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Published Sep 22, 2021

Randall_620Jeremy Randall uses texture and asymetry to reference the aging industrial structures and ephemera he remembers from his childhood. He also introduces nonclay materials like nichrome wire and steel tacks to further the aesthetic. He finishes the pieces with colorful terra sigillatas and black copper wash to enhance the aged appearance.

In today's post, an excerpt from the February 2014 issue of Ceramics Monthly, he walks us through that process. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

In life and in the studio, I am drawn to the patina of use and the implications of function. I can trace these interests to the objects that surrounded me when I was a child, and can follow those objects as they have found a place in my own adult life. The iron-oxide wash on an early-American primitive pine cabinet with close to 175 years of use, the early-American, blue milk-painted blanket chest worn bare around the edges, or my grandfather’s hammer, the handle smooth from years of use. These objects feel comfortable, both to hold and touch as well as to live with. This is the desire that I have for my pots. The information that can be received from using handmade objects and living with them can be rich and fruitful and at the same time quiet and contemplative.

Working with slabs allows me to create surfaces that can be primed with textural information, and then move from flat surface to form almost instantly. The soft leather-hard qualities of the clay allow for immediate construction of the piece without having to wait for things to stiffen. This sheet material is also closely related to the materials that I love to look at as inspiration. The corrugated steel walls of a grain silo, for instance, are incredibly thin in relation to the structure, but the space that is created is voluminous and beautiful. The textures that I use are derived from various found mats and commercial surfaces, collected over the years as I cross paths with them. I have even pulled over while driving in order to pick up an old dish mat that was lying in the middle of the road. I have enjoyed creating surface texture for years and have used it on countless pots.

Forming Used Objects

When building my vessels, I start with a dialog on the surface between the front and the back of the piece. The plastic mats, made for a sink or for the floor a car are pressed into fresh rolled and cut-to-size slabs (1–2). The mats generally have a pattern on one side and some have patterns on both the front and the back. They are made out of a heavy, slightly flexible plastic and hold up very well to repeated use. For my purposes, they create a surface that shows how objects and building materials weather over time and use. Scale is also important. When I add the textured slabs to the base slab of the vessel (3), I consciously consider the vertical and horizontal planes of the piece, then determine how the texture can make the viewer’s eye want to move around it (see figure 5).

As I secure the side pieces to the base and the trim pieces to finish the rim, it is important for me to make sure the seams and the edges are not straight and true (4). I don’t want to overwork them and risk the possibility of losing the reference to a used object that contains a sense of history (6). The roughness that remains will also catch the stains that are applied after the bisque firing. While researching industrial and construction references, I spent time in the hardware store looking for bits that could be used in my pots. Rather than adding more texture that might clutter the surface, I found that standard steel carpet tacks could be pressed into the surface and remain intact after the firing because I fire to a temperature that is lower than the melting point of steel. I add them to places where seams come together as they may even help to secure the construction (8–9). The other non-clay material that I add to the pot is nichrome wire. The wire adds to the shifting scale of the pot while also adding to the reference of material like corrugated steel, roofing material, or barn wood (10–11). Both of these materials also help to break the plane of the rectangles and the repeated textures.

Developing a Weathered Surface

Whether clad in a dark monochrome that seems to strain vessel walls with the weight of cast iron or painted in a balmy Portofino palette of pink, lime green, and yellow-orange—warm as the midday stucco of villages far away—the slab-constructed vessels of Mark Pharis raise impressions of surfaces that one recalls having touched sometime, somewhere before.

This mnemonic consequence seems a deliberate aspect of the works’ aesthetic effect. Through it, Pharis can confine his forms to a characteristic clarity and simplicity, almost minimalist candor, while nudging the mind of the viewer into increasingly complex and infinitely widening currents of association. By drawing the viewer’s own past into the experience of the works in this way, he makes his vessels seem inherently familiar, and even genial, despite the fact that formally they depart only a few steps from the stringent, impersonal confines of geometry. Eschewing the mathematical but retaining an underlying conciseness and clarity, he relaxes geometry into the more experiential form that we associate with the world and our wanderings through it.