‘”Hiatus – geologically; a missing period of time in the rock record; absence where matter should be. Conceptually, existentially; a discontinuity, a gap in the run of being alive, a cleft or a pause in which all manner of things may be lost or may thrive.”
Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Word of the Day’ Twitter post 15/05/20
So, time passes and words may have abandoned me but through last Summer, Autumn and now Winter, I persevered with the practical aspects of the project, albeit in a pandemic-lockdown-stop/start manner. It is now January and the work for the exhibition is complete.
The latest lockdown has caused the opening at Ruthin Craft Centre to be postponed again so I find myself in the unusual position of having time to sit with the body of work I have spent the last eighteen months researching, conjuring, cajoling, reshaping, rethinking, cursing and finally accepting. This time to sit with the work is a luxury and I hope one that will make the eventual gallery curation a little easier. I am moving pieces around examining their relationships and asking what the pieces will reveal to me now they are finished and placed alongside each other. I’m also asking did we – me, the materials and processes – achieve what I set out to. Having implemented so many changes to my work it’s been difficult at times to stop and take stock, particularly with the (welcome) pressure of an exhibition at the end of it; the immersion in exploration and experimentation has to stop at some point in order to get some exhibition quality work made! Sometimes you just can’t see all you’ve learned until you’ve come through it.
Development takes time and some things are more resolved than others. My final glaze firing in December contained four large pieces, each trying out slightly different aspects of a new form. This new form was born out of two pieces made early on in the project in September 2019. From a certain angle they suggested something altogether different and I sat there for over a year thinking about this each time they caught my eye.
Four tall Cylinders, tapered rim...
Exploration, discovery, decision making and problem solving have been enthralling parts of the project. Experimenting with both form and surface took me far away from my comfort zone at times and it’s interesting to note that where I am now is not a million miles away from where I was, but as they say, ‘you’ve got to go there to come back’. What I brought back with me is a renewed take on old things. My approach to my work prior to the project is invigorated, more inquisitive. My making processes have changed, expanding from the tightness of extruded coils and press-moulded bases to now include the freedom of pinch formed bases and hand rolled coils which can be as thick as my wrist or as thin as my little finger. Slab rolling has also been incorporated into the small porcelain vessels.
I’ve had the luxury of time to take notice of things. One piece made last April, almost a throwaway upon completion, became the start of a new collection separate to the Twist Ellipses I had been working on the same month. This piece sat alone for months with the threat of the hammer hanging over it until I saw it in a new light and made two more which now form the larger Extend Ellipses. Before this eureka moment however, I had moved on to another with the Tilt Ellipses, which were a reaction against the physical awkwardness and challenges of the Twist Ellipses. I craved a simpler form again after the complexity of the Twists. I wanted movement, angles and juxtaposing forms but not the full-on dancing troop! So tapered rims were discarded, angles were worked out for the tilt and the opening in relation to that of the base and order was restored!
So the creative journey was serendipitous and evolutionary; forms came out of forms and often as emotional and physical reactions to previous activity. Connectivity was key. Clues were left both intentionally and by chance and were either worked on immediately or forgotten about or shelved, later to be rediscovered in baffling amazement. My studio is half full of these abandoned lines of enquiry. Decision making got quicker and firmer as time went on though and it may be interesting to return to these abandoned ideas in the future to see if they hold more weight. It may not.
Being new to me, I feel the porcelain work has always been at an exciting stage and it’s a relationship that I will continue to explore and nurture. There are many seductive qualities to this material such as its density, smoothness, whiteness, brightness and brilliance. I enjoyed my early experiments embedding glaze into it when soft and unfired but am currently fixated on how the glazes I’ve used on grogged stoneware for decades behave with its bisque fired surface. In areas they unite, fluxing together and in others, the glazes crawl, peel and pull away from the body revealing multiple layers and the body beneath. I can lose myself for some time smoothing and sanding the bottoms of these small intimate pieces and more time again exploring the glazed areas. In a time when touch is fraught with fear and anxiety, I found comfort here, but this smoothness is only valued in contrast to the visceral and textured glazes laying above. Together they offer intriguing and stimulating experiences, visually complex and diversely sensuous and tactile.
After the 60 plus glaze tests I carried out and with well over 100 pieces made (whittled down to a final 59 to select the exhibition from), I feel my expressive vocabulary has expanded. Having time to observe, question and try things out has been joyful and rewarding. The sense of wonderment and discovery that struck me on my residency in West Wales has stayed with me, firing me up, urging me on. Nature is a marvel, whether that be the mountains, skies and seas, or the city gutters or the clay and glaze materials in my store. It’s all there and here.
‘Nature is on the inside, says Cezanne. Quality, light, colour, depth, which are there before us, are there only because they awaken an echo in our own body and because our body welcomes them. Things have an internal equivalent in me; they arouse in me a carnal formula of their presence.’ Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, 1964.
I am pleased I pushed it this far, right up to the deadline (before postponement), I find that I have ended this stage of the making in a state of excitement, I feel that I have reached a new starting point and that’s a great position to be in.