My 'self taught artist'*** status is about to change dramatically. I'm starting a Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Idaho (UI).
No one is self-taught... I've had some great mentors in ceramics... ranging from Steven Hemmingway in Minnesota to David Bogus in Idaho). However... I've definitely been a 'biologist with a sideline in ceramics'.
As a tune up to considering starting an MFA, I took a sculpture class at UI this spring. As a consequence, I've been thrown into woodworking, welding... all sorts of non-ceramic approaches to 3-D art. Here are some significant projects from my class.
It's arguably a bit insane to go back to school at this stage... given that I've toting a PhD and a part time career in Wildlife Biology. I've been sort of blind-sided by my love for ceramics, however. Add in a sculpture course at the University of Idaho this spring, and it's become increasingly clear to me that it's really the creative process that stimulates me.
So- I'll be posting regular images of work that I generate as I work towards my MFA... as well as ceramic art that I spin off in the moments between.
As one example, the image at page top is my first woodblock (representing a Stellar Sea Lion). I've done minimal 2-d artwork... but there's some real kinship between printmaking and the types of designs that I've rendered on my pots.
The next image down is titled 'Flowering the Gyre'. It's a commentary on the enormous garbage patch that we (humanity) are collectively creating in the middle of the Pacific. This was an interactive piece- people were encouraged to add their own plastic junk to the sculpture.
(This was a constrained project in a sculpture class... I got to use a 4*4 piece of plywood, an eight foot chunk of 2*4... and a bunch of Tostitos bags and Clorox bottles.
This class project is titled "Engineer' and can be loosely dubbed a 'bioremediation beaver'. We were asked to pay homage to artists who inspire us- I chose Mel Chin and Jackie Brookner (see my Tumblr blog
for more information). Both artists create sculptures that help filter and clean degraded biological sites.
My own beaver is constructed from tea-laced plaster over a metal armature. The tea-plaster mixture ended up looking bizzarely similar to the mud in a beaver lodge (or to dung, for the uncharitable). I originally was going to add surface detail... but there's something about the organic- dissolution surface here that I rather like.
I sort or envision a series of these planted in our local Moscow, Idaho Paradise Creek- possibly as Guerrilla art. The University of Idaho facilities staff trap beaver out of the creek. They have their reasons... but there's no question in my mind that the watershed would be cleaner and more lovely if these guys were given free reign.
For this final steel-ceramic multi-media project, I'll just post my artists statement for class.
Prometheus and Peak Oil
David Roon: Artist Statement
Prometheus was a key figure in Greek mythology, a subversive character who dared to steal fire from the Gods on humanity’s behalf. For his audacity, he was chained to a mountain, where an eagle would daily tear the liver (seat of human emotion and passion) from his rib cage. Hercules eventually rescued him.
Since this inception of this myth, Prometheus has symbolized humanity’s quest to transcend mortal limits and approach ‘godhood’. For some, this is positive, hopeful imagery, symbolizing high aspiration and perseverance. For others, Prometheus serves as an indictment of hubris, of our precarious, arrogant tendency to outstrip our species’ accumulated wisdom.
Prometheus is as apt metaphor for our society’s fixation with oil and other fossil fuels. We’re burning through the wealth of eons- Jurassic bones and tree-ferns, rendered to black gold through the alchemy of pressure and time. The benefits are beyond question. Cheap energy has given us plastics, a revolution in agriculture, and light in the dead of winter. To a time-traveller from pre-industrial civilization, we might indeed resemble gods. At the same time, the manifold consequences of our fossil fuel addictions are becoming impossible to ignore.
We continue stealing fire, with minimal thought to the basic question ‘what next?’. Unlike the original Prometheus, we are chained to the mountain of our own free will, with no Hercules on the horizon. We seem helpless to break our self-selected manacles, or to cease our self-immolation.
I've joined a sculptors group at the University of Idaho. As part of this, I'll be running a Tumblr blog
in which I review the work of a range of sculptors whose work I admire.
The first is the amazing Tetsunori Kawana. For images and thoughts related to his work, (or if you want to know what the heck a Kugel Ball is), please visit Kugel Ball!
It's been a stay-at-home holiday... one of the first we've had in ages. I'll comment in more detail about a few of these pieces later. To start things out, a few art plates (starting with the 14-inch giant octopus model above). Below- a Weedy Sea Dragon (10 inches- gift for one of my Irish music cronies) and a River Otter
I've been refining my fountain designs. This has been a loooooong process (which I may dissect in a future post). For now- note that the water cascades around the perimeter of the upper vessel on these new versions. Both of these feature otter designs...
Planters galore. These things are sort of my base canvas. Designs, in order, are...
- Trigger Fish
- White Pine (a scene from an island in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that I used to haunt)
- A Harbor Seal
- A Wolf Eel (Really cool fish from the cold Pacific- more on this later)
- Matsutake Mushrooms (a delectable, wet coast mushroom that I've started hunting lately. Very endearing- smells like a combination of wet socks and red-hots)
I cranked out another set of carriage lanterns... these all have designs based on lantern fish. (And I'm currently burbling with excitement- in that there's actually a freaking LANTERN SHARK that I was previously unaware of). Yaahoo... yay biodiversity...
Lastly, I spun out some tiles for yet another table. Otters and sticklebacks. I see some fun with my router in the near future...
Otherwise known as the three planters to emerge from my kiln this month.
I've had a number of frustrating failures recently- forms that crack in the kiln, colors that I don't like, blah blah. I guess things are going to frustrate you if you're pushing at boundaries.
Fortunately, I stick a planter or two into the kiln to keep the productivity at a respectable level. Here are a couple of recent pieces.
(All of these, incidentally, are up for sale on my Inventory Page. Winter is coming... and so is Christmas).
I'm still chasing after the perfect 'Great White Shark Chasing a Sea Lion' design. You'll probably never see a 'white pointer' with that much turquoise on his hide (mariners used to call them 'Ghost Sharks'). The crackle turned out lovely though... one of the most unpredictable and satisfying elements in the Raku process.
This iteration of a weedy sea dragon pleases me more than some of my earlier efforts
. I love that background glaze (turquoise crackle). Always textured, always complex. In this case, it's easy to imagine it as light spackled through a seagrass bed.
And- here you have wolverine (sans adamantium!) chasing the moon. It's a fortunate thing that Gulo gulo can travel distances measured in the hundreds of kilometers... he might actually have a chance of catching that thing!
Wolverines are hard to render... the form (intermediate between a bear and a fisher) is hard to capture.
I'm cranking through a number of simultaneous projects at the moment- here's one example.
I had a collector contact me recently- wanting to commission a couple of mugs. Pretty cool project- he had specific requirements for size, handle style, etc. I like working within constraints.
The interesting thing was that he specifically wanted a Raku surface- he'd seen one of my planters and liked the surface.
Copyright Christian Kaden 2013
There's an issue with Raku, however... it's not 'food safe' by most traditional measures. Raku leaks. It leaches mineral oxides (copper carbonate in the case of my glazes).
This is not a desirable thing. To quote 'Mastering Cone 6 glazes' (an excellent glaze formulation guide) 'we are not in the food supplement business'.
Mineral leaching would be particularly problematic for work glazed with legitimately toxic materials (i.e. barium, or- heaven forbid- lead). Fortunately, none of my glazes are dependent on nasties like these. I wouldn't want to evoke the Roman empire and their collective lead-driven dementia.
The Japanese have used Raku ware for the tea ceremony for hundreds of years... mainly in a ceremonial setting.
'Ceremonial' is probably the key... I don't think you'd want to use Raku-ware for your daily table, but occasional use (assuming benign ingredients) should be fine.
The client wanted carvings of marine mammals (seals, sea lions) with a blue-green background, and prominent use of red.
Here's the first result- Stellar Sea Lion carving. I used a commercial glaze (Duncan Envision, cranberry) on the interior.
I've been realizing, of late, that there's something to be said for predictable color and texture. I love the volatility and variability of my raku glazes... but there's also merit to slapping on a glaze that you know is going to be a rich red, irrespective of conditions in the kiln.
I was a bit worried that the uniform red would clash with the effect of the variegated, complex surface on the main body of the mug (a turquoise crackle glaze from Gary Ferguson).
I think it turned out OK. I can see some careful, profound expansions of my glaze palette on the horizon.
Here's the other piece- this one with a carving of a harbor seal.
I have four more of these guys that I still need to Raku fire. I hope they come out this interesting.
...Cuz nothing says 'Nativity' like the Heat Miser and Cold Miser with a Saki cup.
I’ve been cranking out some new projects of late… and thus have fallen off the Blogging Express a little.
However, a friend recently reminded me that the Yuletide season is approaching, and that I’d better overcome my counter-commercial instincts and promote myself a bit.
If you’re interested in a custom-made piece of my work, you should contact me soon. You can email me directly at email@example.com, or use the contact form on this site
. Basically- for work to be ready by Chrismas, I need to do my clay work by about the December 10.
I do, in point of fact, offer some pretty unique options for the generous of heart… especially if you’re into ceramics. Here are a few highlights.
Artwork is a fine thing… but so much of it is passive… hanging lifeless on your wall, or crouching on a pedestal. Planters are a way to add a beautiful centerpiece to your home… while hosting a piece of the great outdoors at the same time.
All of my planters are Raku-fired, with mosaic style designs. I love working on commission, however. My designs typically emphasize wildlife, marine, or mythological elements… but I’m happy to work with your vision. Prices vary by size, ranging from $80 for a smaller planter to $120 for a larger, floor-sized model.
Mugs! Plates! Casseroles! See my gallery page
for ideas- I make to commission. Plates and platters are decorated with slip-trailed designs (see above), while I carve designs into other pieces. Prices range from $30 (mug with no lid) to $80 (kettle).
I’ve been focusing on hanging lanterns recently. These are modeled on turn-of-the-century carriage lanterns, with Japanese accents. Many are ‘illuminated’ with images of bioluminescent creatures
(lantern fish, fireflies, etc.).
You’d probably want to involve your potential recipient in the design phase for one of these… but they’re unique, functional, and suffused with an inner glow.
Lanterns are a bit more intricate to make (multiple thrown elements, wiring, etc.), and sell in the $180-$250 range (depending on the size and level of detail in the design). Drums
For the right musician friend, an art drum (with your choice of design) could be perfect. I’ve been concentrating on conga-style drums of late, but I also make alternate models (tablas, djembes, doumbeks, etc.).
All of my drums are fully functional (sort of like Data from Star Trek the Next Generation... nyuk nyuk) - you can play your heart out. The tone is typically more staccato and ‘barking’ than a similar wooden drum… but there’s a lovely musical tone that’s unique to the ceramic material.
Drums sell in the $150-$250 range (size and form dependent)
Something for the water nymphs and gods in your life. All of my water features are designed with a high-fire (waterproof) base, and an upper raku vessel (from which the water cascades). There are a wide variety of styles I work with- see my gallery page or contact me for more information.
Fountains are among my more elaborate creations, and sell for $250-$400 (size and design dependent). Hardware and pump included.
So- get in touch
if you’ve got a unique person who deserves a unique piece of functional artwork- especially if you (or your friend) is enamored of mountains, sharks, waves, light through coastal cloudscapes, selkies, ents, gnarled trees by riversides, or anything else wet, wild, or wooly.
Not much to say here... just a few wall tiles for a kitchen project in ye olde casa del amor...
My output has been a bit crimped of late- mostly because I've been grappling with some experimental work.
I've been frustrated of late with high failure rates in my Raku firing. Raku is- of course, a process laden with thermal shock and awe. Pieces do break. I've walked away from the kiln cursing like a sailor on more than one occasion.
However, I've been firing some fairly complex forms lately (lanterns, fountain components, etc.)... and the shatter rate has approached 50%.
As one example, I've been testing a fountain component with a design like a mill wheel (see drawing to left, and photo below). Two goals... get a little closer to a full 'babbling brook' soundscape (hard to achieve in a small fountain)... and make the piece a bit more visually interesting.
The problem- this particular form doesn't cool at a uniform rate. I've taken these out of the kiln, and the edges cool practically to the touch point, while the interior glows like Smaug's lair.
To date, I've fired six of these. The results have been utterly consistent.
I could, of course, repair these with epoxy... and since they're sculptural objects, repair doesn't have the stigma that it would if I were making teapots or other functional wares.
However, many of these have shattered with chunks lost in the kiln (see repair job below)... and I certainly can't sell water features with gaping cracks in the form.
I've also seen cracking and shattering in large tiles, some of my conga drums, and almost anything tall. In short, I think I'm pushing at the limits of what Raku can reliably do.
So- I spent the past month experimenting with sagger firing. A sagger is a closed vessel that creates it's own atmosphere. You can fill them with combustible materials. The 'real' sagger experts often fill their saggers with everything from fertilizer to copper wire, all of which leaves a scrim of wildly unpredictable color on the surface.
My main goals in trying sagger firing were 1) to obtain Raku-like glaze results in a 'gentler' atmosphere, and 2) to 'smoke' my pottery without doing a post-fire reduction step. In particular, I needed the lines on my carvings to blacken.
Here's the first piece I tried to fire- a miniscule test pot. As you can see, the lines did not blacken. I wasn't very optimistic about this (as I thought the upper, 1900 degree temperatures might burn off the carbon). However, this particular sagger cracked in the kiln.
It's worth noting that my Raky glazes came out looking nothing like they usually do. The grey glaze- usually white crackle. The coppery-looking glaze on the base- usually turquoise.
There's manifestly a heavy reduction atmosphere in the kiln... and my standard glazes are way off the reservation.
So- I decided to try some commercial glazes, and a more 'robust' sagger. These glazes are generally formulated for fairly uniform results across a range of atmospheric condition (although I could not- for the life of me- get the specifics from the source companies).
Here are the results. Note the white, carved lines (no smoking to any appreciable degree). Note, as well, that the glaze on the lower part of the pot on the right was supposed to be a brilliant yellow.
So- I don't think I'll be doing any sagger firing as a Raku surrogate.
The work is starting to pile up in my studio... I'll have a boatload of work to bisque-fire before too long here. Fortunately, my kiln is big enough fire an a full set of space shuttle tile... so I'm good to go.
At the moment, I'm working on a few art plates. Most of my work is functional, but there are some sporadic juried shows that restrict themselves to work that can be hung on a wall. Thus- plates- such as the study in puffer fish above.
There's an upcoming show with a focus on 'Forsaken Nature' that I'm considering applying to. The platter above is one idea I've been kicking about- sort of a 'lowland gorilla and the burning plain' design.Meanwhile, I'm re-doing a drum with a centaur design. This design was based off a contest I ran at the end of the summer.
Unfortunately, the first drum that I made with this design suffered a rude fate. Kids- don't put your greenware down on the floor when you're working- even for a minute. I must have kicked that drum five feet through the air.
Here's the revised drum. Predictably enough, I'm pining for the original... but hopefully, this melancholy will pass.
This piece is currently part of an exhibition at Cape Fear Studios in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Check it out- they have some amazing ceramic work on display.(You have to scroll down-page a bit to see the finalists)
Nellie Allen Smith Competition