Monday, June 3, 2013

Week 17: Below the Surface

Enhancing my finishes is one of the goals I set for myself this summer. While I'm not inherently unhappy with how my pieces are finished, I wanted to see if the direction of my new collection could be reflected visually as well as conceptually.

Before going forward I think I should provide an explanation of my current process. Bear with me, I'll keep it quick. All my finishes are ceramic, which means that I do not use paint, pencil, or any other substance after the clay has been fired to decorate the surface.  Rather, I apply multiple layers of slips (liquid clay), stains, and underglazes to the texturized surface of the clay to build up a depth of color.  Usually the average piece will have 10-20 layers of color before I am done. Then the piece is fired in the kiln and all the finishes are fired on the piece.

The only exception to this process is the skin of the figure. I have always preferred to keep the skin of the figure the raw, smooth finish of the naked clay. Whether I worked in terra cotta, porcelain, or black clay the skin is always left alone. To me raw clay symbolizes the idea that as humans we are clay to be molded to our fullest potential.

However, as I have begun to work on the contrasting shadows and light in life's journey these finishes have begun to change.  I doubt I will ever be able to change the manner in which I sculpt--my figures are tight and articulated because there is a side of me that is controlling and wants to express the emotional story of the piece.

But this "tightness" as I call it is starting to be contrasted with a looser application of color and mark making.  I am starting to bleed the areas where the skin and costume meet.  How much of what we cover ourselves is an expression of who we truly are or want to be?  Don't we all carry the scars and marks of our experiences, even if they can't be seen?  And, the unblemished skin of my figures are becoming tarnished with stains and washes dripped and splashed on the surface.

As I write this, these changes seem trivial or inevitable, but the to achieve them has been a battle of wills in my studio.  My desire for control has been waging war with my ambition to express the inner complications of each figure.  With each drip I release on the face I agonize about where it is falling and how it will change the piece. I keep telling myself "Let it go!" but that is not my strongest quality.

To declare a truce with myself, I am slightly covering up the drips with a light application of slip and underglaze--because I really can't just let it go. But it turns out that this finish might be just what I am searching for.  Since I have a theater background I like how it creates the impression of pancake makeup that doesn't cover the truth beneath. And, most importantly, it is this compromise of stains and camouflage that reflects the conceptual direction of my new work.  

Also this week:

  • Skull cleaning and bleaching (horse, beaver, and ram)--not for the faint of heart.
  • Starting shadow guardian series.
  • Building, cutting, and reattaching big sitting figure to achieve the desired body position.
  • Finishing 34 candles for The Slow Burn.