Catalogue essay (1981)
"New Works in Clay III," catalogue for traveling exhibition organized by the Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY, 1981. Includes notes submitted to curator.
Excerpts as printed in the catalog
I'm very interested to get back to the this clay sculpture, because I think with a little more work I can come up with a basic method which will flow with the material and make plain abstract sculpture. I'd also like to work out a way to glaze the sculpture, but I'm pretty sure that will have to evolve after the formal matters are settled.
I think the reliefs look great. They really are what we wanted them to be: Clay equivalents of my paintings.
Notes to Margie Hughto explaining my process, to be used for catalog
Dear Margie -
What follows are "thoughts." I'm doing this all off the top of my head w/o revision so please reorganize intelligibly in yr own way.
I had had some experience potting - about a year learning how to throw, making glazes, etc., so I was used to clay and what it could do and I liked working with it a lot.
What I was to do in Syracuse was different - more "artistic," less traditional, more improvisatory, less learning than inventing.
I decided to go "all out," within the limits of the capabilities of myself & the people at Syracuse - in other words, just do whatever I feel like doing and if it all fails, what the hell. I have learned from painting that although this attitude is often wasteful it usually gets the most out of you & your materials. And clay is relatively cheap.
After thinking about it for a while I concluded that my two best tracks were sculpture and a kind of clay "relief" that would be something like my painting.
At first I thought the sculpture would be easier - more natural, more in tune with the materials, more liable to succeed. It seems to have turned out the other way around. I say "it seems" because I haven't got enough time away from the things I made to be able to see them objectively yet.
I decided to base the sculptures on large cylinders - not thrown, but formed from slabs. The kids made me a lot of large slabs, about an inch thick, and we all formed them up into very rough cylinders c. 12" to 36" high. Some of them collapsed: when they did I just worked them over where they fell.
I worked on the cylinders by adding sections cut out of other slabs and by cutting into the cylinder itself, letting it sag or bend. Sometimes I cut away at a cylinder until it just disappeared into a pile of rubble. Often, as we reworked the clay into other cylinders bits of coloring matter get into the clay and some of them got a bit overworked, but even they were esthetically supported by the casual go-with-the-material way the cylinder was formed. I'm very interested to get back this clay sculpture, because I think with a little more work I can come up with a basic method which will flow with the material and make plain abstract sculpture also. I'd also like to work out a way to glaze the sculpture, but I'm pretty sure that will have to evolve after the formal matters are settled.
The "clay relief" idea, in which I would be making small clay tablets versions of my gel and acrylic paintings, was pure experiment to begin with. I decided to just invent equivalents of canvas, gel, paint etc. and depend on Margie to come up with the material equivalent of my idea. We were running against the grain of the materials here, but as Margie demonstrated again and again, if you do it right it works.
We made a number of very large slabs, ca 3' x 6' or larger, pressed out on tables, about 1 inch thick (is that right?).
First I colored the surfaces (most of them) with glazing pigments. Then Margie made a slurry thick enough to stand up, like gel, and I went over the surface making a series of snaky linear ridges.
Then I cut the large ridged slabs up according to how they looked as pictures - "cropped" them, as we say of our paintings - some larger, some smaller, some squarish, some rectangular. And I cut rough framing lines along the edges.
Then they were bisque fired.
The results were a lot of slabs with dark, leaping, snaky ridges all over.
The next step was working up several batches of relatively light, neutral colored high-fire glazes. I put these glazes on the slabs, most poured on very thickly. Then they were cooked.
Almost all of them came out OK.
The final step was putting lower-fire, semi-transparent, stronger-colored, glazes on top of the already-glazed slabs and firing them up.
We were all pleased and a little surprised that our "success" rate was so high. The reliefs look great, I think. They really are what we wanted them to be: clay equivalents of my paintings. And the material failure rate - and Margie can take all the credit for this - was amazingly low, maybe 10%. I would have been more than pleased if half of them had worked. And, as I said, I was prepared for the whole idea to flop.
At any rate, it is great fun to do. I know that because at the end of a typical working day I was so exhausted. The work is so interesting it makes you keep going longer that you should. And I am more than pleased with the results, especially inasmuch as this was my first try at it.