A process of taming and shaping of clay and releasing it into the wildness of fire
I am a ceramicist whose work is inspired by the sensitive chaos of nature, whether a pod or tree, water or wind, the sky above me or the landscape that holds me. Chaos, that is mirrored in the relationships within the human family. My vessels, once tamed from the wild and wise unpredictability of course clay, undergo the most primitive of alchemical processes - buried in fire. A process of taming and shaping and releasing into the wildness of fire. Like the taming of the primitive wildness of the child by the mother and the father and being set 'free' into adulthood.
The clay I use is a mixture of rich browns and a more muted grey white stoneware, as well as a deep Terracotta earthenware, all with a medium to high grog and/or sand content, which allows the clay to remain flexible, open and porous and without uniformity. Paradoxically, this is the earth's ordered chaos and inevitable changing.
When these qualities are released into fire, it is the 'openness' of the clay that forms a receiving relationship with the fumes as matter burns and so, an alchemical process unfolds.
The hand building process, is for me the early and most profound part of the taming process and cannot be done with a rigid and controlling attitude. Clay is the earth. It is wise and old and young and because it holds such vast experiences and is continuously open to new ones, it is with a firm and nurturing respect that we work together and a shape is born.
Now that the taming process of the child by the nurturing mother is nearing the end, the sculpting process, which is masculine - the father, is more brutal yet kind. It is here at this point, that I still feel the clay's core wildness and desired independence. It is here at this point, that letting go is so hard.
I view the ancient practice of Pit Firing as an honouring of time and a discipline in letting go. The method of submitting clay vessels to fire in the ground dates back to 29,000 BCE. This ancient tradition was widely used by both the Ancient Romans and Greeks and is still practised in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
My vessels are initially bisque fired at a considerably lower temperature than normal, as this prevents the geometry of the quartz crystals in the clay from forming into a solid mass like today's tableware. The clay body, like the growing adolescent into adulthood, is still young, flexible and as yet, not fully tamed and ridged. This is pivotal to the gift that is revealed from the ashes because in the pit firing process, it is the vessel's openness and porousness that interacts and corresponds with the fire and fumes, the painting if you like, creating a very magical alchemical relationship with each other, as one transforms the other. Like the parents to the child and the child, to the parents. This is a very sacred and intimate process for me.