Sunday, July 21, 2013

The calm after the storm....

I thought I would share some reflections on my recent whirlwind residency at NCC. Over the course of my five days, I was able to work closely with Ursula and Jason in a variety of ways.  As Jason has already documented, he and I decided to step outside the standard format and create a series of five dishes that will be displayed on the wall as one piece.  He screen-printed his imagery onto wet clay slabs that I then draped over my bisque molds to create the form.

When I pulled the first piece off the mold, I was surprised by the extent to which his vibrant imagery had dominated my simple form.  Although I knew this was likely going to happen, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there was an initial shock to my minimalist sensibility (Jason being a “more is more” kind of guy and me being a “less is more” kind of guy).  But, his surface began to grow on me as I further refined the form and distressed the edges.  It also helped when Jason went back into the form with stamps and line work that further softened the imagery.  Later, glaze and washes will further soften the image. 

The experience of having my simple dish “colonized” by Jason’s strong imagery prompted some great discussion between the artists in residence. What was the ideal balance between form and surface? How would two different artistic voices find balance within a single form?  Would the collaboration be a 50\50, 60\40 or even a 70\30 split?  Although we did not necessarily resolve these issues, our conversation was very productive and thought provoking. Throughout this process, we have tried to be respectful of the work that was being exchanged.  This was a heavy responsibility because I sincerely wanted my surface treatment (or lack thereof) to do justice to the other artist’s work.

However, this sensitivity to the other artist cuts both ways. I know that it has lead me to play it safe out of a fear that I would screw up their form.  This feeling I had was exacerbated by some glaze incompatibilities that had ruined several cups prior to coming to NCC.  Although this doubt and fear lingered in my mind, I didn’t want it to hold me back.  I wanted to be free to take risks and make bold choices, even if some of those choices might result in work that wasn’t necessarily exhibition worthy.

During my residency, I also consulted my wife, who is a printmaker that has participated in several collaborations such as this.  She challenged me to push my collaborations further; to take better advantage of the fact that the three of us were all in the same room and therefore had the advantage of working on each other’s wetwork.  Jason and I had already done so with the dishes and pitcher but I was unsure how Ursula and I would since our ways of working are so very different.  She and I brainstormed about how we could do this and ultimately we decided that we would need to add another element into the mix.

We came up with the idea that we would both create the same form that ultimately would be displayed together. We settled on one of Ursula’s signature forms-- the footed bowl; I, on the other hand, had not made this form before.  In keeping with the way I work, I chose to pare down her elegant form to the most basic design elements and leave the surface rough (see photo below).  Then, the forms would be exchanged so that they could be decorated\glazed by the other artist. Although my footed bowl is still in progress, I am pleased with how it compliments Ursula’s while drawing a sharp contrast. 

It has been a great learning experience to collaborate with other artists; this experience has definitely forced me to work outside my comfort zone. I would be remiss if I did not thank NC bringing me in to take part in this opportunity.  A big thanks also goes out to all the wonderful NCC staff that made my stay in Minneapolis such as a treat.  I can’t wait to see how all this work comes together for the exhibition.

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