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glaze course lesson three part one

updated tue 11 jul 00


hal mc whinnie on mon 10 jul 00

[note these materials are offered copy free and may be used in publications
and in teaching without permission]



A Contemporary Aesthetic
Today's potter and student of ceramics needs not only to be aware of color
theory in general, but to be able to produce a full range of color and
surface effects for the ceramic form. Traditionally he has done this with
colored glazes and clay body stains. Much of the history of ceramics,
especially the more recent developments have been concerned with ways of
embellishing the surface of clay forms. Various cultures have solved the
many problems of surface treatment in ceramics in a wide variety of ways,
each quite different; but all equally successful.
Now let me, by a brief survey of some recent developments in ceramics as
well as review for my readers a few of the decorative glaze methods now in
use. I will use examples from the work of only a few contemporary potters to
illustrate the technical implications of that which follows in the main body
of this book.

My first example will be from the work of Wisconsin potter and artist, Don
Reitz who creates a very loose assemblage of color and surface effects that
are produced by colored stains , glaze slips, and by the use of underglazes.
Reitz's glaze methods are quite simple but the color effects are complex and
uniquely suited to his creative impulses and the artistic effects that he
has sought in his work for some years. The plate by Reitz is a good example
of his current and mature artistic style and a brilliant use of colored
glaces stains with overglaze employed for a general surface effect that
resembles the painted canvas of the abstract expressionists to whom's work
Reitz clearly relates in his overall artistic development.

This example is used to illustrate the basic argument of this book, that
today's ceramic artist needs to have a greater control over color and
surface effects then ever before in the history of the ceramics arts. This
is especially true, given the vastly expanded range of alternatives which
the contemporary artist has at their almost instant command. A substantial
number of these new ceramic materials and processes, while exciting and
highly innovative in artistic form; fail in the final important area of
glaze and surface decorative effects. It has been my experience that
shortcuts to surface and color effects are often undertaken at the expense
of the artistic integrity of the work itself.

It has been my observation that many potters use a limited number of glaze
effects probably as a result of a limited knowledge of glazes rather then
from artistic choice. Indeed , some ceramic workers today have turned to the
use of commercial glazes which may be bought with the aid of a color chart
quite like tubes of paint. It has often been my feeling that they do so, not
from some aesthetic choice, but from necessity; from the necessity that
ignorance of ceramic glazes forces upon them.
In the case of Don Reitz, his choice of glazes and decorative methods fits
into the aesthetic of abstract expressionism, a movement closely associated
with his early work and an artistic direction suited his personality, his
preferred mode of working, and his general artistic intent. Others are not
so lucky.

Our next artist, Karen Koblitz demonstrates the shifts in aesthetic attitude
and point of view which began to dominate work in clay in the mid'1970's as
a consequence of the development of post modernism in art and design. The
work of the hard-edge painters and other post modernists artists and
designers were a strong influence on the aesthetic conceptions of this
ceramic artist.
The two main directions in American ceramic arts today would seem to be;( a)
a realist or super-realist mode ( Kobblitz) and( b) a pop or
super-manneristic aesthetic. Both traditions are at a radical variance with
the earlier traditions of abstract expressionism from whence Reitz, Autio,
and Voulkous emerged in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Books on ceramic glazes usually explore the variables of color in ceramics
independently from that of color in general or of color in painting
specifically. This tendency has in my judgment has been a grave mistake.The
matter of color in glazes ought to be viewed as an part of color study in
general because, as I hope the examples selected will demonstrate; that the
use of color in clay is related to the use of color in other art forms and
reflects the general movements in aesthetic taste at any given time or in
any given historical period.
Color in ceramics is a function of the layers and depths of the glazes on
the surface of the clay form and the action of the light as it passes
through the layers to finally bounce off the clay body itself. Color in
ceramics is as much a function of and a theory about color as light as it is
about color as pigment or as surface. In science classes we all learned that
color as light is really quite different from color as pigment; it has been
my feeling of late that only too often we have tended to forgot those
lessons and many have approached the surface of the clay as if it were
paint rather then shafts of color light passing through layers of color
glaze to be reflected or absorbed by the surface of the clay vessel itself.

Color as it is used in ceramics is different from and considerably more
complex then the use of color in paint. Not only are the sources of ceramic
color more complex and quite different, but also the indirect action of
chemical elements producing those effects are created not just by chemical
and physical means themselves but also in the process of the firing.
The fire, the use of the kiln, the relationship of kiln and fire; all exert
a great influence on the chemical components in the ceramic glaze. The
individual potter quite literally gives up his work to the fire, to the care
of the little kiln god who sits atop the kiln.
The first problem that many potters have with the use of color in glazes
especially those trained in general art school courses in ceramics, is to
realize that they are dealing with color as light. All the complex variables
of color as light come into play as we talk about ceramic glazes.
chapter one