I once won a $1,000 prize at an art show, and I liked to think that money went a long way in covering the expenses of subsequent competitions. Nevertheless, like many artists, I've wondered over the years whether such competitions are worth the price. As I thumb through my latest copy of Ceramics Monthly, and check out the "call for entries" page, I'm frustrated by the rising cost of entry fees. $45 to enter a show that I may very well not get into, and even if I do, I have to pack my work and pay the shipping expenses. If I don't win a prize or make a sale, is it worth the trouble and expense?
In doing a little research on google, it becomes apparent to me that a lot of artists are struggling with this question.
Some websites and artist's blogs tout the benefits of entering competitions:
Layer by layer, a patchwork vessel is created with small slabs that have been carefully overlapped and sealed together. I enjoy using this method now and then, usually on tall cylindrical, or rounded vessels, such as the piece above.
When using this technique, each small slab can be roughly the same shape, size and texture, or they may be different, depending on the desired results. The form above was made from canvas-textured slabs with torn edges, and of varying sizes and shapes. I've sometimes used clay stamps to give each small slab a different appearance, and the result is reminiscent of a patchwork quilt. (image below)
Is it art or a light fixture -- or both? The beauty of putting light into a ceramic form is that it can be an interesting piece on its own, while providing a unique accent light at the same time. Unlike any standard light fixture, a sculptural ceramic lantern casts shadows in unusual ways, letting light through openings in the form or alternatively, through ultra-thin porcelain walls. A porcelain lantern with a thin, carved surface will cast images and patterns when light shines through (see photos below). The piece at left is is a new one of mine, a closed cylinder with pierced "shells" covering the form.
"Why don't you add some color to your work?" That's a question I am asked now and then, and while I don't mind explaining, it's hard to put into words, as it is a matter of subjective preference, not one with a clear answer that's right for everyone. For the functional potter, in to have a non-porous, durable surface suitable for everyday use, glaze is a must. But for ceramic sculpture, glaze is optional. I'm not personally opposed to glazed sculpture, in fact some of the pieces I most admire are beautifully glazed, colorful works of art.
Yet there is also a rich tradition of "naked" or unglazed ceramics, in which the surface of a piece is enhanced by texture, stains, burnishing or pit-firing. Artist Jane Perryman has written a
book about the history of naked clay, and her book would be a great place to start if you're interested in learning more about the subject.
Here's a link:
The best way to start the new year? Connect with a new gallery! And the Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City is not just new to me, but to the art scene in northern Michigan as well. Opening in late November of 2016, this gallery offers up a contemporary selection of artwork to join the traditional galleries in the area.
Northern Michigan is a beautiful region, and a popular tourist destination in the warmer months of the year. Most local galleries cater to the tourist crowd, selling landscape paintings and other more traditional works. Shanny Brooke, owner of Higher Art Gallery, believes her city is ready for some more diverse options. Her new venue features abstract paintings, photography and sculpture from local, national and international artists.
Soon my ceramics will also find a home in her gallery. Several sculptures and wall pieces will be on their way to Michigan by the end of February, and I'm working on a few new organic wall pieces to add to the selection. Daisy Bouquet (above) will be included in the mix, as will the Round Barnacle Wall Piece (below).
It's that time of year again! With no more warm weather, no more beautiful leaves, and no flowers to lure me outside, I am hunkering down in my basement studio, and entering my most productive phase of the year. This cold, dark dungeon of a studio transforms into a reasonably bright, but not very warm work space. I have a space heater to take off the chill, but the heat only goes so far.
Not to worry! I always keep myself bundled up and focus on the work at hand. Once I have my kiln loaded with new greenware, I get to bask in the warmth that results from the firing process, though the pleasant temperature soon wears off and then I'm back to adding extra layers of clothing. Sometimes I hear the winter wind howling outside, or I see snow piling up against my tiny basement windows, and I feel relieved to be tucked away where it's safe and at least relatively warm.
I am fortunate to have my fall chores done now, so that I can concentrate on my work without distraction. Right now I'm working on a set
of vases made of small, thin, textured slabs that I overlap and carefully join as I build each piece. I'm using a brown stoneware clay, and I plan to apply some black glaze to enhance the texture
of the slabs. The inside of each vase will be fully glazed, but on the exterior I'll brush on and then wipe off the glaze, so that the dark color will remain only in the grooves and crevices. I
look forward to seeing these vases through to the end, and warming up my studio along the way.
Below is the first one of this series:
At the American Museum of Ceramic Art, I'm happy to have a piece in the current exhibition celebrating biomorphic ceramics. It's a peculiar term, this "biomorphism." I'm not sure how other artists define it, but for me it's an artistic interpretation and exploration of our connection to living organisms, whether beautiful, creepy or even grotesque.
I'm not great at definitions, so I turned to my dictionary for some guidance. I found the Merriam Webster dictionary has a definition even broader than mine:
Definition of biomorphic: resembling or suggesting the forms of living organisms <biomorphic sculptures> <biomorphic images>
Interestingly, the Merriam Webster dictionary dates the first use of the word 'biomorphic' to 1895. I would have thought the word was coined more recently than that.
I looked at another online dictionary for comparison and found this definition:
a painted, drawn, or sculptured free form or design suggestive in shape of a living organism, especially an ameba or protozoan: The paintings of Joan Miró are often notable for their playful, bright-colored biomorphs. ... biomorphic, adjective. biomorphism, noun.
It's still a rather broad definition, but I'm not complaining, because it leaves the term even more open to interpretation. For me, rather than fussing with definitions, it's probably easier to show examples of work I think of as biomorphic. So, below are examples by three different artists: Lindsay Feuer, Charles Birnbaum, and Alice Ballard. Along with an example of each artist's work, I'm including a quote from that artist's website. You can check out their websites for more images, and there are many! These artists have produced some fascinating work, all with an organic quality, but not resembling any specific organism or plant. The joy of this approach to clay is in creating something lifelike that doesn't exist in reality, but is instead the product of the artist's imagination.
"Suspended in the realm between reality and fantasy, my sculptures explore the organic process of growth, replication, and locomotion.”