Sunday, April 28, 2013

The value of constructive criticism and ceramic role-models; featuring the work of Ann Van Hoey and Ian Garrett.

Ceramic vessel, Ann Van Hoey.
Origami Etude Geometrigue Ceramics.

All photographs cited on the internet.
Ann Van Hoey Vessel
Belguim Ceramist
My previous blog post highlighted two ceramic expositions that opened in Johannesburg two weeks ago. By now these two exhibitions have come and gone. One a regional ceramic competition and the other an exhibition of some of South Africa’s ceramic stars – a number of whom are rising stars. My first intention was to promote the work on display, having taken very complimentary images of the porcelain vessels on show, even if I have to say so myself. 
Ann van Hoey vessels

On writing the text on the individual works photographed, I soon discovered that my feelings for some of the work were not that complimentary. I quickly realised that I was wearing my critic’s hat. Having taught ceramics for most of my life and for seeing the potential in the work, I could not resist giving constructive criticism.  At the time of writing the crit I thought of giving advice as I would give to one of my own students at the Ceramic Department where I taught during the eighties and nineties.  I was and even to this today I am always blatantly honest, addressing those concerns, glaring issues that stare me in the face. Those issues which one would refer to as a blemish, oversight and or weakness in the design. Only then will I turn my attention to the amazing qualities inherent in the design and how great it was and or how amazing the end product was going to be. Only if and a big if it was, the student saw the need to address the glaring mistake, oversight or weakness in the design.
I get rather impatient when designing my own work – a mistake or issue compelling me to address and or rework the design with passion, vigour and relentless drive. Considering all options in an effort to see, reveal and or capture the finished refined end product. Never satisfied until the desired end result is finally captured in a rendering and or manufactured to perfection.

Exquisite forms, shapes and appropriate surface development
technique including construction method.
My intension is never to be destructive in my criticism, but always to motivate students to reach their full creative potential. Being a passionate Scorpio one always comes across arrogant and tactless in ones approach. Encouraging students never to cut shortcuts, quite the contrary, students are encouraged to work on a design until it is perfect – often at all costs. Cutting into the allotted manufacturing time allocated for the entire project to ensure the design is perfect on paper before going to manufacture. In retrospect there is always room for improvement and redress, this is my motto for creative success.
Ian Garrett
South African Ceramist.
Group on pots.
Ian Garrett.
My colleague John and I often have debates about our work, feeding off each other’s suggestions and criticism. That’s what you would expect from a fellow ceramist and or friend. Honesty and constructive criticism was and is always at the centre of our debates - each motivating the other to improve our work in a country where we are rather isolated from the rest of the ceramic fraternity. As we strive to expand our creative horizons we need all the assistance and creative help we can get – if we acknowledge there is always room for improvement. With ceramic departments closing down and informed advice not always that forthcoming, one would expect every bit of input in whatever form and from any source would be appreciated. It would seem this is not always the case. More than often we live in a creative bubble where mediocrity and praise is bestowed at will to support the Status Quo. ‘Fortress Ceramica’ continues to provide high walls around fragile glass structures where potters continue to bask in their supportive creative malaise.
Ian Garrett's finely crafted surface technique.
Therein lies the concern, the last thing we need in our isolated and dwindling ceramic community, especially amongst working groups at studios and collaborative projects and group exhibitions is to be dishonest in our view of each other's work.  As we strive towards perfection, from good to great, we need every bit of help and dare I say blatantly honest criticism to assist us on our creative path towards ceramic greatness/stardom. Unless we want to remain a buddy hugging and pretty promoting social group of hobbyist ceramists on ‘a road less travelled’ in neverland.
Fine forms, shapes, appropriate surface development technique
and construction method of Ian Garrett.
I doubt this is the case, as we all strive to constantly improve our skills and refine our ceramic expertise (to grow). With great maturity we take all criticism for what it is worth, apply what is necessary, realising one is only as good as the last creative output, and that there is always room for improvement and another opportunity to showcase one's work. We also realise that to grow we need to expand our knowledge and insight into our field of expertise. We also acknowledge our pride – that there were moments in our creative development that seemed impossible to peak. It all seems ridiculous now in the wake of our recent creative achievements. Believe me when I say that often such moments of creative doubt brought about by what seems to be negative criticism is just what is needed to urge one on to even greater heights. One must rise to the challenge, retreat to one’s studio, reflect on what was said, apply what is relevant and makes creative sense, and in solitude plough the felt negative energy back into one’s creative work.
Ann Van Hoey Belgium Ceramic Artist 
We need to set our sights higher, be inspired by relevant national and international ceramic role models, such as the work of our very own Ian Garrett (image below) and international rising star Ann Van Hoey (Belgium - image above), both master craftspeople at the pinnacle of the creative endeavours. I trust you will find the work of both these ceramists inspiring and suitable role models. Their handcrafted forms, shapes and appropriate surface development techniques, including construction methods are the epitome of fine craftsmanship - realised from concept to creative end-product.  Perfect ceramic role-models. All photographs taken from the internet.
Ian Garrett
Master South African Potter.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Two ceramic Exhibitions open in Gauteng Johannesburg April 2013

Karen van der Riet. Photography by the blogger, Eugene Hon

Sandy Godwin
Photography by
Eugene Hon 

At the weekend two very special ceramic exhibitions opened in Gauteng. The first was an exhibition titled fragile, ceramic work by a group of ceramists calling themselves the porcelain collective. This exhibition opened on Saturday morning at the Liz Loubser Gallery in Risidale Johannesburg. (address below).
Dale Lambert, Photography by Eugene Hon
Liz Louser Gallery: 11 Cecillia Avenue, Risidale. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8:30-17:00 and Saturday from 10:00 – 16:00. For more information contact Erika at 011 782 4051 or email

John Shirley, Photography by Eugene Hon.

Marchand van Tonder the renowned designer and master jeweller gave the opening address expressing his admiration for the work on display. He referred to his own personal introduction to clay many years ago as a student, and how he detested every minute of the experience, referring in particular to the clay dust. 
His dreadful first encounter with clay however instilled in him an even greater appreciation and admiration for the work of ceramists; especially those artists that have mastered the craft of working in clay as demonstrated in the fragile porcelain vessels on display at the gallery.

Dale lambert, Photography by Eugene Hon

Eunice Botes.
Their whiteness, delicacy and fragile forms and shapes were enhanced by the application of creative surface development options, including bright luminous colours and rich textures.  This exhibition is truly a feast for the eyes, especially for the discerning collector and those individuals that admire timeless elegant handcrafted products with a contemporary flair for surface development. 
Karen van der Riet, Photography by Eugene Hon.
The work is beautifully displayed in an airy gallery space that showcases the creative surfaces to maximum effect. This is a well considered group exhibition, where each ceramists’ body of work compliments the other’s creative endeavours, whilst showcasing the titillating and inspiring whiteness and fragile nature of the unifying material of choice, central to this visual and memorable experience.
John Shirley. Photography by Eugene Hon.
On display is the work of John Shirley (image above and on the left), arguably South Africa’s most renowned ceramic science specialist.  His soluble salt ceramic surface creations are reminiscent of abstract expressionism; in particular their attention to the physical immediacy of paint used to convey a strong emotional or expressive content, in many ways a continuation of the Romantic tradition of the Sublime. The translucency of these vessels is further enhanced by the watercolor effect of the soluble salts applied in overlaid brushstrokes.
Karen Van der Vliet, Photography by Eugene Hon.
Karen van der Riet’s porcelain vessels (image above and on the left) are immersed in rich barium glazes to produce colours inspired by Monet's light reflections on water. These beautifully crafted ceramic vessels with their luminous surfaces capture your attention like indigo blue ink applied to blotting paper. She produces ceramic vessels with intense surfaces, when exhibited as a group transforms a lifeless corner-space into a vibrant and expressive place.
Dale Lambert, Photography by Eugene Hon.
The work of Dale Lambert is simple yet sophisticated (image above). These are subtle ceramic statements that are well executed, resulting in a refined end product that comes to its own when viewed up close and or handled by the viewer. Its tactile quality adding a dimension to these fragile works that addresses a component so closely associated with this age-old craft tradition.

Eunice Botes, Photography by Eugene Hon.

The work of Eunice Botes is illustrative in its function (image above and on the left). Simple cylindrical vessels are decorated with delicately incised black underglaze painted trees, power lines and birds (also added as sprigs). For this critic the ceramist could possibly apply the design principals when developing her surface decorations. Further attention could also be given to the use of negative and positive spaces (shapes) as created by the branches of the trees and power lines, so evident in the work of printmakers (graphic artists and illustrators). There is also the need to consider applying the decoration in the round and not only on one side of the vessel. Applying these surface development recommendations will ensure a more sophisticated and refined end product.
Sandy Godwin Photography Eugene Hon
Sandy Godwin’s surface technique transforms simple formal vessels into complex surface orientated ceramic statements (images above, on the left and below). The surface patterns cling to the forms and shapes of the vessel like patterned pantyhose compression stockings to a voluptuous model’s shapely legs. The fire burning the imprint of the underglaze colour sprayed onto the surface in much the same way as the sun would bake (tan) the image onto ones delicate skin. Therein lies its creative virtuosity; that which has transformed the face of ceramics in the wake of designers applying their skills to this traditional craft form.
Sandy Godwin, Photography by Eugene Hon.
Pamela Schroeder’s teacups and saucers with spoons are whimsical creations that delight in every sense of the word (image on the left). Her cups and saucers with lustered details add an element of freshness to this exhibition; achieved in her use of the plasticity of the clay to enhance its delicate and fragile qualities.

Karen Murray’s work for this critic lacks the finesse associated with the title of this exhibition, Fragile (image on the left).  Maybe if the vessels were more delicate, emulating printed matter on delicate origami inspired, paper folded cylindrical constructions, considered at conceptual level and applied to the end product, the end result would be more refined. The potential is always there, however not enough time and effort is spent to master a particular creative intent.
Ultra Furn regional Awards exhibition. Photography by Eugene Hon.
The second exhibition to view is the Ultra Furn Regional Awards Exhibition: Ceramics Southern Africa Gauteng 2013 at Museum Africa in Newtown. The Selectors were Ingrid Stevens, Kay Potts and Wendy Goldblatt.

The winners are; G & W Mineral Resources Premier Award (image above): Claire Waters, the Ndebele Mining & Milling Award: Rosemarie Marriott, Glazecor cc Award: Ria Scheepbouwer, Lionheart Chemical Enterprises Award: Madoda Fani, Belmont Ceramics Award: Erna Ziegelmeier, Potters Supplies and Mail Order Award: Caroline Janse van Rensburg, Van Tuyl Kilns and Furnaces New Signatures Award: Claudia Postaremczak, Highly Commended: Cecilia Robinson and: Nic Sithole.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Brick carved Logo and Murals; design and carving process.

One of the brick murals being carved by Peter Mthombeni.
Design by Eugene Hon. TWR Library Building.
Doornfotein Campus.
In October of 1990, the Technikon Wiwatersrand (TWR) inaugurated The Leslie Boyd Library on the Doornfotein Campus. The Building was sponsored by Anglo American and the De Beers Chairman’s fund and bears the name of the corporation’s then executive director. The idea behind the library was to address the problems concerning information management in local commerce and industry by acting as a central point to technological information sources. 

This was before computers and the Internet drastically changed our lives forever – just before the dawn of the information age. The then Art School (FADA today – situated on the Auckland Park Campus)) was located in a number of old residential buildings (flats) on the campus.  The Ceramic Department occupied two of the five Doornfontein houses that were appropriated and maintained since the piece of land was rezoned for educational purposes.

It was during October of 1988 that the creation of the new library at Doornfotein was commenced. The architects endeavoured to capture the style and grace of the Old Doornfontein era in their design and it is especially noticeable in the construction of the library.

Access to the library is from the foyer, a circular nodal space through which runs the pedestrian concourse between the engineering building and the rest of the campus. The new structure also had to be the entrance to the enormous modernist concrete structure on the campus. 

The proposed library building had to be built with bricks and incorporate a roof structure constructed out of green painted corrugated sheeting, reminiscent of the old Doornfotein homes, situated in the historic oak lane at the entrance of the campus. The logo of the then TWR was earmarked to be cast in concrete and built into the wall and then painted in the bright red and blue colours associated with the then brand of the institution.
I was employed as a lecturer in the Ceramic Department and proposed to the TWR management that we could carve the logo in raw earthenware bricks and fire the handcrafted product in our kilns at a fraction of the initial outlay cost. We were granted the opportunity and Sue Sellschop, a colleague and friend of mine, and I proceeded to carve the logo in the Fine Art basement (see attached image). 

The individual bricks were then numbered, dried and fired on site in the kiln room of the ceramic department (image on the left). The bricks were stacked in no particular order in the kiln allowing for colour variation and slight reduction, adding a crafted approach to the overall look and feel of the final product.  

Needless to say that the architects were so impressed with the end product that they commissioned me to design and carve murals for the foyer of the new building. 

The site for the mural was a ring beam situated in the foyer above the entrance to the library and the engineering building. 

Funds were redirected due to the cost saving; funds initially earmarked for the proposed casted and painted concrete Logo.

In the end six specially designed relief panels were built into the ring beam wall in the foyer. The panels were inspired and designed based on the commercial designs of the 1920’s Russian Constructivism, mainly the propagandist posters. Their use of defined structures, pure geometric forms with a lack of decoration were suitable for this type of technique of green brick carving.

The process.

Shaping and carving of the bricks

Bricks are formed and shaped by an enormous pug mill, and are cut to size with wires as it moves on a conveyer belt in a variety of ways. However, by removing every alternative wire, a double sized brick is created. By stacking the bricks to the required size and shape of the individual murals, one is able to carve into the bricks to a range of pre-determined depths, based on your design and the site specifics of the envisaged murals; the scale, angle and distance of viewing.

Mural Concepts, Individual Designs and drawings. Six murals were designed based on Russian Constructivism of the 1920s. 

Various designs were conceptualised depicting the basic programmes as offered at the Technikon as well as those aspects that make up a healthy student life. 

Students of the Department of Ceramics and Fine Art carved the actual murals in a designated small-enclosed space at the Driefontein factory. Two students were assigned to carve a mural, the project taking two weeks to complete - each group completing two murals.

Every design was first conceptualised and realised in a number of ballpoint pen studies.  Copies of the renderings (photostatted overhead transparencies) were then projected (using a overhead projector) onto a cotton canvas attached to the wall - done to scale, allowing for shrinkage. 
A permanent marker was then used to transfer the outlines of the individual mural designs onto the canvas. Various depths, from one to seven inches, were allocated for carving into the double thick raw bricks (to create depth for the relief carving) - allowing for part of the brick to remain un-carved to secure the individual bricks and mural to the ring beam.

Carving the murals at the factory site. The canvas with the outlined renderings ware then draped over the stacked raw bricks, formed and shaped according to the individual sizes of the chosen designs. A relatively sharp metal tool was then used to trace the design outline onto the stacked clay bricks; pressing on the canvas following the drawing outlines and leaving an imprint on the surface of the raw bricks. 
Copies of the designs were then distributed to the various teams to start the carving. Pre calculated depths for the various designs were indicated on the drawings and on the canvasses, as well as marked on steel rulers (1-6 inches) - to eliminate any mistakes. 
Wooden boards were used to kneel on during carving process; supporting the weight of the individual carvers, ensuring the surface remained smooth and unmarked (undamaged). I was available to oversee the translation of the two-dimensional drawings into low-relief carving. 

Where necessary discussions were held with the team of carvers, a group of very talented and creative TWR students. The individual bricks were then numbered using a mixture of metal oxides painted on the reverse side of the bricks.  The murals were then dried for a few months before they were fired to stoneware temperature. This meant the bricks would be able to withstand chemical treatment in the removal of unwanted graffiti.

Installing the murals on site. The murals were then transported to the building site and built into the ring beam; a small cast concrete lip was created to carry the weight of the bricks/murals at the bottom, whilst a special mix of mortar was made available to attach the individual bricks to the concrete support wall. Working closely with special bricklayers ensured the murals were fixed correctly and neatly.