Clay is a beautiful material to work with; captivating in its soft and malleable state and simply intriguing and seductive post-firing. Working with this material provides great moments of excitement; just before I crack the door on a glaze firing I stand before the kiln, take a few deep breaths and jump up and down and cheer at what I'm about to see... And yet at the same time it can provide the devotee with equal amounts of heartache; when you open the door to see the work exploded and melted glaze on the elements that you now have to replace.
Whilst on residency recently at Sydney College of the Arts, I had the opportunity to glimpse some of clay's more temperamental characteristics. This experience left me questioning everything I thought I once knew. For a period of about 2 months my work cracked and I couldn't explain why. I used every trick in my book to remedy the situation, and every trick in every other person's books, and I sought knowledgeable, experienced and holy men for answers.
It seems obvious to me that as professional artists we wouldn’t want to publicise our failures, setbacks and disasters, but I have to assume that every ceramic artist has had a near tragedy or horror story about how it all went wrong. Despite being extremely organized (I'm proud to say that recently my husband and I bought two filing cabinets which is the pinnacle of organisation for us), dedicated, knowledgeable and motivated, sometimes things just don't work. And the variables at play here are mind boggling: I mean what if the clay you are using is simply a bad batch? What if Joe down at the factory was distracted and forgot to add the grog? What if someone who didn't consult the control pad for a temperature reading swings open the kiln door at 500 degrees? And what if you are out of answers and questions and just want to crawl into the foetal position and call it a day?
So what do you do in that situation? Do you buckle under the pressure? Does your hair fall out? Do you, like me, pull out the Donna Hay cookbook and bake cakes (I mean lots of cakes)? Or do you soldier on and work through the mess trusting in your own abilities to see you through to the end?
I've just noticed this blog has an overload of questions and not many answers. I must apologise, because certain recent events are still fresh in my mind and whilst I've overcome my problems I have had to reappraise everything that I thought I knew about clay. For me, it was as simple as adjusting the joins to a bevelled edge and adding a few large drying holes in the base of the vessel. What clay demands is that we pay attention, even to the smallest of details. One small misjudgement led to a deal of confusion and frustration. In the end I was able to overcome my technical dilemma in time and yet the whole process still seems to me steeped in mystery. I find it fascinating that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't and yet we all return for more because our sense of achievement is greater because of the struggle.
Suffice it to say that clay and I have made-up and this has resulted in a new-found respect for this ancient material. And more than that it has provided me with a deeper respect and admiration of ceramic artists who continue to grapple and beat into submission this unpredictable and yet alluring medium.