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.