Ceramics Monthly: Do your surroundings in Kentucky and the hard physical labor of wood firing influence the work you make?
Davie Reneau: Those two things are primary influences for me. I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth; visually there is nothing but inspiration. Voluptuous rolling hills, textures of plowed ground, and raked hay greatly influence the volume and surfaces of my pots.
Working on family farms as a child provided me with an intimate interaction with the landscape in the cyclical nature of preparing the ground, planting, then maintaining gardens, tobacco, and hay. Harvesting crops mimics the cycle of making pots and firing a wood kiln.
My dad and grandmother taught me how to work hard and find comfort, pleasure, and satisfaction in that hard work. Being dirty, sweaty, and tired at the end of a day of firing reminds me of the end of a day spent cutting tobacco and throwing hay bales into a wagon. Looking at my daily accomplishments, whether it’s an acre of tobacco cut or a good stack of wood split, always makes me happy.
CM: What decisions are involved in creating forms and surfaces so that they are simultaneously structured and soft?
DR: It’s more intuition than anything; these decisions are formed by years of experiencing the process. The clay and the wheel revealing things to me and I keep open minded in accepting of the interaction.
I think the hardest thing to overcome when first making pots is envisioning and drawing a specific form to make and rigidly refusing to accept anything else if something unexpected happens while on the wheel. For example, I always had difficulty getting a teapot spout on at the correct angle. My spouts looked stiff and static compared to the organic quality of the pot. One day I was throwing a ware board of spouts and I dropped one on the wheel head. Before throwing it out, I realized it kicked back to exactly the right angle, and was much softer than before. I now tap spouts on the wheel head as I take them off.
I facet everything wet on the wheel rather than at the leather hard stage. Some forms are softened when the centrifugal force of the wheel direction causes movement of the lines. In other forms, specifically teapots and belly vases, I want to preserve the integrity of the vertical lines because they are cut in four planes. I kick the wheel in the opposite direction to counteract the centrifugal force. To soften and shape these forms, I push out from the inside, accentuating the hips and belly on the vases. With the teapots, I push out at the top of the plane where the spout attaches and at the bottom where the handle attaches. This kills the symmetry and works with the fact I cut the top of the pot at an angle with the lowest point at the handle and the highest at the spout.
I want my pots to be functional and sculptural. The intimate connection between maker and user is important; however, I’m not offended when collectors buy my work, even though it will never be used. Visually it can still exist as a sculpture. Someday I might do some purely sculptural work, but I will always make pots designed for daily use. It is who I am.