Asparagus and Stoic cabbage

Synthesis of ideas behind my latest exhibition pieces: the humble cabbage lamp and freestanding bundle of broken asparaguses.
Still Life and Materiality lectures gave me insight into the significance of these objects in history of still life painting, which I further extended by finding the works of Constance Spry, Stanley Spences, Jean Helion or Tommaso Salini.


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Tommason Salini – ‘Young Peasant with Flask’

As prompted by Claire to start using porcelain, I had a hard time adapting to its idiosyncrasies, and I couldn’t handle it the same way as I do terracotta.

Therefore, trying to adapt to the material, I started to create a very thin, simple, cabbage shaped objects, with the edges of individual grafts left un-smoothed.
With the potentiality of fired porcelain to be translucent, I left an opening at the bottom, measured to fit (taking into account up to 20% shrinking) a (E27) lamp holder.

The combination of porcelain, cabbage and light became to seem rather common but extraordinary at the same time.

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JEAN HÉLION

The ordinariness of cabbage has been celebrated and valorised, predominantly in painting, such as by Tommason Salini in ‘Young Peasant with Flask’ – youthfulness and energy emerging from the cabbages; in abstraction by Jean Helion looking at its strange, head like shape neatly ordered on fields, or by narrative scenes painted by Stanley Spencer in ‘The Lovers (the Dustmen)’ enlightening the extraordinary in ordinary.

“Plainness and stoicism: these are familiar ideas in relation to cabbage.”

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Constance Spry

Inspired and enamoured by 17th century Dutch still life flower paintings, Constance Spry exploited the liveness and humble interests of vegetation, natural light and colours. Her flower designs were revolutionary, in the terms of contrasting the fashion of formal arrangements. Constance’s designs were overall simple, striving to find the best way to express the intrinsic beauty of flowers. However, Constance considered all organic materials to be eligible for use in her designs, which resulted in tomatoes, lichens, artichokes, rhubarb leaves, all manner of fruits and berries, as well as vegetables, weeds and wildflowers along with the commercial offerings to be used in her work.
Constance played her part in the democratisation of taste and style, appreciating natural qualities and improvisation.

“applying her improvisational creative genius to all aspects of home making, did more to bring good design and beauty into the lives of ordinary people than many a serious industrial designer, famous for one “iconic” and unaffordable chair.”

Asparagus has been also celebrated in still life painting for its many symbolic meanings. However, in some cases the main focal point has been its interesting aesthetics alone. Especially in Manet’s single white asparagus on white marble, almost merging together, painted so freely, and purely for the pleasure that “although still, it is, at the same time, lively”.

 

My asparagus sculpture is in a sense processed as all the asparagus in still life paintings. Cut and bound together by a human, but contrary to its laying position, the clay asparagus is standing upright, still with potentiality to grow and break free.

 


stoic cabbage – Morris T, 2018, New Wav Clay, Frame Publisher, Amsterdam, page 74
https://www.museothyssen.org/en/collection/artists/salini-tommaso/young-peasant-flask
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/dec/01/alexandra-harris-cabbages-art-first-book-award
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardenprojects/8884531/Society-florist-Constance-Spry-remembered-in-Mayfair.html
https://www.spectator.co.uk/2004/10/flower-power-2/
http://shopmayeshboxlots.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/constance-spry-part-one_12.html?m=1

asparagus: https://venetianred.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/the-still-life-examined-asparagus-in-art/
http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire_id/asparagus-18696.html?no_cache=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5Bsword%5D=manet&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BpidLi%5D=509%2C842%2C846%2C847%2C848%2C850&tx_commentaire_pi1%5Bfrom%5D=851&cHash=013bb84194

lamp holders dimensionshttp://www.urbancottageindustries.com/blog/lamp-holders-explained-lighting-101-unit-4/

 

 

 

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Finishing tools and sticks

Final processes in my casting endeavour.


Casting the little twigs in porcelain has been a good choice, giving it very different feel compare to the original wood, or even just earthenware slip. They feel so strong, smooth, with natural shine to them. Firing them in reduction made them even more magical with beautiful eggshell grey/blue colour. Tied together in bundle they have qualities close to classical paintings of white asparagus, with just more untamed energy.

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The bronze tools came out of the sand mould perfectly, with only two shapes not being fully cast. However, they take a lot of processing to do. From cutting them off of the channels with grinder, then removing any imperfections with powerful dremels and roughly polishing them.

To make them look more prehistoric, as if dug from the ground after thousands of years, I could use some patinas to make them look darker, aged. However, I have not had that much time to spare before the final deadline, so I left the stuck burned sand in crevasses instead.

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Positioned in the large, plane glass window they seemed strangely familiar. A handheld garden trowel, not so pristine and utilitarian as in a Poundshop. Textured as if diseased or slightly decomposed, next to an axe head and behind your own reflection in the glass, similar to a museum experience.
The groupings reconcile into evolution.
Horticultural tools – harvested produce – cultivated vessels?

Leaking vessels and thrown, functional produces

It has been quite significant for me to make these, not only to test my glaze recipe, application, colours, brushstrokes and patterns. I could also test some ideas smaller scale, mostly through the decoration but also how they move, and how they could leak.
Leak liquids like the teapot, but also themselves through long protrusions. Spilling, or searching for a new source? Giving or taking? Living or dying?

It was great to challenge myself on the wheel again, and applying my ideas either through hand altering or just the in-glaze decoration. With colour, its layering, or sgraffiting through the glazes.

Beetroot and radish

Some thought on completion of beetroot and radish sculptures on climbing frames.


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The beetroot shape has been my first large scale sculpture attempted, and it has been quite challenging. It ended up rather collapsed or shrivelled rather then plump root, but I could relate to that after just finishing dissertation.
I’m glad it kinda resembles ugly, obscured beetroot (or brain?). Associated with Aphrodite’s magical beauty, as well as having connections to affairs of the hearth, as it appears like the organ, oozing dark red liquid too.
It deserves the highest position the wooden climbing frames gave it. Even so damaged, open and shrunken it still looks rather monumental.

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Despite radishes looking similar to beetroots they are not closely related. However, due to radish’s shape, roots and bright red colour they are also associated with hearths and romantic love. With their peppery, spicier flavour maybe they should be associated more with passion.
The terracotta radish seems more defiant, almost lifting itself from the climbers and keeping its content inside.

 

 

 

Technical write up on in-glaze

As my technical project, which informs my Subjects, I tried to devise my own in-glaze (Maiolica or Faience), surface decoration process.
I wanted to emphasise the rich texture of my hand-build terracotta sculptures, crisscrossed with veins-like imprints of my palm. The Tin glaze allowing Iron rich terracotta undulations to show through the opaqueness, but at the same time providing a light background for bright colours to flourish on the newly formed skin of my growths.


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Identifying few base glazes and tips from Matt on Maiolica

looking for the perfect opaque 

I tried 10 different transparent or white glazes from various sources, firing each at 1060C and 1160C, as well as their response to opacifiers (either Tin Oxide, Zirconium Silicate, or a combination of them).

All of the glazes were based on High Alkali Frit (or as a replacement to Ferro Frits), Lead Bisilicate, Standard Borax Frit, Calcium Borate Frit, or a combination of them.

They all performed just fine, when the firing was actually good, with only some showing common problems: forming bubbles/foaming, mainly at thicker places, or having uneven, ugly milkiness, or present cracks.

Some had interesting idiosyncrasies, such as the Morgan Hall’s Maiolica glaze where the the small addition of Lithium Carbonate brought forward bright iron oranges, through the white glaze. The very simple clear terracotta glaze combining Calcium Borate Frit (65) and Red Clay (35) had a very good fit on terracotta between the temperatures of 1100-1150 C. It produced high gloss bright terracotta, almost honey like, but with greenish tint. However, with the (slightly higher) addition of opacifiers (Tin Oxide 8 and Zirconium Silicate 6), it could only produce murky browns.

 

Testing first 7 glazes in 2 temperatures, as clear and as opaque.

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Further base glaze tests as well as first colour response, mixing Cobalt Carbonate in mixture of the transparent base glaze and water.

From the tests I could combine the best performing transparent base recipe (a combination of mainly Standard Borax Frit and small addition of Calcium Borate Frit), and the best performing opacifier (an equal addition of Tin Oxide and Zirconium Silicate).
My preference was a non-Lead glaze, that can be used on functional ware and can withstand the highest range of terracotta (1150-1170). This allows the clay to reach its fullest maturity – fullest strength and rich, toasty colour.
I’ve put the fired samples under stress test too, soaking them in water for prolonged time and then drying them, either naturally or by the means of a heat gun. I also heated them high with the heat gun and then submerging in cold water, as well as scratched the glazed surface with sharp metal objects.
I wanted to test the functionality and strength of the glaze, if it would chip too easily or develop cracks. The samples withstood the stress tests marvellously, possibly because of the addition of Zirconium Silicate as opacifier, which can strengthen a glaze. However, it’s important to note that the size of the samples were quite small, so tests on larger objects with larger glazed surface area might behave slightly differently, amplifying all forces.

colour tests and tests and tests 

First colour tests. Applying oxides or stains mixed either with just water, water and frit, or water and transparent base glaze. There was not much difference, so I went with the most recommended version of water and transparent base glaze, adjusting the ratios as I went along in the research project. Starting with ratios of 1:1:1 – colouring powders:transparent glaze:water to 1:3:2 and later even more water or glaze as I was adding Rutile by 1/8’s.
For faint colour effects, it was easy to thin the colour mixes with a brush and water during decorating, very much like water colours.

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Testing on larger scale, with first instability problem arising.

When starting to test in-glaze colour additions, the chosen base glaze proved not stiff enough, making brush strokes bleed and finer detail disappear in the highest range of temperatures (1150-70).
I tried to adjust the recipe and the mixture of colouring glaze, but at the end I settled with the commercial transparent glaze available in the glaze workshop as the best base, with the addition of the opacifier mix.
The commercial clear glaze provides just the perfect surface and firing range to use flexibly (from 1000-1160C but survives slight over-firing too).

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Commercial transparent glaze with opacifiers and test colour strip.

Having the base glaze and colour mixture finalised, I could start looking for materials and mixtures creating a range of colours.

I started with the traditional oxides used to produce a number of colours throughout the history of in-glaze.
Cobalt Oxide (also Carbonate) for blues, Chrome Oxide for greens, Copper Oxide for blue-greens, Manganese Oxide for browns to purples, Iron Oxide for red-browns, Rutile for rusty orange, and the combination of Lead and Antimony for Naples yellow.

 

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One of many firings to test colour mixtures. Looking for Turquoises to blue, Yellows, Greens, Oranges.
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Additions of Rutile by 1/8 increments to various stains.

 

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Toning Yellow, Orange, and Marigold Yellow stains with Rutile. Also, using the opaque glaze to dilute the stains and Rutile creating pastel tones. Also showing some first material mixtures to find oranges.

yellows, marigold to oranges 

The search for the traditional Naples Yellow has been, unfortunately unsuccessful. I tried various rations of Lead Sesquisilicate or Lead Bisilicate with Antimony but only achieved faint yellows on a bubbly surface. This could be due to the lack of Lead in the opaque background glaze with which Antimony normally reacts with to create the colour, or just by me consistently missing the ratios.

For the oranges I tried mixtures of Vanadium (O4), Rutile (O7), with tiny additions of Cobalt and Chrome oxides, or mixtures of Synthetic Iron Oxide, Titanium Dioxide and Manganese (O9, O9b).
Non of them were really satisfactory, not even pure Orange stain for its un-toned bright colour (O6). However, using small amounts of Rutile as addition to the stain was the perfect way to control the colour, creating a gradient to more gentle and warmer tones.
Rutile proved useful as addition to yellow stains to find the interesting colour ranges between yellow and orange.

Furthermore, diluting the stains and Rutile in the opaque glaze produced beautiful pastel versions of any colour.

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Looking for purples to gentle lavender.

lavender to purples

Manganese Oxide is traditionally used to produce plum purples to browns, however I haven’t achieved any good colour here either, perhaps the lack of Lead has a role here too.
The P10 and P10b was the closest I could come to plum purple made up of Manganese Carbonate and small additions of Cobalt Carbonate.
With 1/8 additions of Rutile the Manganese/Cobalt purple as well as purple and lavender stains turned beautiful blue grey, but any larger additions of Rutile turned the samples towards browns.
For the first time I also tried to add 1/8 of Red Iron Oxide, instead of Rutile. As Rutile is impure version of Iron Oxide, the effect was just the same but amplified, making the samples turn to orange browns with smaller additions than Rutile. Continue reading Technical write up on in-glaze

Making gardening tools

Developing my gardening tools for a modern cultivation of clay.
Beginning the sand mould making process, as well as exploring the connotations of the chosen material for the tools.


The increasing importance of agricultural/gardening tools for the final exhibition prompted me to spend a bit more time on their polystyrene prototypes, which determine how the final metal version will look like after the cast.

I sketched and created larger and more detailed versions of the most commonly used gardening tools, which would be useful when working with clay. Either for cutting, making holes or mark making.

 

Instead of aluminium as I used last time, I’m opting to try pour with bronze. Historically it gives another level of context and positions the objects to the Bronz Age’s widespread adoption and development of agricultural methods.

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The production of bronze marks the start of a new kind of cultivation – cultivation of minerals (the inorganic). For the first time humans started to look for, dig, mine and refine minerals. By combining copper and tin (of around 12%), Bronze Age humans smelted bronze.
Bronze being stronger material than anything else used before (bone, wood or stone) enabled the refinement of tools such as axes and ploughs or daggers and swords. Pushing the development of agriculture and technology, as well as organisation of societies (more people had to specialise either in mining, smelting, crafting, etc.).

As the price of tin increased, due to political and ecological issues, the usage and development of iron became more widespread for everyday tools. Bronze started to be a more luxury commodity predominantly used to make coins, swords, jewellery, mirrors or coins or sculpture.


 

Some sources:
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol4/pp20-26
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze
https://study.com/academy/lesson/bronze-age-farms-farming-tools.html
http://www.stedmundsburychronicle.co.uk/weststowgallery/wsgallerypage_02.htm

Chopping a clay log

A small experiment to see, how would a mass of hardened clay behave, when approached as if it was a log of wood.


I rolled number of slabs of sanded terracotta into a wood log shape and left it covered for few months. After finally acquiring a small axe from a very kind studio-cohabitant, I was afraid the mass of clay would harden too much.
But one beautiful spring evening, after good enough Formative assessment presentation, with great friend to help document it, it was the right time.

The axe entered the mass very smoothly, almost like chopping butter, only the dense and sticky inner core stopped the force. I was able to make a range of deep but soft incisions.
Encouraged to go further I contributed more force and rigour.

The clay log eventually came apart, beautifully revealing its inner materiality – smooth but ruggedly torn apart by the force. I had to gather multitude of small and bigger shavings scattered around the grass.

It would be good to try if a dried clay mass would split in half more readily, like usual wood.
Would chopping it on a plinth be easier? More gallery based?