameters of the educational process to, in fact, be liberating rather than constricting to one's creative development.

Put it this way:  When I was younger, I was always torn between wanting to make functional pottery or sculpture.... (not an uncommon dilemma)...and it really bothered me that I should be forced to choose between the 2.  After all, if a sculptor wanted to work in wood one day and paper or styrofoam, the next, who would argue?..Now, instead of looking at this as being forced to choose, it is much healthier to see it as, in fact, permission to really investigate a certain idea, style, medium, etc, for a finite period of time.  Graduate school is just an intensified version of this process, in which a specific body of work is developed over a specific period of time.  And, during that time, the depth of that investigation and the exploration of the work takes precedence over just about everything else in one's life.  This, alone, is a luxury that is often taken for granted.  And then, at the end of it all, .....well.....time's up.  Now that you've solved a problem, it's up to you to move on or to continue to further develop the solution to that problem.  Either way is fine, you're in charge.

But, sometimes I think that we can get caught up in the mindset of having to constantly rationalize the desire to make a change to the point where it becomes a chronic battle of self doubt and second guesses.  While critical reflection is a healthy and necessary part of the creative process, it's easy to over- think things in the subconscious search for the conference of approval that remains as an artifact from the educational process.

Handbuilt porcelain teabowls with stamped textures, 2005.

Recently, I came across a box of old work from my first semester in graduate school that I'd socked away in a corner of my studio, behind the couch.  Images of some of this work are posted on my website but some aren't and, for one reason or another,  I suspect I may be removing them in the not too distant future.  Also, I never include these in any of my PowerPoint lectures because, until recently, I figured they were less relevant to where I'm at now and, frankly, might be just too confusing.... But, I've been wrong before. (And I really doubt anyone is concerned but me).
Tiny sculpture, circa 2005
Tiny sculpture, circa 2005

I've always thought fondly of these little guys, most of which are only about 3-4"tall but look big in photos,  and have often considered revisiting them.  At the time, I was working out of a corner of the undergraduate studio at the University of Georgia and living in the backseat of my car.  (This was not entirely by choice.  I had, in fact, recently relocated to New Orleans to begin my MFA at Tulane University but Hurricane Katrina had other plans).  And, in hindsight, there was something quite liberating to work within the unique parameters of having to fit you, your belongings, and everything you make over the course of a semester into the back of a Pontiac.

Upon returning to New Orleans in January of 2006, I continued to explore
this direction, while simultaneously working on a body of work that consisted
of mostly wheel thrown and altered porcelain pots.  Eventually, a choice had
Tiny Sculpture, circa 2005
to be made, and, well.....the thrown and altered porcelain vessels won.  And it has been a body of work that I've concentrated on developing over the past 7 years.  But lately, I've felt the pull of these miniatures more and more.  They are the quintessential intimate object, and it is in exactly that nature that these pieces remain relevant in the context of my work.

As far as physical resemblance to the rest of my work is concerned, the reference to the vessel form and porcelain seem to be the only common ground.  While stoneware often gets all the credit for having its own "character", porcelain is a fine, beautiful, and sensitive material like no other.  I'm captivated by the way that it feels when you work with it, be it on the potter's wheel or while hand building.  No other clay allows a glaze to sing with such brilliance, yet unglazed porcelain  that is fired to the point of vitrification has a beauty all its own to both see and touch.  And I'm really liking the interplay between the glazed and unglazed surfaces on some of the new work, particularly on the bobtail cups shown above.  The white crawl glaze adds a third voice to the conversation, and offers a further sensory stimulation, somewhere between the glossy celadon and the smooth, sanded and polished raw porcelain......

Bobtail cup and covered jar with pierced handles

As of 4:45pm today, my fall semester teaching ceramics comes to an end, and i look forward to getting the chance to be a full time artist again, even if it's only for a month.  I've got a lot to chew on .........and change is exciting.

Happy Holidays:)