Patterns of Memory and Experience: Katriona Drijber

1 Stag Juice Cups, to 3 in. (8 cm) in height, earthenware, slips, glaze, fired to cone 3 in an electric kiln, 2017.

 

If clay is a conduit for memory, then Katriona Drijber’s work speaks this truth in subtle volumes. The essence of her life path is filtered through narrative drawing and pattern loaded with personal meaning.

Remembrances of wandering through the woods as a child affect the work she makes today. Trailblazing, she noticed minute details in flora and fauna near her home, tracking animals her father hunted for sustenance. On days away from his shifts at a coal mine, they would traverse the mountains, taking in the grand awe and details of the environment. He was a great influence on her as a child and time spent together was a special gift.

Now in graduate school at Utah State University (USU), time spent outdoors is relished. When asked how she finds balance as an artist, she stated, “Going out climbing, hiking, and skiing is what grounds me. Interactions with wild animals like deer, elk, bears, or cougars are a treat, as is seeing even the smallest, humblest creatures (squirrels, sparrows, ravens) going about their business. It puts things in perspective and finds its way into the work.”

While her father was a present and persistent influence during her childhood, memories of her mother stay with her as well. She was a fiber artist who passed away at an early age. Throughout their home in Elkford, Canada, her mother’s making became memories echoed from crocheted blankets and embroidered pillowcases. While Drijber chose clay at an early age, textile design plays a role in how she maps out her surfaces. In childhood Drijber assimilated the embroidered panels and animal encounters. Now these spill forth into her iconography.

Symbiotic Balance

Two bodies of Drijber’s work are intrinsically tied to one another, feeding off each other in content but with differing firing processes, surface variances, and subtle changes in form. When I first approached Drijber to write about her work, I thought I would focus on one series, her recent earthenware forms. I quickly realized that there is a symbiotic balance between these objects and her soda-fired porcelain. The context for one series is intrinsically tied to the other.

Forest animal imagery from her childhood and present life, floral decoration, and geometric pattern are common themes that have persisted in varying degrees over the course of her career in clay thus far. The work is not overtly feminine, although the subject matter could easily move in this direction. Daintiness in the patterning is cavalierly obscured at the kiln’s mercy and the atmospheric firing blesses the outcome. In both her recent earthenware series and in her soda-fired work, there is no excess or frivolity. She pares down curves of objects to clarify visual weight and balance. Her approach to surface contrasts this minimal approach as she scores line-drawn imagery into the clay.

In her soda-fired mug, we see only a slight upward curve in the wall of the form, and in the interior space of the handle, a perfect fit for two fingers or a thumb. Springing from the lifted arc, the handle ends widen to firmly grasp the wall, cradling the crystal-matte crazing glaze. It’s a cozy object and optimal canvas for a hexagonal starring pattern obscured by soda-formed quartz snowflakes across the surface.

A squat and bulbous teapot from a recent soda firing exemplifies carbon trapping along its lower third and at the spout’s tip (2). This contrasts the faint blue crazed chun glaze. A wide handle gives the pourer plenty to hold and repeats the body’s visual volume. The domed knob ergonomically descends into the lid. This teapot calls to be used. Her mother’s textiles were resources for cobalt geometric pattern and red stitching. With a slight anthropomorphic quality, it’s endearing to its beholder.

2 Squat Teapot, 7 in. (18 cm) in height, porcelain, soda fired, 2017.

3 Rabbit and Daffodil Plate, 12 in. (30 cm) in diameter, earthenware, slips, glaze, fired to cone 3 in an electric kiln, 2017.

 

A taller teapot defines refined earthy elegance (see 4). Inlaid swooping half spirals imitate the overall volume and evoke Japanese Seigaiha waves and Zuni cloud motifs. The proportions are soothing. The handle and spout are placed at corresponding points across the form. The handle’s negative space mirrors the lower portion of the spout. The knob’s thinnest dimension is visually equal to the spout’s tip. The knob’s top echoes the flat bottom.

Drijber worked extensively with cone 10 soda-fired porcelain as a student at Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) and as a summer resident at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in 2014. Much early work was not heavily decorated. Instead, she focused on a heartfelt desire to develop technical prowess. Forms were laden with scalloped edges and luscious curves. It’s refreshing to see an artist depart dramatically from an original comfort zone, confronting new challenges.

Playing at the Intersection

In very real terms, by continuing two separate series, she aptly accesses different parts of her creative voice and produces work with time management and kiln scheduling in mind. Cone 3 earthenware fires quickly while a larger inventory must be produced to fill available soda kilns at USU. Because she can process outcomes of earthenware at a faster pace, this work is steadily becoming a greater part of her visual dialog. Understandably, soda calls her to persist. What is the draw for her to experiment with varying clay bodies at different firing temperatures? She explains, “Experimenting with new materials/firing ranges can make evident things that you’ve glossed over, become used to. Sometimes we are totally blind to what we are closest to; switching it up lets me see these things.”

Playing at an intersection previously designated to separate series, she now investigates pattern, floral decoration, and woodland fauna; combining all three themes within singular compositions. These current investigations coalesce disparate drawings into entities greater than the sum of their parts.

Visual melding of thematic imagery is present in her Rabbit  and Daffodil Plate (3). The composition on a creamy slip backdrop is enclosed by the raw edge. Sgraffito daffodils loosely mimic cattycorner geometric patterns. Rabbit ears emulate flower petals and leaves. Drijber divides two large areas of negative space similarly to overall positive shapes; breaking each design into quadrants. A fine cobalt line completes the outside edge of the negative space, taking the eye around the rim and drawing us back toward center. Additional translucent light yellow and green add to the daffodils’ visual depth.

4 Tall teapot, 7 in. (18 cm) in height, soda fired, 2017.

5 Cup, 3 in. (10 cm) in height, porcelain, soda fired, 2017.

 

Knowing that she doesn’t assign random iconography, I asked about further meaning. “It is fertility, springtime, but also lust, earthly desire, a metaphor for myself, my desires and emotions.” Daffodils are also associated with rebirth as an early spring bloomer. She researches floriography, to further her mysterious themes. I infer the plate holds a personal narrative related to her recent arrival in Utah and loss of a relationship in Canada during transition. She is at a point of self-reflection and transformative rejuvenation.

Drijber broadens her technical scope by pinching forms with an indelible maker’s mark forever fired into the ceramic. More spontaneous and intuitive, the handling is less rote than thrown forms showcase, and hints at a delicate restraint. She allows objects more voice, guiding her toward progress. “It’s much easier and faster for me to plan things out and just execute,” she explains, “but my creative muscles get stretched by working in this intuitive way, seeing things that I might otherwise zoom right past.”

She further melds her drawn narratives with hand-hewn forms in the two pinched juice cups shown (1). Two stags face away from one another, metaphors for her father’s presence in her life, as well as stand-in tropes for masculinity. In one narrative, a peony overlays a quilted, light-blue background. In the second, pink Star of Bethlehem flowers imitate background pattern. The floral element on each cup is the feminine. It surrounds the animal and is given as much space in the composition as the masculine aspect. Patterns hint at domesticity while flowers and deer are wild; these pairings are comments on social constructs the artist carefully considers. A thumbprint at the base and the raw red edge at each lip furthers her process-oriented approach. The crazing in the glaze is intentional, along with red iron burning through the slip, which she explains allows her to, “achieve what the carbon trapping does in soda—gets things dirty, makes them look old and worn. It un-pretties some of the feminine themes and imagery I use.” While expanding her pinched form vocabulary she continues to experiment, creating layers and the feeling of an atmospheric firing in an electric kiln.

Storytelling Through Utility

When asked what she would like communicated to the reader, Drijber answered, “It is the importance of clay to act as a storytelling medium—the amazing ability clay has to convey ideas. That working within utility is not at all a limitation but opens up dialog about the domestic realm and all the stories, memories, emotions that happen in and around the home.” Katriona Drijber’s work connects the viewer to her personal narrative while at the same time digging deep into our archetypal memory. A humble grace resonates from her work, connecting the admirer to her story.

Katriona Drijber is an MFA candidate in ceramics at Utah State University. More information is available at www.kdrijber.com.

the author Alex Kraft is a ceramic artist, educator, writer, and curator.  She is an assistant professor at the University of North Georgia. More information is available at her website: alexkraftart.com.

 



Monthly Methods: Combining Decorative Motifs

by Katriona Drijber

When I decorate a piece, I always start by sketching out the subject, usually an animal, using 2B or even 4B soft graphite on the chocolate-hard slip surface. This is usually pretty rough, done in such a way as to get proportions correct and to give me a sense of how the rest of the space will be broken up (see image A).

From this point, I allow the remaining negative space and the form of whatever piece I am working on (in this case, a scalloped shallow bowl) to inform where I will put swatches of pattern. I generally carve in the pattern before carving or painting any other details (A); I find the hard edges of the pattern swatch easier to work around if they have been finalized. I carve using an extremely sharp pin tool. Once the carving is mostly done, I gently brush away the burrs of clay and slip that the pin tool inevitably leaves behind with a soft, short-bristled brush. I then use compressed air to blow out any burrs that might get stuck in the carving. I immediately sweep up the burrs to prevent dust from tracking around the studio.

A Use a sharp needle tool to carve in the pattern before carving or painting any other details.

B Roughly paint in color fields for the floral elements, using layers of watered-down underglaze.

 

Next, I roughly paint in color fields where I want the floral elements to go (B). I water down my underglazes quite a bit and paint them on much like watercolors, layering them to take advantage of the brush marks rather than trying to mask them. One of these days I’ll get a painter’s palette, but for now I mix the underglazes on an extra metal rib I had lying around. I really enjoy how the watery underglazes can achieve a glaze-like translucency so I try to play this up as much as I can.

C Carve in the details on both the flower and animal subjects using a sharp pin tool.

D Add a last translucent layer of color in a few areas on the pattern, or in the animal’s fur or antlers, then bisque fire, coat with a transparent glaze, and fire to temperature.

 

The second-to-last-step is carving in the details on both flower and animal subjects (C). Here again I use the sharp pin tool, and when the burrs start getting in the way, I clean them up with my favorite short-bristled brush. When I’m satisfied with the detail work, I often add a last translucent layer of color in a few areas on the pattern, or in the animal’s fur or antlers. Because of the temperature I fire to and the viscosity of the glaze I use, this last layer is often very subtle in the final firing, much more so than at greenware stage (D).

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