Archives for the month of: April, 2011

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the last post and a lot of clay has been rolled. Things have been difficult at school and I have been working hard on making more plates. This is because there is a time limit on this part of the project. In about fourteen weeks time they are taking the kiln off me and closing the school down so I have to be quick to get the work made. This is, of course, part of the project; the ceramics focuses the work in the classroom, the space and the kit there. It also time limits this part of the project so that I have to put everything I have thought about into these plates as some sort of summary of the project ready for the writing up phase in the autumn.

The busyness at school and the quantity of the clay work has meant that this more reflective writing has taken a back seat and most of the writing and thought has been in the learning journals. These have taken on a life of their own and a lot of energy has gone into these. This is partly because I want to develop the idea of the learning journal as much as possible and because they are teaching aids/demonstrations for the uni summer school in August.

I am on Easter break now and the work over the past two weeks has been in the sketchbooks and have been about not doing the project. Exhaustion, a need for a break, not being near the kiln have become subjects for the work. I biscuit fired five blanks during the last week of term to take home and paint with underglaze colours. I was looking for a subject and, after a lot of drifting about and doodling, I came up with the idea of the doodle as a subject. Today I have spent working on two ‘Off Task’ plates. The first one is close to the original sketchbook images. I wanted something that looked like an exercise book covered in drawings. I wanted the image to be what pupils do when they are off task. The off task of the holiday produces a plate made whilst being on task about being off task.

The other plate I painted some underglaze colours on and let them dry in patches. I picked up a Taschen book called ‘Art Now’, looking for an image of that sort of doodle abstraction like Lasker or the Taaffe or Rae. It didn’t have any but I started a drawing based on Ofili and then I was off, looking through the book and doodling around the artists. So it is a mash up of references to really Now art. The idea of it looking like a the doodles of a well informed pupil on their exercise book was sort of the intention. That was the idea anyway.

I know none of these are doodles. I am referencing the idea of doodles or automatic writing, trying to make images of a state of mental drift during the holidays. The driven and obsessive nature of the work at school in grabbed moments is part of the rhythm of school life and of fitting in an art practice around the teaching practice or having the art practice infect the teaching or the teaching infiltrate the art practice. As you like. So I have been trying to make something about the release of that tension and the tiredness of the holidays.

People often say to me that it must be nice to have the long holidays and that it must be nice to get to paint. In fact I tend not to. I tend to spend the holidays lying down in a bit of a slough of despond wondering where all of my energy went. Last week I spent reading ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ by Michel Faber which is a fabulous book and well hit the spot, being immersed in Victorian London for a week. But not art and not the project. You need a break from all of this though.

Continuing to make plates as quickly as I can as the end of term looms. In twelve weeks time the kiln will be taken off me, the school will close and the project, or this phase of it, will be over and I will be in the writing up phase. This is my chance to make as much work as I can and to explore the ideas of the project as thoroughly as I can through the making of work.

I have become obsessed to a degree with the making of plates. I have often thought that this was one of the things that the artist teacher should be modelling in the classroom – obsession. Not an easy thing to prescribe or encourage and it has a potentially negative connotation. But as far as art is concerned how else does a big pile of sunflower paintings get done or a whale skeleton covered in graphite markings if not by obsession? Perhaps there’s a better word I should use.

One of the things I am showing in the classroom here is extreme focus and enthusiasm for a narrow range of ideas. I am clearly working my way through something at the back of the classroom. I have delegated the rolling out of clay to Shirley, my technician. I have got year seven involved in the making of sprigs. This afternoon we made plastecine name plates and I poured my fourth big mould with them. There was also a couple of plastic toys, some lego and a toy car under there. After Easter we will be having a go at making these into plates.

Today I worked on a big plate in one of the three moulds I am now using. I made a new one from an Oxfam plate and I have a broken bowl one we bought. Today I was using a camera mould that I made a couple of weeks ago. I poured one half of it and then David Sturman suggested that I make a slip mould of it so I completely encased the camera. I put off taking it apart but in the event it came apart quite easily so today I used the front half as a press mould for the first time.

I was setting off to make the plate I had decided on some time ago to commemorate the carrying of a sketchbook and a camera since the age of fourteen but I got distracted. Shirley has been clearing out the cupboards with me in readiness for the end of days at Gisleham and she found some perspex relief images of plugs that I made with year eight at Kirkley Middle School many years ago. These things were ground out with a computer controlled milling machine in Great Yarmouth when sending some control files through the email was an innovative activity. I had been the only art teacher on a DT project and had made a ‘stained glass’ window about plugs as part of a Pop Art project.

I tried to get an impression off these perspex plates and ended up using vegetable oil as a release agent to get the clay off. This worked quite well. Then I started on the flexible rubber prints from some long lost science lab that I sometimes print from. These are left over from the days before photocopies and are a rubber relief print on a flexible metal base. Presumably these fitted into some printing machine for duplication back in the Fifties. I got a couple of good impressions off of a heart diagram and a fly, again using the veg oil as a release.

So the circumstances and the finding of things had distracted me from my initial aim and had led me astray. The plate was going to be called A History of Art and it still is that, only in a different way to the original idea i sketched. It has an archaeological feel to it and it still is a history of art. The original intention has not been abandoned and it is still buried in the plate. It is less obvious though. Interesting effect. The central tile is based on a recently rediscovered woodcut from the Artpost years of mail and postal art.

Biting the clay custard cream was a mistake though.