The long history of making objects out of red clay as well as the almost equally long history of firing at low temperatures has produced innumerable technical, aesthetic, and conceptual explorations by cultures around the world. These historical approaches, along with earthenware’s varied associations have influenced contemporary artists to expand the possibilities for creative expression as well as cultural critique.
In this issue, we bring together stories of artists working with red clay at low-fire and mid-range temperatures, as well as artists employing low-firing techniques with a variety of clays. They explore material qualities, technical advances, historical and cultural associations, and aesthetic traditions to create powerful vessels and sculptures.
Wayne Perry uses earthenware’s ubiquity, hierarchical associations, and presence in essential products and infrastructure to examine issues of equity, race, and class. He is resolved to work toward unity by addressing and prompting discussion around these difficult and painful issues through wheel-thrown and altered vessels, sculptures, and installations.
PJ Anderson handbuilds earthenware vessels and sculptures that draw on her cultural heritage, research into Indigenous clay traditions in North America and Africa, and her personal experience as an artist growing up in the age of social media.
Expanding on the long tradition of creating illustrated, narrative surface decoration on red ware, Lane Chapman makes pinch- and coil-built vessels with mid-range red clay coated in white slip with sgraffito drawings and underglaze. The color of the clay body adds depth to the layering techniques that was absent when she was working with porcelain. The thin-line illustrations of birds, plants, and human detritus, backed by the titles, convey cautionary tales to help people be better stewards of our environment.
James Watkins combines a variety of low-firing techniques, from using metal and foil saggars to fuming lusters with metallic salts in order to produce rich deep blacks and dynamic and vibrant archival surfaces on his vessels and tile paintings. He explains that his goal is to be open to both the possibility for fire to do things that are unexpected and results that are potentially beyond his sensibilities.
Christine Nofchissey McHorse built on the Taos Pueblo pottery traditions she learned from her husband’s grandmother and used in the first half of her career to develop the burnished, barrel-fired vessels made from a local micaceous clay that she focused on for the last two decades. The shimmering surfaces create a dynamic effect that makes the curves, voids, tendrils, and ridges of the organic-shaped vessels glow softly.
Michelle Im was inspired to work with red clay after learning about the majolica and Delftware traditions. She combines these with aesthetic elements of Korean Buncheong slipware and Latin-American folk art to make sgraffito-decorated functional ware depicting animals and plants.
Dilek Alkan Özdemir’s Clay Culture article examines the Talavera-style tin-glazed earthenware street signs in Madrid, created by Spanish ceramic artist Alfredo Ruiz de Luna González. As the signs help people navigate their way through Madrid, the imagery he added to each one also sheds light on the origins of the various street names, reinforcing shared cultural history.
In addition to the focus on red clay and low-firing techniques in this issue, we also are proud to showcase the work of the finalists in this year’s readership-wide contest. The theme, “(Im)Balance,” encompasses physical, compositional, and conceptual meanings. As we reflected on the many challenges the world has faced collectively over the past year, we wanted to explore with readers the many interpretations and experiences of balance (or a lack thereof). Thank you to all the artists who submitted pieces for consideration. Your broad range of perspectives made both the selection process and the finished feature thought-provoking and energizing.
As you read through the issue, keep in mind the enthusiasm, imagination, skill, and critical thinking demonstrated by each artist. I hope you feel a sense of wonder and maybe even awe that stays with you as you return to your own studio practice.