A Smashing Success


Re-Smashed Leeds Vase wallpiece
“Re-Smashed Leeds Vase (After ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’ by Robert Rauschenberg)” Liz Crain 2017


For me the past couple of years have been an exploration of new artistic avenues. I wasn’t particularly stuck (once I figured out I still wanted to work with clay, that is,) I just had no compelling path forward. So while waiting for that path to appear,  I goofed around, tweaking old works and testing all new inklings, until I found myself curious again. Sometimes that re-working involved happy breakage. Here I explore a few rationales for both the rambling and the rupturing.


A Case in Point

Years ago I found a smallish vase by renown local potter Mattie Leeds at the Goodwill for $2.29. It had been broken and reglued, with a hole in the back created by a missing piece. But the rest was almost pristine in that at least the drooling glue lines got lost in the lively decoration. Score! I have enjoyed its presence for a long time, but lately I sensed that I had “learned” all I wanted from it. In a studio purge, I knew the vase was going to leave, maybe going back to the Goodwill to bring joy to another broke ceramics collector. And then, I had an inkling…


Two Robert Rauschenberg Points

One:  Regarding a truth of creative re-directions that I can testify to as well, Rauschenberg said:

I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop…At that time I am bored or understand – I use those words interchangeably – another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore…Anything you do will be an abuse of somebody else’s aesthetics. I think you’re born an artist or not. I couldn’t have learned it. And I hope I never do because knowing only encourages your limitations.

Two: Concerning “destroying” the art of another artist, Michael Kimmelman wrote in a lovely piece about Rauschenberg after the latter had died in 2008:

Mr. Rauschenberg maintained a deep but mischievous respect for Abstract Expressionist heroes like de Kooning and Barnett Newman. Famously, he once painstakingly erased a drawing by de Kooning, an act both of destruction and devotion…But these were just as much homages as they were parodies.


Three Points to Take Away

  1. Remelting old candles to make new more interesting ones – so the speak – makes sense to me. And I have stood in front of the original “Erased de Kooning Drawing.”
  2. Smashing pottery is a visceral/psychic release.
  3. I have reinterpreted-by-alteration another artist’s work a couple of times before and it is always profoundly transforming. In the most dramatic case, with permission from the artist, I made a lidded jar, copying the colors and marks on her work on paper, rolled it up and with great reverence, fired the kiln with it inside. One ash flake remained.


–Liz Crain, who invites you to visit this piece and another ceramic collage, “Ate Misteaks”, at the Cabrillo Gallery Exhibit titled “12 x 12 An Open Invitational”  from November 6 – December 8 at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Library Room 1002, Aptos, CA 95003.

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6 thoughts on “A Smashing Success

  1. My family calls it “the great purge of 2016” when one Jan I just started cleaning out everything. I filled my giant silver Toyota van to the top with garbage sacks of STUFF for goodwill. I hit the studio and dreaded gently packing pots into boxes for goodwill and I hit a great solution. I got a HUGE trash can and just start smashing them into it. Anything that had sat too long in my studio was fare game. Finally I even hurled in a couple pieces from Chris Staley and Clary Illian, both of whom I revered and took unforgettable workshops from. I was just so tired of looking at them as well as pots of my own that just didn’t do it for me anymore. I’d received all the joy I’d ever get from them. The smashing felt exhilarating, like I was doing something very very verboten and I was absolutely getting away with it. Ah the cleansing sound of the garbage truck when that trash can was emptied into it’s dark maw. Now any time something is missing in the house, even a stray sock, it’s blamed on “mom’s great purge of 2016” I don’t really mind. I probably did toss in the sock.
    I applaud your reduction and reworking of the original idea even when it was someone else’s to begin with. I hereby give a guilt free pass to ANYONE who desires to have their own purge of my own work if it doesn’t tickle you anymore. Make sure you really HEAVE it wherever you to so you can enjoy the sound of it breaking into many many pieces. Liz is so right. It is worth it.

    1. And besides tossing, I have now donated the work of me and plenty of others to a mugs-to-fund-the-foodbank show AND a college fundraiser. Feels really freeing to get rid of stuff that way. And YES, I hereby give another guilt free pass to anyone who wants to smash my work in their own un-crapifying efforts. (That sounds like a legendary purge you did…inspires me to continue…)

  2. Hi Liz- I came to see you during Open Studios; I’m a mutual close friend of James Aschbacher, and the person who wanted you to know how much I enjoyed Whup Ass and your other pieces in that series. I’m just writing to let you know I really enjoyed reading your blog today. I am an admirer of Rauschenberg and it was fun gaining insight into his process as well as yours. As a writer I struggle, as all writers do, over the continual process of editing and re-writing. I was once talking with an aquaintance about this, a very accomplished poet, and she said, “I once edited a poem until it was no longer there!” She seemed very satisfied with this outcome, and I understood perfectly. I hope you continue to enjoy making art with clay and sharing it with the rest of us.

    1. Hey Linda!
      Glad to see your thoughts here! Thanks for reading along. I, too, get that notion of editing until the piece disappears, both in words and in clay. Some works are just like that and it is good to let them be. It’s extra hard, though, when one really really really likes what they wrote or made.
      Anyhoo, I’m also glad you commented because after this weekend I MAY have the very last can of Whup Ass for you! It’s one I forgot about and will be picking up from a gallery in Oakland. You have “right of first refusal” in any case. Stay tuned!

      1. I must interject my small roll in the can of WhupAss…it was I who commissioned and proudly bought the first two…
        Glad to see there have been so many takers!

        1. Yep, Lisa! That idea was pure GOLD! The world really really needed it, too. Fondest thanks, because I grinned the whole time I was making them.

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