Category Archives: ceramic history

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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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.

Ai Weiwei and The Art of Destruction

ai-weiwei-installation-012The pottery of Neolithic and Bronze era China have inspired many artists over the centuries since it was first created, but none to such a controversial degree as the work of Ai Weiwei.  Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist who has risen to the apex of the international art scene with his thought-provoking social commentaries.  The majority of these are protests aimed at the communist government of China.  The artists work in ceramic is no exception.

The bones of the work are historical vessels from the early history of China, including Gansu Jars and pieces from the Han period.  These objects are then changed, and sometimes destroyed to make Ai’s controversial work.  The photo above shows two of the works.  The first, the photographs, are a piece titled Dropping A Han Dynasty Urn and are exactly as the title and photo indicate, The artist is seen in three frames dropping an urn from the Han dynasty period, a piece that has remained intact since it was made any where from 206 bce to 220 ce.  The other vessels  depicted are from a piece called Colored Vases and are Chinese jars from various early periods that have been dipped in paint.artwork_images_93_621026_-aiweiweiAnother work titled Dust to Dust are the remains of 30 Neolithic vessels that have been ground to dust, and displayed in glass jars in orderly rows.ai weiweiPots are not the only objects that have been altered from their original state as antiques.  These stools are from the Ming Dynasty and represent a large body of works based on altered antique furniture.

Ai sites his greatest influence as Marcel Duchamp, and indeed in these works we see Fountain and Bicycle Wheel reborn in a new context, but rather than a pure examination of art and object, the objects the artist has chosen to alter are loaded with political statement as well as artistic.  When challenged regarding the destruction of the furniture, he countered with the official Chinese government position of destroying objects from the Ming and other dynasties.

This leads to the sticky question of the nature of Ai’s works with objects of antiquity.  Is this destruction or transformation?  First it must be noted that there is a good deal of speculation that the works are convincing fakes.  We must acknowledge that the artist loves the concept of the Fake, giving that the name of his architectural firm.  It is not unreasonable to consider the entire project an elaborate joke.  But for the sake of argument, we must consider that these are the genuine article, irreplaceable objects of tremendous importance for the history of all of humanity.  Are they truly destroyed?

In the case of the pieces from Dust to Dust, there can be no doubt that the vessels that fill these jars have been utterly destroyed.  The remaining ceramic is contained in its own funerary urn, placed on a beautifully crafted shelves, clean ordered and evenly spaced.  Yes the jars are destroyed, but they are still being treated with reverence and respect.

The Han Urn too is destroyed, or at least broken, like most of the works from its time.  A skilled restorer could have the piece back to museum quality in a few days, so what truly is lost?  certainly the rare quality of having never been broken, which is remarkable and wonderful to me personally as a person in love with art and antiquity, yet what might have been gained from the sacrifice, for that is what I believe these acts constitute.

We consider the great history of China unbroken, yet I believe Ai is pointing to another possibility, that it has been broken, that the current government of China has broken completely with history and humanity.  The ritualized sacrifice of treasures has brought a great deal of attention to the artist and so then his cause for the freedom of the people of China.  Reading comments to certain blog articles about this work it is clear that many believe that  Ai should be imprisoned for this desecration.  Actually he is imprisoned, being  on house arrest for years because of acts like these.  Is it because of the breaking and damage to historical objects? No, it is because the Chinese government sees this artists statements on a global scale as a threat to their continued power.  This is what sanctifies the destruction of these objects and why this work is so compelling and thought-provoking.

Last year an artist broke one of the vessels from an exhibition in Miami.  He claims to have done it to protest the galleries emphasis on international artists rather than on the local scene.  I believe he has missed the importance of the statement made by Ai and used his fame to artificially propel his career, I have no doubt that if the protestor was himself showing internationally he would have no problem with an international gallery, nor would he refuse the opportunity to exhibit abroad in solidarity with local artists.

As for the painted pots, Greek sculpture demonstrates that painted surfaces usually don’t survive time the way that objects can.  These pieces belong to history and humanity.  This is but a brief moment in their existence.  It is possible that the new status conferred to these objects as highly valued pieces of contemporary art will have a protective effect on them, but in any case, The culture of contemporary art and these political and aesthetic concerns will crumble to dust before all of these pots are lost.

http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/70/AiWeiweiDroppingTheUrnCeramicWorks5000BCE2010CE

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/feb/18/ai-weiwei-han-urn-smash-miami-art

Gansu Jars of Neolithic China

Neolithic culture is a period that begins worldwide about 8000 bce and is defined by humanities move from hunter-gather culture to settled agriculture centered around small villages.  Important innovations and technology of the time were stone tools and the regular manufacture and use of pottery.  It is in fact through pots and fired ceramic objects that we have learned about many of these early cultures, because the ceramic is able to survive the decay of long years in a way that other crafts that were practiced by these early ancestors cannot.Neolithic chinaThis illustration is a recreation of a neolithic community in Jiangzhai Village, Lintong China.  The image was taken from this website below, where a discussion of the layout and functions of the buildings is discussed.  Most interesting to this article is the area near the river, which was the locations of the potteries and kilns.  This would have been a very important industry for the village and so was located within the walls of the town.

http://hua.umf.maine.edu/China/Xian/Shaanxi_History/pages/031_History_Museum.html

The area of this site, while outside of the Gansu province was from the neighboring province of Shaanxi and was a part of the Yangshoo culture which give us the Gansu Jars.Neolithic2 jarThis jar was found in the Jiangzhai Village and has many of the distinctive characteristics of the Banshan Yangshoo or Gansu Jars.  Bulbous shape, small handles and free flowing dynamic brushwork are all characteristics of this work.  In addition, these pots were light and well made, which is one of the reasons for the large number of these that have survived the many years since their creation (from the 4th to the 3rd millennium BCE)  These were thought to have been built quickly with an eye for function.  The majority of those that survive were used as burial jars.gansu 3These beautiful forms were made by coiling and then paddling to refine the form, they were then scraped and burnished and painted with colored slips and fired in small updraft kilns.

“The forms of Chinese are are…in the widest and deepest sense harmonious…we can appreciate them because we too feel their rhythms all around us in nature, and instinctively respond to them”     -Michael Sullivan 1967gansu 1I dont dispute this quote, but I would go further, in that all art springs from that which came before, either in celebration or protest.  Chinese culture is rare in that it traces its beginning, unbroken, to the Neolothic.  There are many villages in China that still employ techniques for making pottery that were used during this early period and many of the forms produced clearly owe their origins to this formative period.  Not only are these forms still relevant in China, but the pottery of China has been traded and treasured all over the world since the opening of the silk road.  We respond to these forms and these designs because they are fundamental to the culture of the entire world, nearly every artistic tradition owes a debt to the pioneering potteries of Neolithic China.

Sources:

Speight, Charlotte F., and John Toki. Hands in Clay. 5th ed. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield, 2004. Print.

Wood, Nigel. Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation. London: & C Black ;, 1999. Print.

MLA formatting by BibMe.org.

 

 

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angzhai Village, Lintong

Pony Vase

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a dedicated reader will recognize this Greek Geometric style krater from a previous post.  Part of my requirement for school is to create a piece inspired by the art history studied during the semester.  I chose this piece as my inspiration.  The concept for the piece is to take the basic structure and basic design principals and layer in contemporary images.  I was especially interested in bringing in a graffiti image.  Graffiti has so many similarities to hieroglyphic images, being a picture that means a word and that must be decoded by the viewer.

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I chose coils to build the piece from as it would allow me maximum control.  It is also a method of building that I love and i chose it for the pleasure of being able to spend a couple days in that process.  I began with a scale drawing.  This outline was an invaluable too as it allowed me to hold the shape as i built up from the bottom.  I took frequent measurements of height and  diameter and compared to the drawing.  If I was off, adjustments could be made.

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Once the shape and size were dialed, the form needed fine tuning and handles.  These are in the style of the original pot.

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After the pot was bisqued I used iron oxide to paint the structural designs.  I wanted to be as careful as possible with the patterning and lines so extensive grid lines were used

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Gabe designed the tag, which says Pony and the balloon pony.  The other image is a reduction of the stucco pony that lives outside the studio.  He also placed the decals which requires tons of math and gridding.  Overall we’re thrilled with how the piece turned out, and so happy to get back to the graffiti pots again.

Here’s a video: