The Mother-Daughter Double Jug, or How I Learned to Love the Process

When my Art Salon met at my studio recently, I showed them all thirteen of the 2009 First Quarter’s Local Talkers, the small face jug series I am making based on photos from a weekly newspaper column. (Read my previous two posts for the complete backstory!) This mother-daughter double jug from Week 9 was quite a favorite of the group. It is the only double face jug and the only one of a child, at least so far, and it sure is sweet, even if I do say so myself.

I had an opportunity last week to choose another double, a mom and baby, but the angles were kinda strange, the heads were apart and a hand was involved, so I passed on it and did the scruffy bearded dude in the baseball cap and wraparound sunglasses, even pressing the week’s number (20) into the front of the cap! (I plan to feature all of the Second Quarter jugs in July’s posts, so look for him then.)

Anyhow, as you may see in the photo, the clay has been bisque-fired, but is waiting for decoration. It is pretty raw looking, but it sure lets the form of each piece be the star. Each one is a stand-alone sculpture. I think I have already mentioned that I plan to do the decorating early in 2010 when I have all 52 or 53 jugs together in a complete body of work. That is both a good and a bad thing.

What’s Good:
Able to develop a deeper perception of parts/whole before randomly colorizing or glazing

Plenty of time to gather ideas and test them out on other pieces first

Able to consult with others, especially ceramics colleagues

By decorating them all at once, there will be the same “hand” at work and the same kiln for the finish firing, creating unity in a subtle way.

What’s Not So Good:
The earliest made ones are bound to get dusty and oily from being handled more. (I already store them under wraps, but will probably need to re-fire them first to burn off what they have collected over the months: dirt and oils do affect how colors and glazes look and stick.)

Always the possibility of breakage….but I will just deal with that if it happens by re-making it.

Might develop real conflicts over several decorating options which seem promising, which would be just like me. *Sigh*

Might get to like them un-glazed a little too much and consequently be so blocked by that as to not know how to take them to the next place. This is pretty common in the ceramics world: by the time we meet a piece after it has dried and been bisque-fired, we need to reaquaint ourselves with the spirit of it in order to know how to continue the vision. (Unless, that is, one has been thinking about the finishing all along…which I definitely have been doing, so this is probably not going to happen!)

Well, like I have said, I have never worked this way before and weekly am finding out new things. Know that I am also getting glimmers of how they all will be displayed to best effect…and I will probably talk about that in a future post, too.

Somewhere in the past I read that artists are not so much problem solvers as they are problem seekers. It’s not by asking WHAT so much as by asking WHAT IF? that creates the itch to make art. To pose a personal “What If” is to seek out challenges. I like this problem which I have put before me. I like that is it just out of my control, just a little bigger than I can understand, that I must wait for it to reveal itself over time and yet has measured chunks of responsibilities for me to execute. It’s a fantastic way to live and has already made this year a memorable one. Can’t wait to see where it takes me!

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Work in Progress: Local Talkers

Now for some dramatic new art! Here is a stage-y shot of most of the First Quarter of 2009’s year-long small face jug project which I have set for myself.

Some of the backstory about this project: Our local entertainment weekly rag, the Good Times has run a column for all the 20 years I have read it called Local Talk. It’s a Question Man-type column, the kind where the reporter hangs out somewhere like in front of the bookstore, stopping random folks and asking them the burning topical question of the week, or even some general-interest question like, “What did you eat for breakfast?” The peeps who are amenable get their picture taken and their answer published in the column. I have even appeared in it! (And, interesting side-note, after I answered the question on the spot, I changed my mind and wound up calling the reporter later that afternoon to tell him my new opinion! That’s a Libra for you.)

Anyhow, years ago, when I was new to ceramic work, the Local Talk column asked, “If you were a vessel, what would your purpose be?” The range of and reasons for those answers still astound me. Those five people said they would be containers like ships, sustenance holders, and blood vessels! They would carry truth, food and oxygen in the interests of peace, cultural sharing and fun. I just never thought outside the utilitarian ceramic “vessel” until I read that column.

Somewhere soon after that column came into my life, I got the idea to make a piece of art each week based on one of the faces from it. Well, it took nine years, but this is the year I am doing just that. Each Thursday morning I go out early and grab a Good Times, bring it home and gently tear out the column and date and number it with the week. I pin each one to the wall in my studio until I can make two or three weeks’ worth of face jugs at a time.

I never know which of the three or four faces I will pick. Some weeks the faces are just so tantalizing and choosing is difficult. Some weeks, everyone just looks the same. Fortunately I have never sought to make portraits, but rather to use facial features, expressions, accessories and hair/hats as springboards for a fun little jug. Sometimes I am so lost in the faces I never even read the question or the answers!

I sign and date the bottoms and stamp the week’s number into the leatherhard clay when I am done. They are bisque-fired, but I am waiting to have the entire year done before I color and/or glaze them.

A side benefit to this project which I did not foresee: almost everyone is smiling or at least has a pleasant expression. They are a gentle, amicable bunch, this First Quarter grouping. I have a bit more to say about actually making them, so will write about them again soon.

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Inspiration Sources

Honestly, I think “waking up” is the wellspring of all inspiration.Being fully present to what is alive in us right now allows us to make whatever creative connections we are capable of, and not just in the visual arts.

Consciously using a prompting device is as old as humanity. What do you have? The new moon? A bracelet of any kind? A smell? A smile? Wake up!

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Artist’s Statement

I am in the throes of forging a new, for-the-time-being manifesto, commonly known as my Artist Statement. What defining words are possibly the truest and most adequate for telling anyone about my current art and my process?

The latest version literally has more questions than statements. I have asked several diverse, sensitive and dedicated groups for feedback. I am grateful for what they have responded with:

1. Could be shorter. Hmm, a lot shorter in the main section, really.
2. Not so many questions!
3. Love, love, love the concluding paragraph! (Paranoid me wonders if that is because it is finally over.)
4. You sure can write some heady stuff!!!!

This is great to know. I can do this. Better to shorten than to fluff and all that. Do the words sparkle? Are the concepts true? YES!!!! I just need to wrangle them into a smaller, terser corral. Practically done.

What’s left is the greater question of what the hell is an Artist’s Statement? It can be nearly anything. There are guides out there to help us write them: Alyson Stanfield and Ariane Goodwin, to name some VERY helpful contemporaries. Even with rules and suggestions, they don’t whisper a word about it being easy.

Harder still is to come to terms with why do we write Artist’s Statements? Just because that is what’s done? To springboard off of Elizabeth Gilbert from her recent profoundly wonderful TED.com talk on genius, (http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html): You don’t see Chemical Engineers struggling over their Engineer Statements! Why is that?

A slight glimmer of why Artists write Statements: provided they are well written and ring true, their friends, collectors, interpreters, the general public and me often find them just as fascinating as the work itself. It Explains A Lot. I know I have been able to go much deeper into many an artist’s exhibit with a good written revelation of both thought and process.

Work that usually springs from that wordless place in the brain gets better in valuable ways when it circles all the way to the forebrain and back. So, short answer: We write so others can more fully understand us…but in doing that writing we can more fully understand ourselves!

So struggle away. Write your truth with vigor and honesty, knowing that we all benefit from it in ways beyond and in addition to the words, words, words, words.

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