13 October 2006

damage control

A little over a year and a half ago I was preparing some new work for a show. I set out to make a collage of six platters that would hang together as one unit. I formed the platters, lovingly painted and etched them, then bisque fired them. When I removed them from the kiln they looked as if they had been exposed to some sort of horrible radiation. All of the underglaze had bubbled and puckered and big chunks of it were falling off of their surfaces. My first reaction was, oh my god, how awful, they are all ruined! I tried to hold back the tears and put them aside on the table feeling frustrated and at a loss. I did not know what to do. The show was in two weeks, all the work I had done was ruined and on top of it I had orders to fill. Oh and did I mention, I was also going through a painful breakup. I was not only presented with dilemma of what to do for my show but also with the question of; what is going wrong with my process? Everything had come to a halt and some serious reevaluation had to take place.

After looking at the platters for a while I started to think they were kind of interesting with all the unintended marks that the firing had caused. They were not something I could sell as functional but never the less the surface of them took on a whole other beauty. In an effort to get some advise and feedback I invited my studio neighbor over, who is a painter, to take look at them. He looked at the platters, looked at me, looked back at the platters and then said, echoing my thoughts, "They are kind of beautiful like that". He then suggested that I paint in the spots where the underglaze had peeled away. Hmmmmm, the wheels in my head began to spin. I took his advice. When I finished painting them I liked the result but thought the birds look as if they had been shot and were bleeding. I had intended them to look like red wing black birds by using the red. I thought they were interesting but felt self conscious about them at the same time. They made me feel exposed. I decided to show them anyway and then as I was hanging the show I was told (by the heart breaker) that they looked like "damage control". I became insecure about them and pulled them from the show at the last minute.

Eventually I figured out what had caused the peeling problem. A combination of things, mainly the recipe of my clay body had changed which in turn affected the underglaze. I've since changed clay bodies.

When I returned home a few weeks ago, after being gone for the past year, I looked at these pieces again and felt a deep tenderness for them. The birds still look bloody to me but somehow my feelings have turned from self consciousness to compassion. I like these pieces even more now. Perhaps it is because they mark a time when I was feeling so raw and tender and those emotions presented themselves in my work even when I had not intended them to. Perhaps it is because they embody chance and risk, or maybe because in my effort to "control the damage" I wasn't able to and was forced to challenge myself and to learn from the experience and to see the beauty in it.


Kathleen said...

Isn't it interesting how we can be affected by other people...how one can build us up ang give us confidence, and another tear us down in a second. I love how you said that your emotions presented themselves in your work without you realizing...our work is such a close extension of ourselves. With deadlines and 100 other things going on at once, I so often treat my work it as though it is out "there" and not subject to my personal stress or emotion...but it absolutely is...if anything it is a signature of it.
I think your platters, and your words are beautiful. Thank you.
Best, Kathleen

Sheri Burhoe said...

I really love these pieces.Interesting story behind them. :)

tashina said...

I've always felt there was a certain bravery to pottery. You put your soul into the pieces and then, when you least expect it, something comes out of the kiln spoiled or someone at a gallery drops a piece ending its life.

I always considered myself more "safe" as an acrylic painter. But then I read about someone slashing a priceless painting in a museum and I realized nothing is ever safe. You enjoy the process, you do your best work, then you have to move on.

I love your work. I'll buy a piece someday.

Jennifer said...

the platters are really beautiful. i'm sure it's not what you intended - ceramists are brave in that way - the risk and hopefuly exciting possibilities of firing - thanks for showing them.

susan said...

a lovely story from a true artist.i really like these - just the way they are.. but understand your frustration.
love the new pieces, thank you!

lisa said...

yes, great story. very important for me to think about this concept of reoworking disasters and then feeling tenderness for them. i am having a hard day at art. hmph. so thank you, diana. xxo,

L Squared Studios said...

What a great story of inspiration and hope. As a fellow potter and artist there are many moments when I fell exposed. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story with me.

shash said...

i like what you say here. the way you've interpreted the events is quite beautiful.

JosieJurczenia said...

I love this blog entry. I keep coming back and reading it again. How many times have I taken the hammer to pieces that didn't meet my expectations? Your words inspire me to take more time and look deeper. Thanks Diana

jenofthenorth said...

you once again endear yourself to me. thank you for putting your experiences into words...you are very good at that.

futuregirl said...

I think these are amazing pieces, and the story only adds to the depth of their effect on me.

I love it when random and strange things happen in life. Especially when they cause me to reevaluate things and see things from a new perspective. I think that everyone should take their time when evaluating themselves, their art, and their situation. Something that looks like a disaster at first, might end up being a success later.

Listoria said...

i like how art can be damage control for our lives - we can pour our emotions into our creations and get such varied images, ideas and essentially feedback if/when we showcase them. and no matter what we show, it is a piece of us that we sharing/exposing to strangers...even the ones we call friends.

i really like how the design came out, it looks intentional and...well...like beauty rising out of strife.

thank you for sharing them!