Running a pocket project for the start of the new year. My daughter gave me a small cardboard covered sketchbook that she made with her cousin. It’s a delightfully shabby little 20 page book, it’s questionable quality proved perfect for taking risks in. A small tin of charcoal powder was lifted from the kids supply box and aside from making a surprising mess, it’s been helpful in negotiating a way to achieving black values.
“Someone may say of me, that I have here only made a nosegay of other men’s flowers, having furnished nothing of my own but the thread to tie them.”
The process inherent to the process of using a swarm of cut-paper stencil in creating a design on a clay surface is essentially form of collage. Separate elements are selected, cut up, recombined, and fixed in place as a means to assemble new metaphors and realize new ideas. Even when there’s a specific design in mind, the most interesting work is the work that arises from process itself, it’s best when it’s allow to dither rather than adhere to a specific expectation. It’s akin to the fundamental premis of Jazz, there’s plenty of allowance for the joy of wandering on the way to a chosen destination. Not only is the dither of wandering allowed, it’s celebrated.
So while Rob Blackard’s sketch of a flower was the original source of influence, as elements are taken away, new elements are added, the pieces recombined… each generation that follows the inseption becomes more identified as a separate idea. The transformation takes the work away from the original influence.
“In artistic terms, appropriation stands for the willful copying of artworks, whereby the act of copying is itself understood as an independent piece.”
Akademie Schloss Solitude, February 2015
( Note: This was one of a series of unposted entries from 2017 that were found languishing near the digital trash bin. It predates the ceramic studio doors being shuttered for what’s now coming up on two years. I’ve heard about artists going into self imposed “black out periods” to try to scrape down the canvas, flesh out a new pallet, and find a new voice, effectively disappearing into themselves to find a new polarity, a new true north to set their compass by. When this was first written, stepping completely away from the studio hadn’t happened yet. Not yet… It was about to. This post brushes lightly against a larger internal discussion regarding the ethics of appropriation. It’s was the conflict that this discussion brought up that largely that lead to my own “black out” period… Leave any questions or comments in the comments below.)
While I am an advocate of the saying “steal like an artist“, it’s not a general call to action that I choose to live my life by. I’m open to using it as a strategy to learn a new visual language, but it’s not good business.
The image above is the work of Rob Blackard, a graphic artist living and working in New York. I was (and still am) finding myself attracted to Rob’s visual language. His designs have an easy to read graphic quality and are brilliantly minimal in their complexity (he consistently does a lot with just a few elements in a design). They dovetail particularly nicely with the stencil process that I use in creating my own ceramic work. One sketched design in particular found on his Instagram page grabbed my attention. I kept returning, wondering what it might develop into if it were to be used as a source influence for a small batch of Yunomi.
…overthink it… Yeah. Well I started right out of the shoot doing just that. Like most artists and craftsmen, I appropriate elements from other works all the time, both consciously and unconsciously. Bits and pieces here, compositional ideas there… I’ve watched as artists bite other artists work and push it forward as their own, and this decidedly isn’t my intent, but it feels uncomfortably close to a boundary that I’m not familiar navigating.
Is it that I think appropriation from a generalize image is ok, in contrast, is the appropriation of elements from a known artist (a brand) out of bounds? Is it how closely that I adhere to the original design that determines exactly of the degree of transgression?
I’m hesitant to admit this, but I suspect that the degree of transgression is determined in perporsion of respect that I have for the original artist. Looking back, if I don’t know who designed a work, I’m significantly less likely to be concerned… but if I’m even slightly familiar with the artist that’s responsible for a design, it’s an easy choice to stay away. Funny enough, for whatever reason, this doesn’t seem to apply to the dead. Go figure.
Yeah well , Rob is alive an kick’n so as I said a few lines back, this felt uncomfortably close to a boundary. So I wrote him… and he wrote back. Some people really are cool like that. He said to go for it and see what happens.
That’s pretty much just what happened. I’ve always put faith in the idea that by showing up to get my hands dirty is a measure of presence and through presence and the application of dirty hands, I get an opportunity learn something… Never know, it could be a new true north.
(There’s a pile of unposted write-ups from 2017 that fell between the cracks as the studio doors closed. Most are finding their way to the garbage can, but a few are being dusted off and belatedly posted. This one in particular was originally a little rant that was self directed in lew of a critic. It’s being posted as a reminder that it’s ok to take chances that result in bad work. Don’t just say “We learn more from failed work than we do from successful work.” Mean it.)
First… the obvious… “Likes” definitely aren’t a reliable measure of the success of a design. Market penetration… maybe. How popular (or unpopular) you are.. quite possibly, but counting the double clicks of the “like” button doesn’t get anyone any closer to making better work, it just lets us know what’s passable and makes us feel good.
Yea I know… Who am I kidding? I’m game too.
Yeah yeah… We are supposed be grateful and say thank you, (by the way everyone, thanks for the support and kind words, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to leave a comment) unfortunately, having others hearting the results of a work I’m not personally jamming on leaves me feeling a little uneasy, like maybe I would be more authentic if I was filled with more doubt or something (as if self doubt is a measure of authenticity).
So why post?
Because I see the work differently once it escapes the confines of the studio. We are told that “holding work is much different that looking at it on a screen”, and yes that’s true, but speaking as someone that’s usually holding the work, I enjoy climbing into the audience to find a seat and look at the work from a distance just like everyone else..
It doesn’t just feel different, it is different. Presentation really can make a weak design look good. (Poor presentation can also cockblock a good design. It goes both ways.)
Case in point, que the sarcastic crisis of authenticity… “Chasing Tail”… I was excited while this series was moving through the studio, but as it neared the finish line, it became plain that achieving the intended design was going to be anticlimactic. Sure, a few nice things could be said about the batch, they are well crafted, they have nice form, interesting surfaces… Yes, there were metaphors around the use of the rabbit that were admittedly left undeveloped and while the image was readable, it was thick limbed and ungraceful. And it goes on…
I’m not at all comfortable how the main element of the rabbit is left floating free in space. Its not that it needs grounding, but it does need to be tied into the overall design rather than being separated out. In this case, using the dark raw clay body as a strong contrast to the white slip is a bad choise, it distracts by emphasizing a weak design element with a result of essentially putting the entire design out of balance.
The feeling of unease is reenforced by an unnecessary openness in the design arising from an uncohesive collection of floating elements. On paper the thinking was that a 50/50 wash of cobalt blue and a few spriggs would pull together the central subject with the background, it worked, but didn’t succeed.
So while the design ended up where it was originally intended, I’m not at all satisfied with the finished work.
- Glaze the foot, lip, and interior with mag white liner.
- Wax both lip and foot to the edges of their terminal lines. Wrap the wax at the lip over 2 cm into the interior.
- An exterior double dip of thin SAG for a 5 count each.
- Fire to cone 6 and lightly wet sand results.
Prescriptives…. Redo the rabbit. Apply a base coat of slip before starting of the blocking in with stencils. Add a wrap around background element. Use the flower design that’s found inside the rabbit and enlarge it to fill the entire work. White on white would work, but experimenting with red on red could open up the game.The bisqued result will be black washed. Readdress fireflies and halos. Possibly highlight fireflies with gold luster.
There’s not many deep regrets that I harbor. My history of bad and questionable decisions has lead to my current situation and when asked, I can truthfully say, “For the most part, I’m a deeply content man”
I regret that I didn’t truly begin life drawing before now…. Ill concede that there was always the opportunity to start, even if it was just myself creating that opportunity, I realize now that while I felt the need for this experience, I neither recognized my role nor took active role in its manifestation. In retrospect, there were obstacles placed in the way, and attention was focused on other pressing matters. My lament is that bringing the practice of life drawing into my studio work has been more satisfying that I had imagined.
Revisiting a few unpublished before and after shots of refired work from 2017 and looking at the results with the luxury of distance.
Even 2 years later, I still don’t feel can’t effectively evaluate the results. While these are pretty much everything I could want from my functional work. They are wonderful in the hands and really are uniquely beautiful. In hindsight, I’m hard pressed to come up with any changes that would have made, but I’m at a loss as to how to evaluate the work to.
If they had come up short, evaluation would have been a simple matter. They would have been “bad”. Instead, they are well crafted with a surface that’s distinctive and quite, yet deceptively complex. Par for the course. Average.
There’s some apparent issue lurking in the shallows. While it’s solid work, something not working. I suspect it has nothing to actually to do with the work. It simply is what it is. It’s no fault of the work itself. What it has to do with is me and how I view the work. I don’t see any problems left that need to be fixed. The work is done. It doesn’t need my attention or my opinions to validate it. It just needs me to let it go and move on.
One of the unexpected joys that’s come along with getting older is that I’ve embraced the view that it’s less complicated and much more interesting to allow myself to relax into my own opinions, tastes, and judgments concerning the work that I’m making rather than looking for affirmation from others by coaxing myself into conforming to someone else’s aesthetics.
Nico keeps looking at the green hair and wondering aloud “why? Why green and why didn’t I add any more clues hinting that the green blob is actually hair?”
Well… I didn’t much see the point making it look like hair because it obviously is hair and how many clues do I need to drop, and how much does it actually need to look like hair for it to count as hair? As for the green, it’s the color that unfortunately always seems on my mind.
I’m a reluctant gardener and greenskeeper… My whole fuck’n world is green. Why not her hair.