Claiming A Character in a Plain Clay Cylinder

Each face is unique; it has to be

A new series of face jugs has begun! Similar to the Local Talkers 2009 in that they are based on the faces appearing in the 2011 Local Talk column of the Santa Cruz Good Times, but different because each one is full-sized and meant to be a stand alone work.

I’ve lifted some of the limits I placed on myself in 2009, in that I can choose one or more faces/respondents a week, or none. And I can base my choice on expression and/or on what the person says.

Each jug is stamped with that person’s first name, last initial and one word of their reply to the question of the week. In the top photo are, left to right, Cecil U. Stopped, Kate K. Y and what eventually became Nicole B. Amphitheatre.

Here she is at leatherhard before being cleaned up and getting the base coat of underglazing.

Love the headband and the earrings!

And just for fun, here’s a close up of the source face.

Facing the camera and smiling slightly

For me it’s not about creating a photographic likeness, but an energetic and gestural one. The clay jug form has its own demands that must be served. The cylinder needs to balance in all ways. It can only stretch so far. It can’t get too heavy with add-ons. (Hair!!!!) It needs to function as a vessel, although I’m finding I care less and less about that as I go deeper into sculptural expression. I just might be getting to the same place as sculptural teapots which are generally full of narrative and SO not meant to be used for serving tea!

I am keeping better studio records this time too. Here’s the page so far for Cecil U. Stopped.

SO much better than binder paper!

So, that’s my Studio Report at the outset of one thematic series I will be exploring this year. The face jugs provide a looser more organic foil to the other works I’ve got going and I like that I get to find my way from the plain cylinder to the character waiting to take form.

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If You Were a Vessel…

Good Times Local Talk September 28, 2000

…What Would Your Purpose Be? Here’s the header of the Santa Cruz Good Times Local Talk column that caught my eye ten years ago, tickled my imagination and never really left.

It is the direct inspirational source for my work of art, “Local Talkers 2009: One Face Jug a Week….” that I have blogged about a lot over the past year, including showing you all the finished version in last week’s post. (Since then I learned that the piece has been accepted into the Cabrillo Gallery Exhibition entitled CAL IF OR NIA, an all media juried exhibition open to all California artists and curated by the Owner and the Director of San Francisco’s venerable Braunstein/Quay Gallery, Ruth Braunstein and Shannon Trimble, respectively. It opens August 30 and runs through September 24, with the Opening Reception September 12 from 3-5PM on the campus of Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA. I am SO proud, please come see!)

But that’s not what I came to talk about today. It was more about that question about being a vessel: a containing conveyance, carrier or conduit. That’s what never left my mind and why I saved this column. I was astonished at the responses’ variety: a ship, a blood vessel, a food bowl for the hungry, even a metaphoric container for religious views.

It never occurred to me to be anything BUT a ceramic vessel, probably a pitcher! It is just my ceramic artist’s personal frame of reference to the word “vessel” which completely illustrates “the law of the instrument”, that we tend to overuse the familiar tool, as in “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” (An old saying attributed to Mark Twain and Abraham Maslow, and many others.) I like, too, the French concept of deformation professionelle which really nails it (pun intended…) “looking at things from the point of view of one’s profession.” C’est moi!

So this column expanded my thinking both by jolting me in the first moment I read it and then by seeping in deeply over the years as it has hung in my studio. It has become a vessel of its own, conveying me to expanded art horizons, both conceptually and actually, and I am forever a pitcher of sweetened gratitude because of it.

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Local Talkers 2009: The Complete Version

All of last year I gathered the weekly Santa Cruz Good Times and tore out the Local Talk column, selected one smiling respondent to respond to and made a small face jug inspired by it. Most have a sculptural spout and handle(s) and all are functional in that they really could be containers.

It was a daunting process with lots of pauses and I blogged about it fairly regularly: quarterly progress reports, procedural essays, thoughts on completion conundrums.

I did not hurry myself other than with the urgency borne of a curiosity to see how it would resolve, since I did not know either!

After all the pieces were formed and safely bisque fired, I still wasn’t sure how to finish them in order to unify their differing expressions, attributes and even slight size ranges. I also needed to have a display concept, and I felt I needed a glimmer of how they would be formally viewed before I chose the finish glaze treatment. It took time to feel this out.

Simplicity ruled. What you see is a black wash over each piece to bring out the planes and textures as in a drawing. A touch of Radiant Red underglaze was brushed over the week’s number which had been impressed into each piece and at its spout opening. That’s it. Black and White and Red (read) all over.

As for the display, even with a clear concept it was only after much searching that I located this commercial shelf which came with just the right amount and size of cubbies AND numbers too! I brushed red on the numbers and stained the interior with a black wash to pump up the Shabby Chic-ness, thereby unifying both Local Talkers and their habitat.

There is no particular way the faces need to be placed in this shelf, although a few on top and mostly two to a cubbie works easily. Certainly they do not need to be in numerical order!

A year becomes a jumble anyhow, and having the face jugs free to intermingle at last and create a sense of their own relationship and conversation is such delicious fun. A dollhouse for adults in a way.

I am assembling a book of the Local Talk columns alongside individual photos of that week’s finished jug. While I could still pick out the weekly person whose face I used, I have been surprised at how far afield I went from the source photo. It was a complete surprise to me to see how often the gesture and even the hair part of the artwork are a mirror image of the original. And very, very often the gender is interpreted more androgynously, if not exactly opposite, which seems to be “something I do.”

I am including my blogs about the process in this book too, sprinkling them into the rhythm of the year’s making…and it is gotten on to be a year and a half. This post will be included as well. The book-making has even nudged me to write it!

So, what happens next? I have entered the piece into a local juried exhibit and have not heard back yet if it has been accepted. If it is, that creates a path. If it is not, that creates another. Both paths will lead to letting the Good Times know about this work, but each will create a method.

This piece is a unit…all the tiny jugs go together in their display as one sculpture and I am completely happy with that. But I yearn for a series of similar pieces that can fly individually free. I am noticing that I want to do this yearly practice again, making bigger face jugs still based on this Local Talk weekly cavalcade of expression. So here comes 2011, and I am getting ready.

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