The Masters of Clay Gulgong 2018 present their Masterful Moments

The Masters of Clay Gulgong 2018 were given the opportunity to share a favourite piece and a reflection upon it. The following are their Masterful Moments.

Banderas: Renata Cassiano

I look to capture moments of change using ceramic processes as I explore the fluidity and contradiction in the perception we have of ourselves, others, and where we come from. I am attracted to the idea of allowing the materials to speak a different language than the one we expect from them. Glaze is currently the main structure in my sculptures. It becomes a rock that needs to be carved to reveal what is underneath. Every material and object are then captured in a portrait of variance, just as are we.

Banderas references the transformation of a national identity and a quote from James Baldwin “You may disapprove of it, you may be forced to leave it, you may live your whole life as a battle, yet I don’t think you can escape it”. This quote references my constant battle as a Mexican to change the perception others have of my country, and by extension, me. But most importantly, it references my own contradicting feelings about my land, of love and disappointment, of sadness and longing, of belonging and fear. The objects appear to be falling buildings, the remains of some distant yet present war; but they are still growing and moving, they are alive.

Letter to God: Tip Toland

Letter to God
I was revisiting my adolescence and this piece was one of three which came from that investigation.
I thought if I was an adolescent today, this would be me. I would have come from the same set of protestant, conservative parents which would have prevented me from getting a tattoo. Yet, though I longed for a tattoo I would have gone ahead with creating my own with ball point pen on my leg. I doodled all the time as an adolescent anyway on all my books, so my ‘Letter’ would have been full of drawings and cartoons, yet completely earnest in the questions I had for God. I remember feeling so lost then, wondering if there was any greater intelligence. I liked the feeling that ball point pen would eventually wear off and I could re- write more questions I had for God as they came up. I had many questions, and actually liked the canvas of my leg to write on more so than the permanency of a tattoo. The process was personal, and writing to God on my own skin made me feel like I had to be completely honest even though much of it was a doodle. Feeling all of this led me to make the piece.

Landscrapes: Simone Fraser

Landscrape Series, 35 x 18 cm.
This work was part of an exhibition I had at Sabbia Gallery in Sydney a few years ago. I like it because of the simplicity of the form and the vibrant painterly surface. I find that the ubiquitous nature of the vessel allows viewers to recognise and immediately feel a sense of familiarity and ease. This helps them focus on the content and ideas that they might find within it. The series was called Landscrapes and was an exploration of the macro of landscape and the micro of surface, where form, texture, and colour intertwine. There has always been a collision of references in my work from the archaeological to the environmental. With these references I aim to make a contemporary statement.

My work is both physical and spiritual; the process of creation engages my whole body. I am at one with the work; the wet soft clay bending and flowing in my hands; robust, expressionistic marks from the pulse of my fingers are unmediated by logic and reason. They are random gestural phenomena which add texture to form while reinforcing the softness and malleability of the medium. The piercings create lightness, pushing through and deconstructing the ‘container’ even further, enhancing the sculptural nature of the work. The layers of rugged slip, and then the soft water colour application of the dry glaze, further extend the sensual nature of the surface and unifies the three-dimensional aspects of the work.
The vessel as metaphor. It’s a context, about beauty – a narrative about our contemporary world while honouring the contribution of history. It still seems to me the vessel form is uniquely placed to capture the spirit of the past with the concerns of the present.

Pitcher Perfect: Ben Carter

Garden Pitcher with Sad Flower
Pitchers have been an important part of my making cycle for the last decade. I’m interested in how they enable the service of sweet tea, a sign of hospitality and graciousness in Southern American homes. The beverage is brewed hot, but served cold, and must be sweetened with enough sugar that it could double for pancake syrup if you ran out. The pitcher form presents a satisfying challenge because it must physically hold a large volume of liquid while aesthetically balancing the proportions of the many parts that are attached to the body. The spout and handle create upward movement in the form, which sets up the body for an equally buoyant surface decoration. It always brings me joy to use a well-balanced pitcher.

One of my favorite pots is this pastel-colored garden pitcher. Like many of my pots, I decorated the surface with dense patterns inspired by hours spent in my family garden and the nineteenth-century fabrics that feature prominently in the Southern American quilt-making tradition. Diagonal stems criss-cross the form, holding up a variety of flower shapes and colors that exude their individual personalities. I particularly like this pot because of the emotional quality of the blue down-turned tulip on the front side. It is so heavy with its growth that the stem bends down towards the blue horizon below. This flower seems satisfied with its large stature, while also being a little sad that it has nearly finished its blooming stage. I want my drawings to have this quality, of catching the abundance of summer right before the fading of autumn starts to happen. I envision someone using this pitcher to pour loved ones a crisp glass of iced sweet tea on a hot, late-summer day.

Neil Hoffmann

Untitled work, dimensions variable, made during Kohila Symposium, Estonia, 2014.
In seconds made, yet not made.
Not a child born of thought, as there was no time for thinking or inner reasoning.
Simply an exercise in speed and scale, a cheeky one-upmanship while working alongside another maker.
But every action yields something, and that something can make a seemingly inane act a worthwhile action, transporting one someplace else.
Heat shrinks clay.
Earth sucks in on self.
Minerals hug close and form a near molten or vitrified mass.
But fire does not burn gravity.
So, this long form, shrunk by fire, failed to drag the weight of its long self without a break.
Two ends became four.
One object became two.
Clay’s hot date with fire and gravity bought a multiplication, a newborn.
Or did it?
A new thought comes. This object now has new ends at the point at which it broke, and now, the old ends are no longer ends, but trajectories instead.
This ‘break’ point then does not mean broken, rather a point of departure … and a point of return, - or home coming.
So, I’m now thinking of this object circling the earth, a clay line intersecting cultures all over… visiting lands of distant and disparate people, cultures each holding their own sto­ries and histories in clay. Not people alone, but civilizations sharing a common heritage, - that matter from which all people came.
By its travel, it’s circumnavigation, this object takes me on a long and rich journey. It re­minds me of other and others, of diversity; of past; of present; and of the future. Places I’ve been to; the place I’m now in; and places I might go next. I’m considering the place from which I came, and the place, the earth, to which I will again return.

Meeting the Past with Present Reality: Aneta Regel

I am part of the last generation who can vividly remember the post-Communist era in Poland and its dramatic end; those times of great transition and contrast which have of course had a great influence on my life since.
My will to expand and push beyond boundaries with a slightly rebellious attitude perhaps comes from those experiences, as well as my insatiable curiosity and aim to explore my material’s limits, especially when working with clay.
Multiple layers of the same elements in different states are repeatedly dried and re-fired, telling a story of constant metamorphosis, of conflict and change, emphasising the materials’ capacity to be modified, which perhaps equates to not only our own ontology but also the way we interact with objects and one another.
Working and living in London for 17 years, exploring its vibrant multicultural energy, has changed me. My work has gradually become an eclectic mixture of elements, the result of a meeting of the past with present reality; of Western and Eastern culture.
By studying both in Gdansk and in London, Harrow and the Royal College of Art, I have been lucky enough to have met great artists and teachers who have profoundly influenced me.
Themes of memory and the passage of time, displacement, nostalgia for my family home, childhood and the surrounding landscape and local legends are at the core of my practice.

Melting Pot: King Houndekpinkou

Melting Pot
This “melting pot” encompasses various aspects of my life, my creations and the work I do outside of the four walls of the studio, literally and figuratively.
I was born in France to Beninese parents and grew up in the Parisian suburbs where people come from all over the world, especially from France's ex-colonies of North and sub-Saharan Africa. Spending my childhood in this melting pot of different cultures was a gift from France. Though things are changing for the better, the French system remains elitist and it is difficult to climb the social ladder when you are part of those minorities. However, I believe this environment has influenced my vision of a borderless practice of ceramics as I mix clays from various locations to offer a different perspective on cross-cultural dialogue.
Besides what I produce in the studio, I also carry out a life-long project called Terres Jumelles (or Twin Soils in English). It consists of creating sister-cities between the pottery sites of Benin (West Africa) and Japan. These unions are materialised by symbolic works made out of the mixture of clays from both countries. This is my way to express a strong belief of mine: ceramics has the power to “melt” borders and foster cross-cultural dialogue through the clay, a universal material.
When it comes to the aesthetics of my works, I look for disfigured lines and lively surfaces caused by heavy clay and glaze textures. This piece looks as if it has been plunged into acid, as if it is decomposing before your eyes. Creating these emulsive surfaces often requires multiple firings (up to 8 sometimes) and litres of glazes.
Could this piece also hint at the transforming world of ceramics, which is increasingly being accepted by the contemporary art world with a big “A”? Expressive, crude and political clay works are, in my opinion, adding tremendously to this debate.

Lifeform: Jenny Orchard

Creature sculpture
This creature, both animal and plant expresses our entwined being, our unity with, dependence on and eventual return to the earth we live on.
She could be he, or they, a metamorphosis, a work in progress. Her unicorn horn has sprouted a bloom, she has a beard of foliage, an unspent reserve of energy to express, and an ambiguous agenda.
Her identity crisis dissolves in the super-mix of the metropolitan city, the shape-shifting species-mix a metaphor for the cultural mingling and diversity of our online and interconnected lives.
She is hand-made from earthenware clay and fired four times through various stages, from high bisque at 1100 degrees to an 800 degree on-glaze enamel firing for her touches of platinum.
My ceramic work is influenced by my early life in Zimbabwe, as much as it is by contemporary arts culture. Shona sculpture, in particular I find magical. The work of Bernard Matemera and his stone sculptures of the metamorphosis of men turning into rhino, or possessing the body parts, as well as the spirit of the mantus is part of world-wide story telling, expressing our spiritual connections.
I also find inspiration in the current discoveries of cosmology, astrophysics and quantum physics, and contemporary debates around biogenetics and artificial intelligence. Current technology and research leads us to question more diligently the nature of our conscious being, and its interrelationships and mutuality with other life forms. This scientific obsession has been particularly inspiring for my work in the past few years.
Working with clay seems the best way to create the likeness of new life-forms, not only is it the earth, but it is the most plastic and malleable of materials, becoming firm and life-like in its fired state, and ready to return to dust when its time is up.

Rushing Out of Bounds (Your Thorns Make an Ocean): John Pagliaro

Rushing Out of Bounds (Your Thorns Make an Ocean), 2017, stoneware pinch pots in shadowbox of reclaimed timbers, 155 x 183 x 23 cm.
Hand Manifesto
I’m a potter who is a symbolic expressionist.
I make symbols (pots) by pinching clay forms. Intuition guides my driving compulsion to repeat the same forms. I trust compulsion as a valid engine to propel artmaking. Persistent work has built a repertoire of highly personal, subconscious forms. The process is both spontaneous and glacial. Mining internal shapes as they slip across the membrane of shared consciousness. Manual rhythms enable a kind of trance; the fingers become antennae to the broader universe when our mind eventually grows quiet. Being spellbound allows buried impulses to be externalized through automated pinching, which becomes ritualized. Creativity can assume the form of pinching pots, stretching bark into paper, or preparing food via elaborate knife cuts. Process builds the architecture which helps generate effective ritual. Efficacious ritual generates its own power; manifests flavorful food, or generates compelling artworks.
I trust my hands and their inherent wisdom. Manual acts share the benefits of drawing from the millennial well of ancestral human endeavor. We become human, so to speak, and confront ourselves and our own human consciousness, often by way of our hands. The earliest known art, which has recently been attributed to Neanderthals (not Homo Sapiens), includes a handprint made by spraying pigment onto a cave wall using the artist’s own hand as a stencil.
This may be, as we are presently aware, the earliest origins of human art making.

At Risk (Your Thorns are Like Water)
Danger pointed in a direction
Subdue yourself
Run to the pastures
The sea or the woods
You’re just an animal
If only you’d once
Let yourself be wild
You might be washed
By this cascade of thorns

Your own words against you
Subdue yourself
The spines are ok
Guarding your body, your soul

It’s the thorns, after all
Protecting this flesh full of water
This child’s spirit
Still running inside you

What are these? To where do they belong?Craig Hartenberger

Recreational Vehicle with Orange
Invariably, my works present an attempt to organize that which I know and that which I have just begun to know. My way of assembling is an exercise in this organization - finding form, strength and a sense of order within disparate pieces and parts. There is no single source of form for my sculptures, rather they are a reflection of things seen, remembered, imagined or felt. The tube, a recently dominant element in my works, has taken on significance as some description of the body. It can describe both the structure of bone and the viscera and sinew that comprise our interior. Though I see these elements referencing specific objects or ideas, they can be taken to mean anything else; there are certainly a multitude of answers to the questions of what are these, to where do they belong?
My work, Recreational Vehicle with Orange, well represents the idea of finding form through varied parts. The top grouping of arches refers both to a bike rack seen on a trip to Denmark as well as to the outline of ribs protruding through thinning skin. This grouping is placed atop a series of tubes referencing transportation infrastructure or digestive tract. With no designated orientation the work can be understood many ways. Multiple firings and a mix of high and low temperature finishes (five in total with a mix of wood and electric kilns) provide a varied surface that contrasts well with the Egyptian paste repair in bright orange.

Cooking Oil Can: Linda Christianson

Cooking Oil Can, 2017.
If I close my eyes, this little cooking oil can feels solid and purposeful like a grenade. It is pleasant to hold, in the way a well-used baseball softly rests between the fingers. While it was made to store food, I like the way it evokes an object and action quite distant from my own intentions.
This form has evolved over some twenty-plus years. A few days before firing my kiln, I purchased some cooking oils from all over the world. I realized I could quickly make a few small pots and still get them into the kiln. We could put the oils on the table in those pots and learn about the flavors while dressing and eating salads. Without thinking, I intuitively made some tall beaker tubes without handles or lids and got them into the kiln.
Those first pots taught me many things: each oil had a unique taste; some were inexpensive because they were rancid, and besides flavor, oil’s main duty was to gather dust.
I decided to make a few of these pots for each firing, and have continued to do so for all these years. Some incorporate wire in the lid or handle, and some have an added piece of twisted linen that can be grabbed to take the lid off. A few have been fired in other people’s kilns with the lids and handles found in dumpsters.
This oil can is my favorite from the last two firings. While the spout seems too big in many ways, I like the odd tension it sets up. The little hole in the thumb rest implies some action, or that something is missing. Is it a handle? Perhaps it is a grenade and the pin has been removed. Duck!

Prediction Pots: Virgil Oritz

Rise Up, 19" x 15" (74 x 38 cm).
Cochiti Pueblo historic clay figures were destroyed by the invaders largely due to accusations of witchcraft and sorcery. These clay figures provided social commentary in a world inundated by the arrival of the railroads and an influx of “foreigners” to the region. Cochiti potters observed all types of people with whom they came into contact, and they recorded their impressions of them in clay in a way that communicated amusement, criticism or simply an active interest in the rapidly changing local scene. Around the late 1800's these clay figures were discouraged altogether and eventually forced to die off.
Around 1990, I began to revive these historic clay figures. I was born into a family of potters and my life's mission is to preserve this dying art form. My stories in clay allow me to express and share my views and perspectives on today’s social, cultural, political, religious and personal challenges.
The world today seems increasingly turbulent and uncertain. While forming my clay work and utilizing it as a therapeutic healing tool, I created a series of vessels that give voice back to the clay. I call them the prediction pots.
The Rise Up vessel speaks for the degradation of women and their continued pursuit for equality and justice. This has long been an important theme in my art. The women’s fists are uplifted. They are the ones to hold our leaders accountable or they will be “hung out to dry”. The fists are entwined with the symbolic black snake of the oil pipelines. It is corruption that will eventually eat away at politicians from the inside out. I painted each section of this jar as a call for those who feel impelled to rise up.

Image Captions

All images courtesy of the author.