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Human Form and Content

This is my new “America” — my response to the xenophobes running for President. I’m angry at politicians who would build walls and close borders. The poem on the Statue of Liberty’s base reaches much farther than the sympathetic “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The very next words are “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” That’s a tough message, but generations of exiles who came here in desperation helped build America into the most powerful nation on earth. Their descendants shouldn’t pull up the drawbridge. Calling our country too poor or weak or afraid to welcome refugees and immigrants is fear-mongering. We are strong enough and rich enough, and we’ll stay that way by remaining the land of opportunity.

I am angry at politicians who preach fear and stigmatization against minorities and ethnicities.  The legacy of color divisions, which those politicians would only perpetuate, still drags on the strength of our great country.  When any of us is held back, none of us can truly move forward.  I know that many people sincerely believe we live in a post-racial society and economy.  But if that were true, the fear-mongers would not be finding such an audience.  That is why I wanted to show a vigorous figure that drags race-color blocks on its feet.  And when I wrapped those stenciled color names around the blocks, even more racially charged words-within-words came out: “bred,” “own,” “lack,” “hit,” “yell” and “ow.”  But ultimately, I feel very optimistic.  Calling out our problems is how we fix them, when people of good will come together and we reject the politics of fear and division.

2015 postcard artworkI am very pleased that two of my Raku-fired torsos have been accepted in juried shows in Baltimore and Brooklyn.

The Baltimore Clayworks is having a “35th Anniversary Exhibition” to celebrate its decades of providing first-quality support, instruction and show space to ceramic artists.  Co-founder Deborah Bedwell is the juror for this show, and I am very glad that she chose a piece of mine, Well Met, to be part of the experience.  It is bold and engaging and I think a good fit for this show.  The exhibition opens on Friday, September 4th from 6 to 8 pm and runs through October 10th.  The Clayworks is located at 5707 Smith Ave. in Baltimore.

The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) is continuing a very successful series of ceramic sculpture exhibitions.  This year it is “Art in Clay III: Origins,” juried by Judith Schwartz, Professor of Art and Art Education at NYU Steinhardt.  She chose a “naked Raku” piece with a very lively surface that for me embodies all peoples in one.  I call it Child of God.  This show opens on Saturday, October 3rd from 1 to 6 pm and runs through October 25th.  BWAC has beautiful gallery space in a pre-Civil War warehouse in the Red Hook section of the Brooklyn waterfront, at 499 Van Brunt St.  There is even a free water taxi from Wall Street’s Pier 11 to the Red Hook IKEA adjacent to the BWAC gallery.

Hope to see you!

A while back, I posted about fabricating my own Raku kiln.  It’s up and running!  And I am firing groups of figures that are the current exploration in my work.  Please take a look.

The thread through all of my drawing and sculpting has been the expressive capacity of the body — particularly the torso.  The emotional states coded into and expressed by our core muscles don’t lie.  And I measure the success of my pieces by their capacity to reach out to viewers and connect on an emotional level.

Starting last year, I got interested in putting expressive figures in groups and witnessing the relationship that develops among them.  At this point, I’m not trying to script that interaction.  I’m leaving that to them — or really to my own inner emotional state when I made the pieces.  I want to keep my rational head out of things.  There is a new “Relationship” page on my site where I am collecting these groups.  The three shown in this post were fired in my new kiln on April 24th.

The other pictures show how the new kiln works.  A propane burner shoots a pretty awe-inspiring flame into a firebox under the pieces.  The kiln body is made from ceramic fiber blanket inside wire mesh, which sits over everything, with a port at the bottom for the flame and a port at the top for venting.  When the pieces reach temperature, I lift off and set aside the kiln body and replace it with the inverted trash can containing combustible material, which flames up and then depletes the atmosphere of oxygen inside the can when I seal it by pushing the rim into the sand.  That reduction environment (i.e. reduced oxygen) is the essence of American Raku.  It’s pretty dramatic when all this is happening, and I’d post pictures of the hot pieces and flames if I weren’t running around doing it quickly.

I think I need a Raku firing party.

WideOpen6Card     I’m loving the Brooklyn art scene!  Last year, I was juried into a terrific figurative sculpture exhibition at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC).  Now I am heading back.  One of my figures was accepted into BWAC’s Wide Open 6, which will open on May 9th.

This show is indeed wide open — all media on any subject, 2-D and 3-D.  BWAC received nearly 1350 submissions, and my sculpture “Listen” was one of 100 artworks selected.  The juror is Rujeko Hockley, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, who had the challenge of putting together a coherent exhibition from such diverse sources — quite a curatorial feat.  I am very much looking forward to seeing what she assembled.  I also expect that most of the show will be on the walls (2-D paintings, drawings, prints, photos, etc.), so I hope the sculptural pieces will stand out in the gallery space.

My piece “Listen” is very close to my heart.  When I first started Raku firing (scroll down to my “First Raku” post on 5/16/14), this piece and his brother “Brave New World” (which I showed at BWAC last year) brought new visual attraction and depth to my prior concentration on shape and form.  These pieces loosened and deepened my work at the same time, and I am still exploring the directions they opened for me.

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Let me also put in a good word for BWAC.  If you ever get to the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, their gallery is 8000 square feet in a Civil War era warehouse on the waterfront.  Their juried shows are in the central hall, wrapped around by exhibition space for BWAC members.  The people there are great.  Their mission is to support living artists (remember that Vermeer died poor).  And there is always a lot of great work to see.

 

Raku is still producing beautiful surfaces for me. And it is one of the ways I am trying to capture a new sensibility in my figures — gesture and movement that show an intrinsic quality of openness to human interaction. These pieces are a new series that I call Relationship, and I am pleased to preview it here.

These pictures are from a raku firing that I did with the very expert David Flohr last Saturday (11/8).

The first is a “naked” raku piece, as it is cooling down. The black coating still clinging to the shoulders is a firing slip that dries and cracks in the kiln. When the piece undergoes secondary reduction, its surface carbonizes under those cracks, yielding the web of black lines. The firing slip is then brushed off — which is what we were doing when I stepped back to take the picture — leaving only the now-craquelured bare clay. Hence the term “naked” raku (which has nothing to do with the nudity of the piece).

The next two pictures show two of three small torsos that we fired with another artist’s much larger piece. The pieces are nestled in the burned newspaper, which is what produced the secondary reduction.  I wanted the torsos to carbonize completely, and the result is a deep black sheen that shows all of the surface articulation. I put firing slip in the depressions at the shoulders, leaving them a gray/white.

These torsos are my preview of Relationship.  I tried to give each one a “reaching out” quality of relationship, and I was hoping they would create their own relationship space when grouped.  I think they do.  And it shifts and changes when they are rearranged.  This is a very exciting exploration for me.  When I have a body of this new work, I will put them on the site.

In my last post, I wrote that a piece from my Figures in Space series had been accepted to a national juried show at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition.  Here is how it got to a prize-winning pedestal.  On the left, just out of the raku kiln, as the firing slip is being brushed off to reveal the craquelure.  The next picture shows it on the way to installation at the BWAC gallery, seat-belted into the passenger seat of my car.  The third picture is me with Lilly Wei, a noted modern art critic, curator and writer, who juried the BWAC show and awarded my piece the “Best in Show Bronze.”  In the fourth picture, it is standing proud.

This was a very successful journey for the piece, as well as an odyssey for me.  To see my work among the 50+ great pieces that Lilly accepted for the show was deeply satisfying, regardless of the award.  The BWAC artist/volunteers who put on the show — particularly Judith Hooper, Susan Handwerker and Janet Rothholz — created a great exhibition.  Lilly Wei lent her knowledge, stature and considerable grace.  The other artists and attendees made it a very stimulating and enjoyable opening.  This was my first national show.  We all have to start somewhere, and I feel very fortunate.

Now back to the studio. . . .