Category Archives: ceramic art

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

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We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

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The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

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From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

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The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

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The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

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The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

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Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

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Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

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Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

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The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

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Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

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Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

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Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

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All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

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Foxy-Wolff and The Relics of Beautiful Grotesque

These pots are the remnants of the Myownian culture which left  no discernible written language. They were discovered in an old shipwreck site and comprise the only known relics of this lost culture. We are unsure as to the purpose of these jars, one theory holds that they are for fertility purposes but the disembodied babies also suggest that they may have been for funerary purposes. There was little else recoverable at the site.

The dark heavily textured portion of the vessels describe where they were exposed to the ravages of the sea, the barnacles and erosion have compromised the surface here and the viewer will notice a graduation of damage to the vessels that likely describes the shifting topography of the body of water in which they rested.

Foxy-Wolff has had exclusive rights to the site and is thrilled to present them to viewers for the first time in history. Each object has been painstakingly cleaned and cataloged and is available for viewing in the White Gallery  at the Sangre de Christo Arts Center in Pueblo Colorado through mid January. Don’t miss this historic exhibition.

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Myownian Ship Wreck; object #519. Hidden Watcher 6”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #195. Twins Jar 10”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #036. Baby Butterfly Jar 8.5”

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Myownian Ship Wreck; object #415. Baby Ring Jar 8.5”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #382. Pony Ride Jar 9.5”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #816. Horned Baby Jar 8.75”

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Myownian Ship Wreck; object #078. Window Baby Jar 8”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #593. Baby Coat of Arms Jar 13.5”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #667 Lobster Champion Jar 9.75”

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Myownian Ship Wreck; object #709. One Arm Jar 8”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #948. Sun Baby Jar 13.5”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #228. Bug Lord Jar 7”

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Myownian Ship Wreck; object #314. Bug Baby Jar 6”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #682. Dragon Princess Jar

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #113. Running Unicorns Jar 6″

Featured Image:

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #065. Lg 100 Face Jar 9.5”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object #446. Baby King Jar 15”

Myownian Ship Wreck; object # 714 Sm 100 face Jar 7.5”

 

 

Inside the Black Church

The interior of the previous houses for the Magic Box and for The Empty room were furnished much like doll houses, beds, tables, chairs, dishes etc. and of course Magic Boxes and TV’s.  The interior of the church is radically different.  In the early planning stages of the project we were imagining a retirement home for gods, a place where they would play cards and wear fuzzy slippers.  As the concept distilled down and Ted’s role in the developing plot became clear it was obvious that absurd humor would not serve our needs. By the beginning of The Bear Cave project we were settled on a church for the last scene of the 4 part video project. Retirement however remained an important concept for the story so making the space both sacred and to refer to the history of the gods became the priority.  In the early planning I was still thinking of sculpting famous works in the round as I did with the stone woman, but as the space was built and “space” became important the idea evolved into relief carvings

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Images and gods were chosen from all over the world. Once one was decided on it was modified to fit the 3″ x 6″ tile slab and then was drawn in and carved.  There are 17 in all. In addition to the cultures that produced these images I was heavily influenced by wood block carvings for printmaking.

Once the carving was done and the images were complete, the originals were used to create slip casting molds, This was chosen for maximum translation of the detail. All were poured at once so that they could be kept on the same firing schedule. After bisquing the tiles were rubbed in a wash of 50% red iron oxide and 50% gerstley borate.

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The first pieces were taken and modified directly from historical images of the gods.  There were 12 of these:

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This image features gods from China and Japan: L to R the Shinto god of thunder Raijin; A Chinese Temple Guardian Dragon and The Buddhist god of anger and enlightenment Fudo Myoo. The featured image at top are gods from the Americas:  Yelth the raven from the American tribe the Haida,Kukulkan, the Mayan feathered serpent God and Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec death God.

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From the top  L to R From Europe Lady or Venus of Willendorf and Minoan Snake Priestess/Goddess; From south-east Asia Ganesh, god of wisdom and learning and Shiva, god of the dance and destruction; From the Middle East and Africa is Enlil, sky god of Sumer and Annubis, Egyptian god of embalming and the dead.

During the cycle of making these image/objects, Gabe suggested we do some that were totally of our own making that would relate to the world of little animals that we have created in the videos. He developed images for two,  a frog and a bird.

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I took his images and translated them into the clay.

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For the last three I combined the concept of using a historical image but combined them with common animals that might have appeared in our world.

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L to R the pig is based on the monolithic figures of Easter Island, The rabbit is based on Europe’s horned god Cernunnos and the chicken lady is derived from Rangda, dreaded widow queen of the witches from Bali. For these I stayed fairly close to the original image and only modified where the greatest impact could be seen, primarily the head, as can be seen from the image of Cernunnos taken from the Gundestrup Cauldron.

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In addition to these 17 tiles and some new poses and looks for established characters I carved The Great One from Chinese images of Kuan Yin. This small sculpture is carved from a solid block, washed with the same mixture as the tiles and given a glaze accent for the garment.

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Workshop with Beth Cavener

This January 2015 FHSU hosted a workshop with Beth Cavener, an artist that I have had a serious art crush on since first seeing her work years ago. That piece, titles A Rush of Blood to the Head is still tremendously influential to my work and aspiration as an artist.  It can be viewed here:

http://www.followtheblackrabbit.com/gallery/a-rush-of-blood-to-the-head-2/

I have continued following her work and she has been the standard both for success and quality for myself as an artist. The workshop was then something that I looked forward to tremendously.

Before I begin discussing my experience I must clarify that I was very sick the entire time I was in Kansas, falling ill with the flu a few days before leaving and staying ill the entire time, that surly impacted my feelings. Another caveat was a major mental health diagnosis I received  just before leaving that left me feeling terrified and deeply constrained. So it was through this filter that I went to meet my art hero/crush.

First I must say that it was truly the most expansive and informative workshop I’ve ever attended. Her technique is radical and her approach is methodical and meticulous, it is no surprise that she has been so successful. In addition to her tremendous skill the work she has put in to every aspect of her career is astounding. She told stories of how her first showing experience in New York that was so ballsy and brilliant that I could barely cover my awe.

Her style of working is doubtless detailed in other places but I will give a brief summary. Her process begins with a series of sketches in clay.  These small studies are usually done in large numbers as a way to work through ideas and solve problems.  For this workshop she could only make one based on suggestions from the group.  We were large and engaged and there were many suggestions that came down to a vote.  through a somewhat democratic process she agreed to work with a wolf twisted in a rope.

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These models are done in oil clay so that they might stay workable and salvageable.  She rarely keeps these.  They are built solid using bamboo skewers as armature. At this point she is considering composition and posture and formulating the procedure for the armature for the full size piece which range from life-size, to much larger.

The armature for the large sculpture is made from gas pipe relying on 1/2″ pipe and a variety of connectors.

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The pipe shown here is not galvanized, which she prefers because it prevents corrosion, so these were wrapped in electrical tape to prevent that. The frame-work is screwed down to the floor or table and the structure is built with special attention to removing it when the sculpture is built. The most important aspect of this process is to remember that the frame is a chair for the clay rather than bones for an animal.  The clay must be supported from underneath for the most part.

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This structure was tried and edited many times to be sure it would suffice for the entire piece, some of the sculptures weigh many hundreds of pounds when they are in process.

Once the armature is built the clay is applied, first wrapping the pipe and then building in layers until the basic size is achieved.

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The legs are supported by dowels wrapped in electrical tape and jointed so that the body can be manipulated as it is built.

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Things like tails and ears that can be relied on to create emotion are added last or even after firing so that they cannot be relied upon.

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Once the piece is relatively finished it is cut apart, piece by piece and hollowed out, then reattached in sections and fired.

The sculpting part of this technique is quick and expressive, the restructuring and hollowing is slow and meticulous.  In the end, every surface, including those impossible to see have been finished to her own anatomical perfection.

This process was detailed in slide shows that document many of her favorite pieces including A Rush of Blood to the Head which was wonderful to see.

As I mentioned earlier we were a very large group and asked a load of questions. She was very generous in answering all of these distractions and more revealing much about her self and her process as she worked. As a result she was not happy with the progress she was able to make on the piece.  By the end of the workshop she asked that we not share images of the work but especially not of her.  I have honored her wishes not be shown in the images but not her request not to have the work shown, partly because this is a post about my experience in this workshop and partly for reasons I will now elaborate.

Throughout the days of the workshop Beth was incredibly candid about herself, her process and her struggles both as a person and an artist.  She seemed to make great connection with many of the students and their work, not however with me.  Likely she was put off by my fan girl shimmer, that while i did try to restrain it, could only have been obvious and possibly for reasons I have mentioned before, I was ill and very caught up in my own mental health issues and so may not have been available for connection. So then in spite of my attempts I felt very much unacceptable to this person that I admired so much.

Because of this I was determined not to write about this experience. both to protect her and myself for I felt very much exposed and did not want to risk her displeasure, still fawning on some sad level, and so the experience ended.  I was left to wonder what the students who did connect had that I lacked and if there was something I was fundamentally lacking that would prevent me from ever achieving the success of my idol and those class mates that were acceptable to the higher power that an internationally known and hugely talented artist represented.

I did attempt the technique but as I work at such a small-scale for the animals of the Magic Box that it was largely inappropriate.  Still, I did manage a pose for Brittany the unicorn that I have not been able to pull off before. So then after so much anticipation I left the workshop drained and exhausted, feeling less able than I had in many years to achieve the moderate success that I have worked toward.

And so it remained, I would think of this post often but could not find a way to write about the experience in a way that would be meaningful to myself and my readers as well.  In fact, this dilemma seemed to halt the blog all together, as those of you who read regularly will have noticed. Yet I was confident that time would reveal a way to relate the experience and perhaps relieve many pressures of being correct and acceptable that is such a difficult part of life as an artist.

And so that opportunity finally came today through one of my many Facebook clay groups.  I found a video, an interview with Beth that I can’t imagine her having made when we met several months ago.  It is a beautiful film that describes her process, her work and her struggles in a way that was so very revealing.

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/09/interview-with-sculptor-beth-cavener/

I have no wish to detail my mental process at seeing her expose herself and her insecurities and her work for the camera, but it is sufficient to say that I was moved by her courage to do so and by the very similarities that seem to so distress me in January.

The experience did not produce a great patron or helper as I may have hoped in my fantasy before meeting, but a teacher, a true teacher, with the power to reveal one of the fundamental truths of life in the arts.  The truth of the constant self exposure that is required to survive the process of show entries and openings combined with a process of exposing ones self through work that digs into the soul every day.

I admire her more than ever, yet I no longer feel the art crush that I used to. This is obviously desirable, allowing her to be a person, complex and rich and myself also, with all of my great talents and imperfections.

I won’t try to assist her or do further workshops or any other absurd fantasy that occurred to me in the time of not being acceptable in January but she will always be held in great esteem and gratitude for showing me that even the greatest artists are people as myself, complex and conflicted.

Please look her up, her website is gorgeous and so is her work.

http://www.followtheblackrabbit.com

Magic Box Collectables

An important idea for us right now in Foxy-Wolff is to develop an income steam to support the video production and installation, which can be very expensive when considering the tech involved.  We have worked with a variety of ideas over the last couple years and continue to search for something compelling that ties to into the heart of the videos.  With this latest idea, I think we may have figured it out.

These came from a series of small drawings Gabe made as we were on our way home from Kansas after the semester critique last December.  While I did like the tiles, I felt they were missing something, and a reoccurring comment we heard during the critique was that everyone wanted to play with the house and the figurines.  combining these two necessities, Gabe developed these wall hanging pieces:IMG_8040As soon as we got home I began with their construction.  For most of these, the molds already exist from the construction of the houses and so the details on the build could be thought through very quickly.

The first was from “The Empty Room” house, which is a challenging piece even at a small-scale.  I chose a window and two brick walls for this, finishing with all the trim.  Part of the challenge was building solo, the piece being too small for both of us to put up the walls.  Once the construction was finished it was dried, then spray painted and fired.  Following that acrylic paint and more spray paint were applied. I wanted to make these close to the original, but art pieces in their own right so there is some deviation from the surfacing of the original.IMG_0661“Ted in the Empty Room” 8.5″ x 9.25′ x 5″ Ceramic and Paint

The second piece was also from “The Empty Room” and is more of a display shelf for figurines than a house.  Again, using molds from the original build, a plan was made.  This house does not include porches and so decisions had to be made concerning that new aspect.  Construction and surfacing followed the procedures listed above and this piece finished well.IMG_0654“Terry and Virgil After Breakfast” 8.75″ x 9.75″ x 6 Ceramic and Paint

The third piece comes from “The Magic Box” and was perhaps the most difficult build of the group.  The reason for this being the molds from which the original house was made.  They are early on in our pursuit of mold making and are imprecise and difficult to use.  That being said, the compact design of this house and the attachment style it uses are very sturdy and make a lovely little piece.  This was glaze finished like the house it is made after.IMG_0646“The Stone Woman at Home” 8.5″ x  8″ x 8″ Stoneware and Glaze

The figurines were made following the construction of the houses and were somewhat different from the originals, the stone woman for example is slip cast for these, where she was carved from solid clay in the original piece.  In this we were seeking a way to differentiate the collectables from the gallery originals.IMG_0665IMG_0650These pieces will hang in a variety of ways, the large free-standing pieces will be placed on a custom shelf, while the piece that includes its own shelf will hang on a French cleat.

This series does exactly what we were hoping for, It reunites the concept of the films with toys and action figures and  gives us an interesting opportunity to return to the “commercial”.  I love the idea of promoting the “Collect all five!” marketing strategy for ceramic art, its fantastically absurd.

 

Recreating Chinese Glazes

As a part of my history studies at FHSU this semester, have been researching Chinese glazes, a part of that research has been the recreation of those glazes from modern materials.  Using Nigel Wood’s excellent text; Chinese Glazes; Their Origins, Chemistry and Recreation, I have been attempting to recreate the earliest evolution of these glazes.

To begin the process I had to refine the raw materials.  I began with the wood ash as this process takes the most time.  I started with half a five gallon bucket of ash from a friend’s wood heater.  They burn a mix of soft and hard wood, a great deal of it being scrap and remnants, so not only is the chemical composition difficult to guess, but there was a great deal of impurity, particularly metal, in the mix.  To begin I soaked the ash in water.  this is a good way to separate impurity and to remove the water-soluble portions of the ash, which would affect its performance in the glaze.  To streamline this process Gabe built a large screen of medium mesh.IMG_7906IMG_7909I was able to remove large particles with this, then after this process was complete I drained off the water and dried the ashes for several days.

While that was drying I prepared the clay and acquired materials I could not make myself.  The stoneware clay used was a locally sourced stoneware called 200 by Summit Brick which it uses to make a white brick.  The porcelain is Laguna’s Babu porcelain.  To process the clay I first crushed it with a hammer then ground it fine in a blender.IMG_7912Once the materials were prepped I got to mixing and glazing, the test pieces were made from the bodies used in the glazes, though the 200 has an addition of reclaimed Soldate 60 from Laguna to add plasticityIMG_7927 IMG_7966Rather than going to the back of the book and mixing Wood’s already translated tests, I chose to focus on the text and come up with my own basic formulas based on the research found there.  Those earliest glazes were composed of Alumina, silica and calcium carbonate derived from either limestone or wood ash.  The clay provides the alumina and silica in the mixture.  My first test were thought to be the earliest glazes used in high temperature kilns in China.  Using the two two different clay bodies I mixed 60% clay and 40% washed wood ash.  To add color I also added 2% red iron oxide.IMG_0674The stoneware and porcelain tests on the left are test 1 and contain the stoneware clay is the 200 and the test on the right is the same formula but replacing the 200 with Laguna’s Babu porcelain.  The 200 clearly has incidental colorants that are not present in the test mixed with porcelain, and so shows darker.

The nest group used the same 60/40 mixture but instead of using wood ash, I used limestone or whiting as it is more commonly known in ceramics.  For this group I also pulled the iron back to 1% because I feared over saturating the color and skewing the tests with the fluxing capacity of the iron.IMG_0675This time the test on the left is mixed with the porcelain and the set on the right with the 200.  A major down side to using the 200 in glazes is that it is prepared for brick making before I get it, which means it is full of very heavy grog. Though I did screen it, some small particles escaped and made the bottom of the testers rough and unrefined.  The wood ash too, though washed and crushed was not ball milled and so added large particles that did not break down and integrate with the glaze.  They are beautiful glazes but could only be used on sculpture without significantly more work in refining the raw materials.

The next group of glazes were derived from the earliest porcelain glazes, and use little wood ash.  IMG_0676From the left: 82% Babu porcelain, 18% whiting and .5g RIO                   70% Babu porcelain, 30% whiting and .5% RIO                                                 70% Babu porcelain, 28% whiting, 2% wood ash and .5% RIO

The test in the center, number 6, was my favorite from all the the tests, it is a buttery matte with a subtle green color.  Adding a  full percent of iron would make this glaze a winner on the porcelain body, truthfully none of these is very nice on the stoneware clay, too gritty.  Though the fit does seem to work.

For the last four tests I chose recipes from the back of the book, though they had to be somewhat modified to work with chemicals I have available to me.  The first two were porcelain glazes, a clear and a northern celadon.IMG_0677These glazes are from later in the evolution of Chinese gazes and are much more complex, very near to their modern counterparts.  I had to change these recipes, especially where the author used english ball clays which I don’t have access to.  The glaze on the left is #1 in the book and is called porcelain glaze the original glaze recipe asks for Hyplas ball clay which I substituted EPK, feeling that this would be closer in makeup than domestic ball clay. The recipe is:

Potash feldspar  25%; Wollastonite 27%;  China clay 12.5%; EPK (sub) 12.5%;  Flint 20%; Talc 3%

The recipe on the right is #3, northern celadon, for this glaze I replaced SMD ball clay for EPK, again feeling its properties closer to domestic ball clay.

Cornish stone 56%; Wollastonite 20%; EPK (sub) 20%; Talc 3.5%; Red Iron Oxide 1.5%

These were winners on both clay bodies, I was especially impressed with the “porcelain glaze” on the stoneware, it may be the most beautiful high temperature clear I have seen on this body.

The next tests were a Northern Hares Fur Temmoku (#4 reduced) Again, slight modification was made to the original recipe, for this I subbed 200 for the BBV ball clay on the right and EPK for the test on the left.  The original recipe also asks for molochite which is a calcined china clay, which could have been made but since a sub of china clay (slightly more) was allowed, I used it.IMG_0678Cornish stone 42%; 200 (rt) EPK (left) 15%;                                             China clay 15%; Dolomite 15.5%; Flint 17%;                                                         Red Iron Oxide 4.5%; Rutile .5%

These were both beautiful, again the test containing 200 was darker and slightly more opaque, but both worked very well.

Thanks to Shane Jarrett for firing these for us, it was a wonderful study.

Tang Dynasty Tomb Guardians

China’s Tang Dynasty (618ce to 907ce) is among the greatest periods for art making in the world.  The relative peace enjoyed by the people and its outward looking and accepting culture where art was highly valued, created the perfect environment for experimentation and growth by artists.

China hosted flourishing trade along the silk road, that brought foreigners, religions and goods into the country.  Among these goods was more finely processed lead which facilitated improved low fire glazes for Sancai Ware.  The word translates to “three colors” and refers to the brightly colored glaze combinations that grace the tomb guardians of the Period.tang tomb guardian 3

These objects were made as surrogates for human sacrifice and were intended to serve the dead in the afterlife.  While the Tang is a time of great artistic innovation, these objects were not considered art, but much more functional forms.

The were called Ming chi which translates to spirit objects and were critical for the type of ancestor worship that was practiced at the time.  The belief was, and still is for many Chinese, that the ancestor, after the appropriate mourning period, became an important intercessor between the surviving family and the world of the gods and spirits.  Not taking the proper care of one’s ancestors would lead to disaster and cataclysm, so keeping these important family members well supplied and happy was a families greatest duty.

Like any highly stratified society, there were strict rules governing the placement on Ming chi.  The number and sizes were governed by the persons station in life.  The smallest were around 12″ and the largest were over 40″tang tomb guardiansThey served a variety of purposed in the tomb, some, that blend human and animal characteristics and carry weapons were made to protect the ancestor from evil and tomb raiders.  Others had more mundane tasks.  The horse below is pictured alone but he would have been paired with a groom to care for the animal who would serve the ancestor.tang horseEach figure had a specific name and duty within the tomb, and were often based off Taoist and Buddhist deities.  One of these was a figure known as the Heavenly King.  He was a fierce male figure placed near the entrance of the tomb.  Many of the figures stood on vanquished demons, the Heavenly King is depicting standing on a bull or ox which represented his unchallenged spiritual majesty.  It is important to remember here that the Chinese have a very different concept of heaved than we in the west.  Heaven is more of a god, and it is from this god that the ruling elite derive their right to rule.tang tomb guardians 2In addition to traditional images of Chinese culture, the tombs often featured influences from the outside world, camels and some foreigners were common additions to the groupings

The craft of the Ming chi was perfected during the rule of the Empress Wu, and represent a departure from earthenwares of the previous periods.  These figures are made in molds, then assembled and modeled from the white stoneware of the time rather than the red earthenware seen during previous periods.  The white body, while sometimes under fired, was seen as superior because of the brightness and clarity achieved in the glazes.  Sometimes these figures were high fired before being refired at lower temps for the glazes, though its thought only pieces for export received this extra step.

The sancai glazes were composed of 3 parts lead, 2 parts loess clay or white clay and powdered quartz.  This base was then colored with iron for amber, copper for green and though rarely, cobalt for blue and turquoise.  The term sancai  is a misnomer, in that there are 6 colors in this palate from the period, though the most common were amber, green and creamy white.  Glazes were applied in a variety of ways including dipping, brushing and trailing.