thoughts

Empty Pots

"Empty Pots" is the title of my ceramic work. Empty has the appropriate shades of meaning: firstly, and plainly, in the world of contemporary ceramics, empty pots means vessels that open up ready to hold something, i.e., vessels for use. I make pots for holding flowers, tea and food and they are made by processes which will create a dynamic between themselves and their function. They are made of prospected local clays and wood-fired for as long ten days. Day by day, as the kiln temperature rises and is maintained at around 1300 degrees centigrade, the clay matures and is painted by the river of flames flowing from the fire box to over a meter above the chimney: the super-heated components of the clay and the melting wood ash fuse in different effects, including natural ash glaze. Each fired ceramic piece, small and large, tells its own story of the forces that made it.

Emptiness also implies that the owner or user fills it: the pots become more beautiful with use and the user becomes an artist, too. When you are attracted to a particular pot and let it play a part in your daily life, keeping it close, you become increasingly enamored with it. This has been my own experience. Ironically, though pottery is concrete, the more we become intimate with it, the more abstract feelings are aroused in us by it.

Ultimately, empty means empty of self, empty of any permanent identity. A potter turns mud into stone; strangely, fired clay is so strong, yet so fragile. If left alone it should last indefinitely, but it beckons our touch and the fact is, it might shatter at any moment: at any stage in its existence from mud to form to fire to our hands, it might be lost forever. When we find a pot is beautiful and in our interaction with it, we are also being gently reminded to reflect on the true nature of beauty and the reality of impermanence of all things.

Working

I would hope my works speak for themselves, but naturally, people like to know what ideas and experiences effect their creation. Whatever rationality, skill and experience I can summon in the studio, I rather think I work unconsciously. Each of us stands in the present moment, the result or summary of our past, recalled, forgotten or unknown: whatever one does or creates is just a symbol of this state, of this mental moment. An artist employs processes to refine, rework, define and uncover an image the somehow corresponds with some blur or smudge of his/her experience. I suppose that when we are touched or moved by one’s art, our appreciation and enjoyment is a kind of personal resonance with the mind of the artist, no matter how one may intellectually interpret or qualify the work.

I am often subtly and indescribably moved by certain ceramic pieces, ancient and modern (as well as by other arts). I lower my defenses and am flooded with what they say and show. So, I make pots looking for certain qualities. The experience of ceramics is intimate. I make pieces which will be held and turned in the hands, touched to the lips...so I must consider and know each piece as well as any one else will in future.

“Frequently Asked Questions?

It is one thing to say that I have no formal training and am self taught, and another, to admit that I have learned countless lessons from countless sources, finding teachers, some kind, some cruel, at every turn. Getting the right answers is not as important as asking the right questions. Often we ask questions of teachers too easily and then don't understand the answers readily, only to understand later, as a result of experience. In finding the right questions about pots (and about life) I have pared down and rephrased many questions until they became irrelevant or answer themselves. The weightier questions often find their answer turning up at an appropriate time, while others, one keeps asking for a long time.

Flowers

I came through the "door of flowers" to making pots:  I had suddenly become fascinated with flowers as well as the vessels that held them. When I first began to arrange flowers I found it not unlike drawing, employing the same principles. However, flowers are a very special medium: with it, one interprets nature out of context and one cannot help but consider one's relation to nature. It has been said, "Because of flowers, there is flower arrangement, but without humans, there is no flower arrangement". The natural, usually living elements, flowers, branches, grasses, whatever, that one cuts and kills, well-arranged, live again. They perform dramatically for us, speaking and gesturing among themselves. Sometimes they just remain at peace. There is no arrangement without a vessel that also speaks and expresses itself as it encourages the other elements and the artist, too.

Perhaps, due to the transitory nature of living plants, the best arrangements are extremely poignant and reflect our own human condition. Unfortunately, flower arranging today is usually taught emphasizing formulas and diagrams and usually with little sensitivity to vessels. To enter into the real drama of flowers one has to practice and experiment intensively.

I began making pots thinking, " Now I can arrange in any vessel I want". There are some important standard forms and sometimes I wonder if I make too much of a variety. But I only make the forms I would like to use myself and I probably will try each one at least once.

I am told that the water and flowers kept in my pots stays fresh a long time. I have heard this claim about Bizen and other unglazed, wood-fired wares, too.

Tea

The simplest and most elegant of beverages, tea and its culture moved easily throughout China, to Korea and Japan, around Asia and, more recently, throughout the world. Though nothing could be simpler than pouring hot water over tea leaves in a pot, it is in making tea wares that form and function of ceramics are most closely related. Particularly in the brewing of Chinese tea, ceramics are not just judged by their appearance and ease of use but in their ability to actually improve the enjoyment of the tea's taste and fragrance.

Unglazed Yixing teapots and the idealized whiteness of porcelain have long provided a kind of laboratory-like consistency in appreciating different types and grades of tea. Departing from Chinese tea's aristocratic ethos and the industrial ideal of porcelain, I make my tea wares to recall the culture's flip side: the rustic and unassuming, peasant roots of tea drinking. In the twenty-first century when a lot of tea is drunk from cans and plastic bottles from a convenience store, my vessels should slow tea drinkers down to travel for a moment in the dark landscape of the clay, and in the lingering mists of tea fragrance there as they sip from the pools held in their hands.

Food

Everyone eats. We come into the world hungry and only stop eating when we leave. A friend says people are happiest when they are eating. Are they? Beyond hunger, food becomes art when the way it is prepared and presented just makes one pause and wonder. "Too beautiful to eat,"...why do we eat?

Why do so many people find a kind of comfort and security in a set of (usually gleaming white) dishes on their daily table? The whole process of serving, sharing and eating becomes much more enjoyable mixing and matching different types of vessels as one pairs and contrasts different tastes. I know people understand this when they want to have our kiln's odd, malformed or damaged pieces that my family often uses on our table.