In the Studio: Cold Connections

POPJCT /päpjekt/ (noun): An object questioning the compulsion to objectify and idolize the self and its distinctiveness.

POPJCTs are my most recent body of work and investigate the materiality of objects and identity. From disparate materials, contrary textures, and incompatible forms, POPJCTs are intended to manifest harmonious and revealing interactions. They are situated at the intersections of tactility and fragility, anxiety and absurdity. My aim is to create objects that solicit tactile interaction and satisfy physical touch, and at the same time elicit questioning and engender uncertainty. These objects invoke contemporary dialog of queerness to explore the contradictions of identity—individualistic yet commodified—through object, form, and gesture.

Building Connections

When working with materials that will be applied after the glaze firing, it’s important to plan ahead. To develop a POPJCT, I take a sturdy rib and create a slightly angled lip around the foot of a bone-dry, flat-bottomed vessel. This lip becomes a glaze break and barrier for alternative material additions.

To add glitter, following the glaze firing, sand the bottom and paint it with wood glue (1), then apply glitter to the tacky surface (2). After the wood glue is dry, remove and reclaim the excess glitter.

To coat the glitter with resin, creating a different surface effect, first create a barrier of latex resist, which will create a reservoir to contain the drying resin. Using liquid latex and resin demands a well-ventilated space. Apply the latex resist with a brush that can hold an adequate amount of latex to create a generous, thick layer (3). I’m careful to avoid the latex interacting with the glittered surface while creating a raised lip around the bottom of the object. Once the reservoir has been created, set the piece upside down to dry.

1 Apply wood glue to the base of the fired cup.

2 Sprinkle the glitter onto the wood glue while it’s still wet.

After the latex has cured, mix and apply a two-part resin (I use Enviro Tex Lite). First, mix the resin and set it aside to partially cure. Once the desired consistency is reached, with a simple paintbrush, apply an even coat of resin to the glittered surface within the latex reservoir (4). After a generous first coat, set the object aside on a level surface. At this stage, any areas where the resin is too thin will become apparent. Slowly pour or use the brush to drip on enough resin to create a desired and consistent surface thickness without overfilling the latex reservoir (see 4). Set the object aside to cure on a level surface, in a dust-free environment. Once the resin has cured, remove the latex resist and wash the object with warm, soapy water and allow it to dry.

3 Apply liquid latex resist around the base to protect glazed areas.

4 Apply resin in a consistent thickness to the glittered surface.

To attach found objects to a piece, use epoxy that is strong and doesn’t become brittle after curing. I use PC-11, a two-part, marine-grade epoxy, to attach found objects to the POPJCT to serve as a handle. In developing this body of work, it has been critical to familiarize myself with the epoxy, its cure times, and elasticity through experimentation. Setting up a work station and a drying area for the completed work has also been important: the process goes quickly and can spiral out of control easily if you aren’t mindful of the time. Once the epoxy is mixed, add Mason stain and blend the mixture with a tongue depressor until the desired tint is achieved (5). I generally use 5% Mason stain (by weight of the  mixed epoxy), but it can vary based on the desired color. As the epoxy begins to cure it becomes workably tacky and malleable, not unlike a taffy candy that has been sitting in the sun. At this stage the epoxy can be shaped into forms. The key to working with epoxy at this stage—as it’s becoming increasingly sticky—is to keep the epoxy in motion between your fingers and well lubricated with water. Working with a bucket or cup of water nearby, at the first sign of the epoxy becoming too tacky, I dip the epoxy in the water and keep moving it until the desired shape for the cup is achieved. Once the epoxy is formed, it can be applied to a found object; in this example I have used a piece of pyrite. Using an epoxy-free hand to stabilize the found object, gently apply and refine the form of the epoxy (6). With the piece to which you will adhere the found object set on a level surface, gently press the epoxy onto the object, using enough force to create a firm connection, but not so much pressure that the epoxy loses its shape. Allow the object to cure for 72 hours.

5 Mix Mason stain into two-part epoxy to add color.

6 Apply the epoxy to the back of a found object.

As with any object that has cold connections, some precautions should be taken in the care and use of POPJCTs, which aren’t meant for daily use. I recommend rinsing with warm, soapy water and air drying. They aren’t safe for the microwave or dishwasher.

Photos 1–6: Pat Binkley.

Brent Pafford is a ceramic artist currently based in Eugene, Oregon. Pafford has exhibited nationally since completing his MFA in ceramics in 2014, including most recently as an invited artist at the 2018 American Pottery Festival at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. Pafford currently has work showing in Portland, Oregon; New Orleans, Louisiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Washington, DC.

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