Archives for the month of: May, 2011

Before leaving school on Friday I emptied the kiln of its glazed contents. Some very fine examples of heavily oxided plates under green glazes. Very pleasing. Some cracks here and there but pretty interesting results.

The old paint cupboard is stacked with plates ready for a biscuit firing next week when we return from half term. Altogether there are about sixty plates in the boxes and on the shelves. The aim of a hundred seems possible, just about. Stopping the project at that point having made one piece of work called ‘One Hundred Plates About Art Teaching’ seems about right. All I have to do is find somewhere to put it.

I got some ceramic paints from Great Art on Friday so I can paint some blanks up over the half term ready for glazing and this will get the score up further. Quantity is a quality, as Lenin had it.

Finished off the big red sketchbook yesterday. This is an 80 page German sketchbook from Great Art which has become something of a beast to carry about. It has been tough though and has taken a lot of punishment over the six weeks of use. Obviously, it has to carry on taking abuse as it gets worked over and used as an example on the summer school at SARU. The next book is the same sort of book in black and I am going up to NUCA on Wednesday to try to custom make one as an example. This seems to be the ultimate learning journal; one you design and build yourself. Whether I can make it as tough as these fantastic German books I don’t know. Should be prettier though.

Well, not very, really.

So the thing to do is to make more plates and load the kiln with a glaze firing and get on with it. Only six weeks to go and this is all over.

Made a couple of sprig plates yesterday and a couple of Bad mouse plates which refer to the childhood interest in cartoons and some work I did on the BA which roundly abused Mickey Mouse. This plate has a speech bubble saying ‘What Can Possibly Go Wrong?’.

Trip to Norwich this afternoon to the Castle Museum. I am becoming a regular. Found new things in the collectors gallery of treasures and runic pots in the Anglo Saxon gallery. Drive home with new sunglasses under boiling humid skies listening to loud techno with a head full of Duprat’s bejewelled larvae, iron age beaker decoration and Lowestoft porcelain birth tablets in a jumbled art mash up.

It has all been rather intense.

Is making art and distraction or a concentration? Is it both? Is obsessively making art in the circumstances I find myself in at school (which aren’t nice, it has to be said. Closure of school in seven weeks.) distracting myself from the main event here or am I doing the right thing? I did catch myself wondering that and it slowed me up for a while. It all looked a bit cracked.

Today it looks sort of incredible and sort of all right. I am preparing for a job interview tomorrow and there isn’t much more I can do, certainly not at school. There were four rolled out plates in the moulds form Friday when I hadn’t been able to finish anything off at all. I have been asked to put some work into a little charity show nearby and I thought one of the main project weird plates might not do so I toyed with a De Waal pottery book last night and the idea of making some Decoratively Abstract ones. I liked the plates by Katsue Ibata in the book I did a drawing of it in the sketchbook. I made a version of this on the first plate and then another one. Then I copied a drawing of a gas mask that I did in the Norwich Regimental Museum last Thursday onto another one and then did a bad style mouse saying ‘Hit Me in the Face’, a message of frustration from The Social Network. And I finished off with big Japanese style mark making with an overlay of a roughly done blue border in the manner of the Lowestoft porcelain teapot that David had proudly shown me on Friday.

Whilst the plates look odd what and the meanings are pretty impacted into them what I like about them is the range of reference going on here. The themes of childhood fascination from the gas mask drawing, the interest in mark making in the Japanese potter’s work, the childish drawing style in the mouse cartoon and the final mash up of Japanese marks and restrained decoration. Highly satisfactory. Very briskly done during lunchtime and in odd moments this afternoon when the children were doing their study drawings for their Stepping Stone project.

Emptied the kiln too and a couple of failures and some disappointments. The heavily oxided ones didn’t fuse on as I had thought. And one of them had failed completely.

Todays obsession was very thin clay. I stapled some cloth to a sheet of plywood and this helped as it stops the cloth lifting and wrapping round the rolling pin. Then rolling between two piece of cloth worked even better.

The reason for this was my attempt to make an applique style plate with ‘Well Done Tracey” written on it. Writing reports at school and Tracey deserves one for her best efforts at the Hayward, as I was reading in the Guardian yesterday. This could go on. Good effort, Damien. Could try harder, Marc. Nice work, Dinos. And bits and pieces like that.

Also an almost symmetrical sprig plate and I packed the kiln up. One fell apart as I put it in so I carried on putting it in, in bits with a view to firing it and then trying to join the bits up later with glaze or even araldite.

The most complicated outcomes have been the two plates that catastrophically failed in the kiln. I was just rushing the firing process and the plates hadn’t thoroughly dried through, evidently. They were two good plates I had made on a Friday afternoon in the art room, after school mainly, one of which experimented with symmetry, almost. To make it worse I printed out a couple of good photographs with the intention of possibly considering a replica and when I showed people they said, ‘wow, they were great’ which just made me feel worse.

It does bring them into the category of Lost Artwork along with all of the others, known and unknown. I mourn them but haven’t got round to replicating them. I could do. The photos are clear and I could and then they would be in the category of replica art works, known and unknown. I like that idea but things have moved on, I have cast new moulds, found new things in the cupboard to press into the clay and so on. Latest thing is a woodcut from the Far East found at the back of a cupboard. This has been fun with slip painted on it and banged into the clay, sprinkled with oxide.

What made the getting out of the broken plates with a brush and dustpan more painful was that I had made three plates which were supposed to look as if they were toying with destruction or their own demise. Sprinkled with raw oxides and dripped with poured slips and so on. These were supposed to look like they were close to falling apart but obviously not fall apart. These were responding to seeing some work in the Halesworth Gallery that uses artfully placed raw materials by Kyle Kirkpatrick, a concert of a late Beethoven quartet at Snape and the news of a family bereavement.

I haven’t fired these yet. I have got anxious about firing and I am leaving the plates a lot longer to dry out. There are fourteen raw plates waiting for a biscuit fire. Mostly sprig based accumulations, termed Art Room Excavations. Thats what they are based on; finding things around the classroom and in the cupboards and pressing it onto plates. They are supposed to look archeological objects.

One of the problems that students have with reflective writing is to decide on relevance and disclosure. What information is relevant? What should be included? How wide does one draw the circle around the project? How much do you need to tell?

As we live in difficult times and some of that must impact on the work somewhere then do I have to write up notes on Bin Laden or Clegg? The background buzz of history going about its business, rearranging the zeitgeist. I can’t say I’ve made a plate about that as yet.

The last few days have been difficult and odd and that probably has impacted on the plates so that does need to be written about, in some way.

Not much time to work on any plates today due to other commitments and having to administer maths test which took me out of the art room. I did have time to work on a ‘mind map’ of ideas about how one becomes an art teacher whilst the children sweated over their tests.

Or how this art teacher became one anyway. One of the themes in the work, quite a difficult theme to get across really, is the blind alley, the inappropriate model, the lack of a mentor, the poor advice that can have quite an effect on ones progress through all of this. There are so many people who have very fixed ideas about what they mean about ‘standards’ and ‘skills’ in art that their advice can have a deleterious effect on the young artist. Not to mention the ‘common sense’ views of art that plague one as one is growing up and that are still heard with amazing regularity, in Lowestoft anyway.

It is a testament to the ineffectiveness of decades of art teaching that so many people still hold the view that it ain’t a proper picture if you can’t tell what it is. This is in contrast to the millions who pack Tate Modern and the whole idea of building galleries in godforsaken towns to magically regenerate them. Is this generational? Or is it class based?

But, whatever the ins and outs of all that is, the main point as far as this is concerned is the act of making the maps of influences and tracks of progress or not. Learning journeys tend to be presented as an onward march of progress towards whatever happy, sunny upland the learner currently views the world from but that isn’t the case at all. Well, not for this learner. We are talking here about years of wasted time making paintings that were no use to anyone. Unsold and unloved things. One of the problems students have with the notion of the ‘reflective learner’ is negotiating with the idea that their honest reflections are assessment suicide if they own up to not getting it.

Thinking about ‘not getting it’ or not being told what it was to get and so on made me think more about the people who had been there along the way and I start thinking there’s a plate in that and another one in that. What is a plate about Roger Dean going to look like? Pretty far out, I should think. That wouldn’t have occurred to me without the mapping exercise. The process excavates ideas.

The kiln cooled down this morning and Shirley got a set of plates out. They looked pretty good. I’ll photograph them all tomorrow.

Carlos came in today and spent the day printmaking for his exhibition at the Halesworth Gallery later in the year. He pointed out to me that my having him work in the room and showing him printing techniques is also part of the life of the room. Which it is. Carlos is an architect form Peru, married to a friend and colleague, and making his way in Suffolk. Today we were trying to make a screen print work.

I also worked on three plates today. One crank plate had been in three bin bags since before Easter but was still workable and I finished that off with further sprigs, impressed pattern and some carefully rubbed on green slip along raised surfaces which brought out some of the writing and textures on the biscuits very well. I also made Ray Johnson rabbit plate with green slip. The year sevens I worked with this morning made mail art cards to send to Leiston Middle and I made a couple of demonstrations cards so Ray Johnson has come round again. I didn’t quite finish it but it will have ‘Add to and Return to Mr Cope’ carved into it tomorrow.

I also worked on a blank at home this evening. Another ‘Off Task’ plate. Productive doodling about. .

Back to school. Not really got my head going so lots of doodly things in the sketchbook. A sort of marking time. Not really got going again and this doodling about seems to be part of getting things to move about in my mind again. Today doodling around Hundertwasser. The Y8 have been doing a little watercolour project on the old hippy as an end of term thing so we are just finishing that off. I am also sorting through a massive archive of art cuttings given to me by Gerald including a cutting of Hundertwasser from a Sunday supplement when he was having a show at the Barbican. Incredible as he couldn’t get arrested now. Apart from Taschen no one has much time for him. I use him as a quiet watercolour layering, imaginative drawing task. Part of my Deeply Unfashionable Artist series.

This evening I painted a plate with underglazes in a vaguely Hundertwassery way to see how watercoloury the underglazes can be. I made an image to commemorate yesterdays 35 mile bike ride to Covehithe. This afternoon I stayed behind and made a quick Sprigtastic plate with two clays. A buff school clay for the plate and a crank for the sprigs. I have so many sprigs I can make a whole set in a few minutes and put them on a plate relatively quickly. There is something of a series of sprig plates going now. I glazed some this afternoon whilst Y8 were painting ready to fire the kiln tomorrow.

One of the things which I think is very difficult to capture in this sort of research writing is the theme or idea that slowly comes into focus from something unconsidered into something important. It requires a degree of prophecy in the record keeping or almost a 1:1 ration of record to action which is more or less impossible to do.

A good example of this in this project is the role of Lowestoft Porcelain in the work. I was aware of the existence of the factory in Lowestoft and its local importance and it was one of the factors in the idea to make commemorative plates. I knew that they had made some of the first seaside souvenirs and that tied in with the idea of seaside ceramics and collectibles as part of the commemorative plate concept. I had seen the displays at the Norwich Castle Museum and I had made that connection but no more. It was a background part of the general idea. There seemed to be something of a seafaring and naval theme to some of the pots I was referencing in general and the cult of the naval captain such as Keppel and Nelson used in the earlier plates.

My technician, Shirley, told me that I should talk to David, one of our caretakers, about Lowestoft Porcelain as he was something of a local expert. David had told me a bit about the factory before and he had told me about the early pots with “A Trifle From Lowestoft” written on them; some of the earliest seaside souvenirs. There are also pots with bathing machines on them.

Some of the early plates got A Trifle From Lowestoft inscribed on them after talking to David. Later on he bought in a book to show me about the collection in the Castle Museum (Smith, Sheenah 1975 Lowestoft Porcelain in Norwich Castle Museum- Volume 1, Blue and White Norwich Castle Museum, Norwich). I did a set of drawings from this and photocopied the borders and put them in the journal. I used these on the edges of some plates and I made one plate with a lot of these border designs going across the surface.

David has taken to coming through the art room first on his rounds to see what I have been doing. He has been fascinated by watching someone grapple with these pre-industrial ceramic techniques that I have been using in the project. And every day there has been something new. David has bought in plate from his collection to show me.

Because of David I now have two further books about Lowestoft Porcelain and he has kept me in touch with developments in the local collecting scene. It seems that Davis has been collecting since 1974 and has owned and traded a lot of Lowestoft Porcelain in his time.

On the last day of term he took me to an auction of Lowestoft Porcelain at the Beaconsfield Club in Lowestoft, run by Russell Sprake. In the centre of a horse show of tables was a long table with all of the lots set out. I sat at the outside tables and helpers would bring out the lots for inspection so one could handle and examine the lots. Some people were asking to look at all of the lots but I was too shy for that and just asked for the coffee cans and the tea bowls and some of the plates. Handling the ware was very interesting. They are heavier and more solid than the idea of porcelain leads you to expect and the qualities of the pots were highly variable. there was a beautiful custard cup (Lot 84 in the catalogue) which was very appealing.

As the auction went on I realised that I was sitting amongst a set of experts on the ware. It is a community of collectors with a huge amount of knowledge about the ware and the history. I realised that one of the reasons we were there was to get more knowledge about the ware. People were sitting there handling and examining all of the lots in sequence with no hope or interest in buying a great number of lots. The handling and the examining is part of building up a knowledge, a touch, a feel for the ware. I was fascinated by the idea of people deliberately building their knowledge by touch in this way. It made me think about how one learns about this sort of thing. I was really looking hard at the things I handled, really trying to impress them onto my mind somehow. Whipping out a sketchbook seemed probably the wrong thing to do but that’s very much what I wanted to do. The process of drawing is part of the imprinting for me. Recording it on paper records it onto my mind as well. People were enjoying the touch and feel of the pottery. There is a definite thrill to holding something made 200 years ago that could live in a museum case.

I realised that part of the appeal is the varied quality and levels of production. The ware goes from very simple and quite primitive blue and white ware to much more sophisticated polychrome ware made later in the life of the factory. This embodies the history of the factory. There isn’t that much to go on which is also part of the attraction. The factory didn’t leave a pattern or very good records so much of what is known has been deduced from what ware exists and what has been excavated during a couple of digs when gas mains went in and new buildings were put up on the site of the cottages and kiln which constituted the factory.

I had picked up from the Sheenah (1975) book that the patterns started off very simply and then worked their way up to more complex variations made up of multiple uses of the simpler themes. I had deduced from this that there was a possibly a training element to this and this would seem to be true. A few key painters and potters came from London, probably Bow, and bought some expertise but many of the painters were drawn from the local fishing and farming communities. Many would have been children so this is building up of expertise is built into the decoration of the ware. There is learning in the history of the ware as the factory and the people in it got better at what they were doing.

In the terms of the times they were fantastically successful. They lasted for forty years and stopped when the original investors got too old to be bothered with it. They never went bankrupt which was a common outcome for many pottery factories of the time. They survived by being flexible, innovative and happy to copy too.

The auctioneer made some reference to a piece of damage on a pot being a minor firing accident ‘all those years ago’ and I realised that is part of the attraction for the collectors, that connection with the past in the processes and hand touches of the makers.

I did bid on a couple of things but not very well. At the end David spoke to Sprake about the pot that I hadn’t bid up to the reserve and he agreed to sell it to me for the reserve price of £60 so I have become a collector. I am the owner of a small Lowestoft Porcelain tea bowl, Lot 6, Small blue & white teabowl, Mansfield pattern, crescent mark. I have been inculcated.

How do you learn about something like this? Every collector there has there own story about what piqued their interest and drew them in. This would appear to be mine.

In March I also made a blue and white plate with a design of a Lowestoft fish smoker smoking some herring on tenter hooks over a fire. I used a Lowestoft Porcelain border and I wrote ‘Made at Lowestoft Mar 24th In the presence of D. Sturman’ for David. This is in reference to the the pots in Norwich Museum, made as samplers, with ‘Made in the presence of R. Browne’. This pot came out of the kiln this week with a nice clear glaze on it. I shall give it to David once it has been exhibited somewhere as part of the project. He hasn’t seen it yet.

It is to thank David for his input into the plates, of course, and his showing me Lowestoft Porcelain. It is also supposed to be about the people involved in the project. I remember making a spider gram about some art work last year as an example for the summer school at SARU and being surprised about how it became about the people I had met in the making of the work. In this reflective writing, continually examining the inside of ones own head, it is possible to forget the interactions and the people that you talk to that fire off so many connections, explain so many things and have such an impact on the work.

It is certainly a major feature of this project, carried out as it is on a table in the back of classroom as pupils and teachers and cleaners and caretakers wander past. These interactions are very much part of the project and are part of what makes making work there very different to making work in the peace of a studio.