Saturday, May 2, 2009

Artist's Statements, a Painting, a Cat, and Spiders!

An abstract painting of mine is probably winging its way over the Tasman Sea to Australia as I write this. The egg tempera painting, which measures about 600 x 400mm, was done in 1995, and I called it "Meeting in Paradise". I have never been too good with titles, but I was thinking of such things when I was doing the painting, and the little fish, who are gently touching noses, are in some way representing our reuniting with friends and family in a heavenly realm. Of course, there is no way of depicting what such a meeting would really be like, or what it would look like, but in 15th Century Florence, artist Cennino d'Andrea Cennini, wrote that the job of a painter was to "discover things not seen, hiding themselves under the shadow of natural objects, and to fix them with the hand, presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist." Which is a marvelous thought. I hope that Tim, who bought the painting, really enjoys it. He, and his family, are lovely people.

Ginger is making himself very much at home, he is not our cat, but.... He, war wounded, can easily convince us that he needs a lot of love and attention, even if it makes having a cup of coffee an impossible task!

A Spider's web for Jewels.
I took this photo of a spider and its web and nest when I was out walking recently. I was most impressed with the way it was constructed, and marveled at the many hours of toil that must have gone into the making of such a structure. Jewels put such an interesting post on her blog about spiders that thought I would put this photo of a New Zealand Spider on mine for her. The spider is just visible slightly to the left of the mid point of this photo, right on the edge of its nest...honestly, it is! Sorry the photo is not perfectly sharp, I do all my photography using a 2001 vintage Kodak DC3400 digital camera with 2 megapixels of brain, and a 3 times zoom. The Kodak and I find such subjects rather challenging!

Artist's statements and biographies.
When asked for an exhibition statement, one artist I know of just puts his signature onto an otherwise blank piece of paper, and leaves it like that. The man tells us, by saying nothing at all, "Let the work speak!" I think gallery directors like it when he does that (he is famous for it after all), but it would be a problem for them if all exhibitors did the same. Imagine an exhibition these days without lots of written stuff accompanying it. The gallery would look naked! The public might be embarrassed with nothing to read! What ever next!

I will shortly be sending some pots to an exhibition and have been asked for a couple of paragraphs to go on display. One paragraph about me, and one about my work. As I am constantly developing what I think about it all, nailing something down in text tends to make my thinking seem more "straight laced" than it really is. Sometimes I wish we could say at least half a dozen things at once to be able to let people know the "roundness" of our thinking process, and not just the straight line part. You see, I have sympathy with those who make nonfunctional ceramics, as well as with those who make mugs and teapots, and I don't firmly push myself into either camp or really see why they should exclude each other.

Anyway, I have written the following. I wonder, if you were asked to write something about your art and yourself, in about 2 paragraphs, what you would have to say? (I cheated and went to 3!).

About pots, my pots, and me. by Peter Gregory.

Once upon a time, potters were useful people, almost indispensable. The role was simple and honest, people needed storage containers, cooking pots, mugs to drink out of, plates and bowls to serve food on, and the potter met that need. The forms that the potter made were handed on from generation to generation, and refinements came to make the objects more useful. With the rise of mass production, plaster, plastics, and art schools, potters have largely been swept aside by “ceramicists” or “artists” with degrees, and those of us who choose to make pots that are capable of holding water, tea, or pickled onions, are now the eccentric marginalized individuals, who do something weird that society as a whole rarely values or wants.

Mostly I make pots on a kick wheel. I do make decorative and some sculptural pots, but there is also satisfaction to be had in making jugs and mugs, and pots for tea; and there is beauty to be found in a pot used for cooking, or a jug, or a mug. It is a beauty that is based on being fit for humanity. A jug that pours. A handle that is comfortable to hold. A teapot that is well balanced. It is the same beauty that is found in words such as “caring”, “sustaining”, and “providing”. Like a drawing, the pot can have a springy or adventurous line. Like a painting, the clay can be worked with a vigorous touch, or one that is gentle and understated. Pots also share other human qualities. The pot has a foot, a belly, a neck, and a lip. It still feels worthwhile to actually make such things.

I was a painter from age 15 until I was 45. I am now 50, and for the last 5 years potting has been my main focus and occupation. I have a wood fired kiln that I built, and a second hand electric kiln. When I can, I like to fire with wood. Wood firing is exhausting, challenging, and endlessly fascinating. I live and work with Laura, my wife, in the Waikouaiti Old Post Office. We open our studio to the public on the first weekend of each month. Laura paints and I pot.


Arkansas Patti said...

Very well done Peter. I read with great interest and was informed about you, your craft and the history. If you ever want a side line to pottery, take up writing seriously.
Now, who are you kidding that Ginger is not your cat? He stays at your house, he eats your food, you take care of his wounds and he keeps Laura's chest warm. What else does he have to do?

Pat - Arkansas said...

Hello, Peter

I am delighted to have discovered your blogs, and have already spent some time browsing your archives.

I enjoyed seeing your painting, "Meeting in Paradise." My mind knows it's a flat canvas, but my eyes are full of angles, recessions, and extrusions, and I really like the colors you have used. Your buyer is a fortunate person.

I very much admire your pottery. There are a few (practical and artistic) potters scattered about in various parts of our state (a bit concentrated in the known artsy-crafty towns,) but one usually sees their work only at local craft fairs and the like. Unfortunately, although I know a workman is worthy of his hire, even practical pottery is priced beyond my living-on-fixed income reach, more's the pity.

I think it's marvelous that you and your (very talented) wife live and work in an old Post Office, the name of which does not yet wrap comfortably on my American tongue. Your accommodations called to mind a delightful short-story by American author, Eudora Welty: "Why I Live at the P.O."

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment on my Jell-O post. I've not ever encountered jelly lumps, but they do sound more interesting than dry, granulated jelly. I'm wondering if they are anything like "gummy worms" the young children here seem to have a passion for, although I suspect one could not dissolve a packet of gummy worms and make a gelatin dessert.

Come again for a visit anytime.

From the other side of the world, I'm wishing you a pleasant remainder of the weekend (it's already Sunday there, is it not?)

Pat - Arkansas said...

Oh.. I meant also to comment on your photo of the spider's web and nest. I have often seen spider webs, but never before such a complicated nest. Very interesting!

Peter said...

Hi Patti,
Thanks for your kind comments regarding writing. I have to confess to loving the whole process of playing with words. I even once took a large and heavy manual typewriter ("By Appointment of the Late King George" stamped on it!) away with me on a painting trip, and wrote bad poetry by the light of the moon in a clearing the scrub and trees beside my tent... it was a way of filling in very long autumn nights where darkness came at 6pm and lasted more than 12 hours.

I do feel Guilty about Ginger spending so much time here. He has a lovely owner that lives next door. She feeds him, I can sometimes tell by the smell of sardines on his breath although he tries to persuade us otherwise! She also pays his bills.

Hello Pat,
Welcome aboard! How nice to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comments. It is indeed Sunday as I reply to you. This time thing is hilarious, I think you may be 17 hours behind NZ time, but I could be wrong. Anyway, the mathematical dexterity needed to work out what that really means is quite beyond me! I suspect that Arkansas Patti and I might be blogging at the same moment sometimes even if we are at different times of day, and... different days!
I'm really pleased to have been directed (on a Jell-O hunt) to your site by Arkansas Patti. It is a joy to read what you have there, and I know I will become a frequent visitor. I must look up Eudora Welty and see if I can find "Why I Live at the P.O.".

Best wishes to you two wonderful people from Arkansas, Peter

Jewels said...

Peter, thank you for sharing your painting! It is wonderful and I am envious of Tim! There are so many pieces that you and Laura create that I would love to have brighten up my world. When I was in college, I thrived being around other artists as they inspired creativity and seeing both of your work has that same effect.

It is sweet of you to take a picture of the spider web and nest. I think I spot the spider that built it. I have never seen such a complicated nest…very interesting. Thank you for another plug to my blog. Pat from Arkansas found me through you. It is curious how many Arkansas gals have migrated to your blogs in New Zealand. : )

Writing has never been my forte, so I find it rather torturous to write about myself or my work. To just sign a blank piece of paper as an artist statement would be divine! I cringe at the thought of having to write one. I shall have to cheat and pay someone like you that is good at expressing themselves with words to write it for me. Unless, I can find a gallery that would be satisfied with an artist statement filled with the word love, exclamations of joy (joy!), and smiley faces. : )

“Let the work speak!” Oh, if I only had the talent and boldness to make that work for me!

You three have a wonderful week!

Linda Starr said...

Hi Peter, I love your painting, I must come back for the rest of the post to comment, have to run just now - lots of good stuff in your post once again.

Judy Shreve said...

I love the painting -- amazing depth for 2-dimensions! And I agree with Patti - Ginger has adopted you & Laura.

I really like your artist statement -- it's honest, unpretentious and tells the buyer a lot about you & why you make work. Really well done.

That spider's nest is scary! lol

Peter said...

Hi Jewels, It is so good to hear from you. I am really pleased to see that you do have some more people discovering your blog, and I hope it will encourage you to keep on with the blog and also be an encouragement to you as well. I know that your photos and thoughts will be greatly treasured by those of us who are lucky enough to discover them.

I was amused to see the number of "Arkansas gals" commenting on our site too, I have to say that it would be a great joy one day to be able to meet up with you all, and also travel over to other parts of America too and catch up with the other people that I am meeting through this wonderful method of communication.

Thank you for your kind words regarding our work. It is also nice to think that something we do here all these miles away can be inspirational. It is a funny thing, it could be my age, but I keep feeling that art needs to be passed on. That painting or potting, just for one's self is not being fully creative. That the process needs also to be gifted and shared.
Best Wishes. P.

Hi Linda, nice to hear from you too, and thank you for your on-going encouragement, it is hugely appreciated. I love the hawk feather on your blog and your thoughts about it. P.

Peter said...

Hi Judy,
Lovely to hear from you. Thank you for your comment and your kind words about the painting and the statement. It is helpful to have had your feedback about the statement as I do find them a bit of a challenge to do sometimes, and hope they make sense! Goodness, we must have been commenting at the same moment as yours came in as I answered Jewels and Linda's comments. I have found the progress of your earthenware glaze tests really interesting on your site. I've hoped to do a few of my own at that temperature, but have had to do two stoneware firings in a hurry, so haven't got back to the earthenware yet. All the Best to you. Peter.

Linda Starr said...

Hi Peter, what a succinct artist's statement. I have delved into that matter with little success and have set it aside for the time being, perhaps now is not the time. Your painting reminds me of a quilting pattern, well thought out ahead of time, and yet much more than meets the eye. Hope you postl more of your paintings.

Peter said...

Thanks Linda. I'll try to sort out a little selection of paintings to go on the blog (I think I promised to do that before... I must get round to it!). P.

Linda Starr said...

Hi Peter, just came across your comment on my previous blog post about the green to black matt glaze I used on my paperweight and the toothpick holder, both stoneware. Toothpick holder is Cone 8, paperweight is Cone 10. Recently I tried it on my Crowded City window box (which probably went to Cone 8.5 or so). It is a Reitz glaze, also used by Tom Coleman. Here is the formula:

Nepheline Syenite 70.00
Petalite 15.00
Gerstley Borate 2.00
Whiting 5.00
Ball Clay 8.00


cobalt carbonate 1%
rutile 2%

Matt green at Cone 8 (with some slight blue tinges). Shiny green breaking to black at Cone 10, over 10 it will start to run - my paperweight just started to run, good on stoneware or porcelain.

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
Thanks for that. I had a suspicion that it was a Reitz glaze as I saw one similar in John Britt's "High Fire Glazes" book. I was very intrigued by the one in the book getting green from the cobalt/rutile combination, so it is very interesting to see that you have had success with it. I must have a go myself. Thanks for the recipe and comments, Very helpful.