Clay bodies and Slips for Weighting to Rise

Our newest installation, Weighting to Rise, engages our interest on many levels, including our love of ancient art history, conceptual evolution of religion and a contemporary understanding of archetypal imagery. The foundation for all this speculation however, is clay.

In the earliest concept drawings for this show I was thinking about terra-cotta red. I love the color but I also wanted to focus on lower kiln temperatures for this show.  The red clay reinforces the connections were making to ceramic objects of a certain age and there is no need to focus on durability or use for these forms as their true purpose is visual contemplation.

Initially we wanted to source the clay locally, from summit brick, but in cleaning out the studio in preparation for this new work we discovered a reclaim emergency. We hadn’t done any major reclaiming in years and there were hundreds of stashes of future intention in every corner of the studio. Organizing and reclaim all this detritus reframed our thinking on the project. The show is in many ways about beginnings and endings and there were so many of those in our lives when we were conceiving this show. The end of Grad school was one of the larger of these transitions and it was partly the deadline challenges of the student lifestyle that left so many bags abandoned. We just didn’t have the time for so much of what is normal studio maintenance. It seemed right then to use what we could of what we had and reclaim all the rest into a new studio body for the coming year.

Some of it we could rehydrate in the bags and wedge back to life. This is a lot of work but the clay does not have to age as much and so is more immediately useful. We slaked the rest down in buckets and mixed with dry. This clay must be aged for some time to enhance plasticity so we did the reclaiming early in the year to accommodate that need.

Reclaiming clay is heavy and demanding work so its great to get help, Gabe’s girls ran the pug mill for a day and really helped us out.

The rest of the hand wedged stuff was random small batches of the clay we had used in the studio for the last four years. There was a little more than 150 lbs of the 200 we mixed when we first moved in to this studio, about 500 lbs of reclaimable White Stone from Laguna of which we bought a ton in late 2013 and a number of clays we only had a bag or two of. These  clays were for special projects or bits friends gave us to try. It was in this last batch that we had the red clays. The one we started with and held to for the entire project was Laguna’s R2 with grog. we had a box of this from my mom who bought it and didn’t use it so it had gone hard in the bags. We started using this as a sculptural medium in the earliest pieces for the show but we found it couldn’t handle water as well as some of our preferred clay bodies so we decided to use it a slip for surface treatment and not the structure of the work.

We were especially focused on its interaction with another Laguna body, Babu porcelain. we’ve used this for years as a slip in the studio for its very smooth texture and titanium free white color. It was the interaction of these two clays that we intended to build the bones of the show.

While I focused on the structure and build techniques we would use, Gabe began experimenting with using clays alone for building up 2 dimensional images.

As the work continued we considered what to do for black and for firing temps more and more. The black we started out using was a commercially prepared engobe that needs a clear glaze over to develop the color fully. While we really liked these results the surface shift with the gloss was not something we wanted to see everywhere and the terra-cotta looks best a little warmer (Cone 01) and the glaze was 06 making once firing impossible.

From here we went off the rails a bit playing with slips and firing temps. We had a small chunk of clay we brought back from the Rain Harris workshop that I really wanted to integrate. She uses the most beautiful black clay from Aardvark, Cassius Basaltic is a cone 5 clay that is very black with a vitreous surface that is beautiful when used as a slip. Using this would eliminate the need for a clear on the black and the porcelain at least can handle the higher temps.

This switch did require a switch in red bodies. For that we wanted to go with a clay that a friend from grad school in Kansas was mining. It’s a midrange clay with a dusty red finish at cone five and we had about 30 lbs of it, plenty for slips. We really loved many aspects of this look, but the higher temps were often too much for the sketchy assembly techniques and so were abandoned. This wall hanging is the best of that combo, before and after firing

wall hanging with face
wall hanging with face fired

It was really the bull that forced us to get real about the firing temps. The technique we used to put that together was risky enough, asking that hot mess to make high temperatures seemed like a recipe for disaster so we brought back the R2 and began looking for another black. We settled on barnard clay for that, straight out of the bag. On its own its very saturated at cone 01 and was a decent compromise.

From here we began using mixtures of various strengths for developing color in the show using the 3 main bodies as a base: Babu porcelain, barnard clay, and R2 terra-cotta

As mentioned earlier we wanted to use what we had around the studio for most of the project but there were a few pieces we wanted science on our side for. After all the struggles with using white stone for slabs that we ran into with The Magic Box, we chose to put some of the trickier aspects in a clay we knew we could rely on. Laguna’s soldate 60 is a work horse for our studio. While not the most beautiful body, its durable, fires well and so forgiving both to students and sculptors who must push edges.

Part of this winning formula is the 200 body we get from the local brick yard as an attaching slip. So much of the insanity of this show is possible because the perfect combination of Soldate with 200 binding it.

Making The Bull

As we move forward into the work of Weighting to Rise the work seems to need a larger purpose, an aspect of the culture that would give rise to such elaborate and lasting funeral ritual. We needed some belief beyond the honor of the ancestor, a god or possibly a sacrificial ritual to honor the god or the dead or both to give the culture a greater depth and the mystery of antiquity.

Looking for a solution to what the show was needing coincided to my coming across a passage in Stephen Karcher’s translation of the I Ching. In figure 26, Great Accumulates there is mention of a pure red bull, sacrificed by the king with arrows on behalf of the ancestors that renews the year and opens the fields for planting. The bull seemed to fit beautifully, bulls as gods, animals sacred to gods and as sacrifices to gods are nearly universal in old religions and their stories.

Once we had a concept we needed a technique and build procedure. To begin we sought the right bull. Looking at old Minoan mosaic and painted pottery and Picasso’s treatment of the animal we knew we wanted the animal clearly recognizable but just as clearly symbolic.

Graffiti and its process is important to nearly every project we undertake to one degree or another. Graffiti is public, you don’t need to be chosen by a gallery or representative to have the work seen, and it has a fierce sort of beauty that is not easily put into a critiquable box. Those qualities give it a sacred and living quality that layers nicely with the fusion of history and technology that we tune into. We really wanted this ancient, sacred image to have that feel. That lead to imagining some of the techniques Gabe has worked with before the Foxy-Wolff, primarily stencils. To reduce an image in all its complexity to blocks of shape and color seemed to distill the animal into a concept, an object and an ideal.

Gabe discusses the drawing process in this way:

Kate and I had a conversation about the need of "the bull" to this body of work. I looked up pictures of bulls and eventually wound up trying to remember my Myspace account pass word. Luckily Kate came to the studio the next day with pictures of bulls that she had found. The printouts were little 5x7 inch on printer paper. I think I said "cool I can work with that. So how big are we doing it?" So taking the printouts to 3x5 foot seamed like a no brainer to me. I would get out the projector and boom done.

Kate had that look and I knew that I was wrong. She said to me" I want it like that work", as she pointed to The Crazy Aunt tryptic that hangs in the studio. So The Crazy Aunt is in essence a black and white drawing and it relies on the shadow I love. Needed line vs implied, fine art vs illustration, imagery shapes vs the shapes that should be in place, and so on and so on. Yup, I have a lot.
Kate was just so happy about the plan I took it as a personal challenge to see it through. So no projector and no trace paper. Trace paper is how I do versions of The Crazy Aunt and so now what. I guess I'll just have to draw it out. The Bull became three main tasks. Finding the look, life studies, and transferring the image.

I did a 8x10 inch cow head drawing in the stenciled look of The Crazy Aunt and we decided that it needed to simplify a lot. The shapes of the cow head got five colors in very specific areas. Picture in your mind a black and white cow head. Now assign a grey scale to just the most important parts (eyes, nose, etc.) and the light the cows picture was taken in. Then I make up shapes that work best fit the drawing versus what's really there.

Second step is life study applications. Like in any sketch of a flower arrangement from across the room or the architecture of a building, proportion is the name of the game. I can think in step one and two at the same time and so I just started drawing The Bull.  I taped butcher paper down to Kate's desk and started my crazy process.
When the drawing was finished and we both liked it I had my wife come over to the studio and color up The Bull. Black was black, white was white, and browns and reds filled in the rest.

After completion of the drawing, Gabe prepared a butcher paper trace of it, sort of a paint by numbers thing with all the shapes clearly defined and each of the colors assigned a number value. After some discussion on the depth of the back ground we settled on a total of seven colors, two separate colors on layer two so that areas that touch would not be the same color for different objects.

After the complex generation of the image, the build was fairly straight forward, if not simple. The trace was used as a layer guide. After cutting out a layer, it was cut off the parchment and used again to trace the next layer and so on. The parchment was a genius innovation, trace goes to crap the second it touches wet clay, it can handle no water at all. The parchment, because it’s design for food preparation, it held up beautifully throughout creation of all 6 layers to a tile.

Our first step of the build was to make the slabs. Layer one was 3/8″ deep and all succeeding layers were 1/4″ slabs. This took a good deal of forethought as we tried to estimate the number of whole square inches each layer of the 10 tiles would need. It also began to indicate just how massive the project was going to be.

While I prepped slabs, Gabe prepared the drywall. Four new full sheets  were purchased that week and all would be used in both the easel and the build.

Breaking the bull down into manageable chunks was another discussion that we gave much time. The debate focused on the joins of the tiles. Each of the four or five possible options we discussed had merits and drawbacks, in the end we chose the one that would make the initial build more simple but the assembly on tile board more complex. A basic grid was layer overtop of the parchment drawing with the horizon line at greater than 50% to help keep the heavier tiles to the top smaller.

Gabe built a heavy oak frame from old hard wood flooring that both kept the build as precise as we could make it and to slow drying from the side of the tiles. The easel has two drywall layers, also to prevent too speedy a dry time. The bottom layer is a full sheet and the top cut into the exact size of each tile so they could be assembled on the tables and placed back into the frame exactly where needed.

Finally we were ready to begin. We chose the Fourth of July weekend for the build because we wanted it done with no large gaps in making process, we both work outside the studio. Aside from a Gabe having to do some small maintenance for the farm, we had four full days to get it done and we needed every minute of it, with very little time even for sleep while we were at it.

The actual tiles are deceptively simple. We assigned each color to a layer, where that color shows in the drawing the layering stops and that color shows through. Where white (the background color) shows, the tile is only one layer thick, where white for highlight shows, on the horns and the nose, the tile is 6 layers thick. Where a higher numbered color will show, all layers but be beneath to build the correct strata for the overall piece. As mentioned above we mapped this out by cutting each color from the parchment map on the tile, allowing only the areas where we would continue to build presence on the growing tiles.

Tile 4, by far the most complex as it held both the horns and the face took 8 hours to complete. The average time per tile was about 5 hours.

First tiles are cut out and assembled, then taken back apart and the slips added to the pieces where needed.

After some dry time we reassembled them with slip to bind them together and placed into the easel.

After completing all ten tiles we wrapped them heavily for a week so the attachments could solidify and the slips could set.

At the end of the week we opened it up and touched up color where we made mistakes and where the slips were not as crisp as we intended.

Now fully complete the bull will rest under plastic 6 to 8 weeks to dry slowly to prevent the tiles warping. Once dry, we will place the tiles on wasters and fired to 01 to fully develop the terra-cotta color that is the primary color of the finished bull.

Community Revisited

Gabe and I started Foxy-Wolff when we were both working at the Art Center, Gabe as assistant Curator and myself as resident artist in the ceramic studio. That meant that the work of the first couple years of the project came out of a community studio. While much of our time working on those early projects was outside of the studio’s regular working hours, there are still considerations when working with others that just don’t come up in a private studio environment, such as putting things where others can find them and giving and receiving awkward hugs (Gabe’s favorite).

On the upside, having people around forces clearer communication and invigorates stagnant ideas with new perspectives, plus its more fun.

Our latest round of classes were an exact balance of all the goodness and just enough hugs to keep us on our toes. We hosted a small group that included friends from work, our kids and a few notable drop-ins’. The classes had a very loose structure and wound up running most of the day on the Saturday, with a fluid movement between wheel and hand building with lots of inspiring conversation throughout.

And the results? Pretty fantastic really. In addition to the batch of great ceramics we made during the 6 weeks, we are building a community that will continue our Saturday’s and the conversation.

 

Process and Inspiration

I love coiling. Making coil pots is really one of my most favorite ways to spend time in my life. I also believe coiling is an inefficient and time-consuming way of working, making it unsuitable for almost all projects.  Because of the pressures of time the second consideration almost always wins over the first. The one notable exception of this rule is The Bird Monster.

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I began working with the crow in my ceramic work over 20 years ago during undergrad. Combining a bag of locally mined clay, persistent bird obsession and a Maria Martinez video gave birth to the first, which was heavily influenced by totem pole birds and burnishing leather hard clay. This first piece did not survive its near the firebox placement of the wood kiln, also an emerging skill, but the coil pot combined with sacred avian images had me hooked, it’s a piece I have revisited many times over the years.

Most often I choose to make a Bird Monster when I have the urge to coil. The process is deliberate and requires attention at every step which makes it the perfect activity for times of transition in the studio. At the end of a large project or after being absent from the studio, cleaning everything up and building a Bird Monster is a great way to check in with myself, my skills and my space.

The years spent working on my MFA left no time or head space for a check in, and then there were several months to rest and refocus the studio. Aside from some functional commission work I had been almost completely out of the making loop for most of the past year.

So when the studio was finally clean and the Magic Box safely stored I decided to spend a few days on a bird monster. There were several random clay bodies hanging around and I chose a box of R2 with grog, a terra-cotta from Laguna that I had long been interested in for its color, for this particular piece.

One of the reasons the piece was in my mind is that I sit next to one of the most recent at work, done as a demo a couple of years ago while teaching at PCC. It’s a really good example and I love the paint job but looking at it closely every day had me pretty dissatisfied by the way it met the table. The work on The Magic Box had me thinking about the pedestal and the role it plays in gallery work. Contrary to contemporary thinking I really love what elevation does for am object’s significance. My hope is the looking at an elevated thing or idea does the same thing to the mind that considers the work. Even if we don’t agree on content or meaning, were thinking outside of the feed, and that can sometimes spark ideas.

A long absence from the studio, a formal consideration and an unfamiliar clay body began the latest. These forms usually begin as a blank, a rough shaped bust/bubble that is pushed in many directions. This piece was the same but added a base blank to the process. The long absence had my skills rusty and the clay had been in the box for a long time and so was a little hard. This combo had me working even more slowly than usual on the two blanks. In spite of the slow start they came together well. The clay was really a pleasure to use and the color delightful,  which may have caused my error.

I decided to do a mishima surface using very loose grolleg porcelain slip. Unfortunately this added more water than the clay could handle and I came in the following morning to find the head lying on the table.

Initially I saw this piece as pure experimentation, so this set back was pretty minor, I cut off the torn bits, altered the shape and stuck it back on. After scraping off the extra slip and making a few slabs it was time for the good part. The blank is an incredibly fluid way to work once all the pieces are ready, the limits of the clay and imagination are the only rules that can’t be broken and even those become flexible under the right situation.

Adding the pedestal changed so much of the feel of piece that I no longer wanted to add the screaming beak that many of the bird monsters have. Instead I decided to test an idea that Gabe and I were discussing for a future installation. Initially the idea involved putting masks on sort of blob figures but as this piece became more compelling it seemed the perfect place to play with the idea.

We decided a skull would be the perfect image for the first mask as it tied in to some of the funerary ideas growing with the concept. I was dissatisfied with my first few attempts so I asked Gabe to step in and see what he could come up with. Using his skills and the materials we were already using in the piece he came up with a great solution to the problem that we were both really pleased with. I was possibly too pleased.

 

Rather than call it a day as I should have I returned to the studio that night to attach the mask. I had what I felt was a good plan and I worried that if I left it too long the clay would not take the attachment. One moment pressing too hard on the “face” while taking a measurement for the attachment pieces and the entire head was laying on the table, broken at the weak re-attachment point.

this kind of thing is not un common in the studio and I’ve learned to cut my losses after a major set back of that nature. I stayed in the studio just long enough to wrap things back up and then left the thing alone. I was strongly tempted to abandon the entire top piece but I was unsure if I had enough of the R2 to replace the upper piece and honestly the conversation around the emerging installation that was springing from this piece was steadily moving away from the figure.

To finish it, I chose to cut the head into pieces and focus on the object as vessel. I used an attachment technique that my son and I used to play with using old bits of slab that were too hard to attach in the usual way. Rather than a slip and score the nearly leather hard pieces, I dipped them in heavy slip and held in place until the drying clay pulled enough of the  moisture from the slip for it to stick the pieces together.

the rough aggressive feel of the attachments and the broken nature of the body adds to the ancient feel that we’re moving toward in the installation.

Over all the shifting currents of this piece make it hard to read. We’ll let it sit on the shelf for a while so we can consider what its given rise to and how the work might come together for the coming installation.

Classes with Foxy-Wolff

I love to teach, it’s really fundamental to my identity as an artist since I learned to do both things at pretty much the same time. With the pressure of grad school and moving my life and studio around significantly I’ve not taught a good community class in years. We kept putting it off until we were “less busy” and a class never came together.

The time has finally arrived! We’ve been cleaning and planning for a while now and have set a date.

Saturday February 4th with two, two-hour sessions, one at 10:00 am and one beginning at 1:00 pm. We’re limiting enrollment to 10 per session. The class costs 120.00 and includes all of your clay, firing and materials. We will meet for 6 weeks ending March 11th, with pots and sculptures picked up in a couple of weeks after that.

The class will center around clay primarily but will have a decidedly intermedia feel. Gabe and I are really looking to build a dynamic and collaborative structure to the classes, allowing each student to follow their freak while learning some fresh technique.

Any level of experience is perfect, you don’t need to know anything coming in to the class unless you want to work with the wheel. We have 3 and would prefer those spots go to people that already know how to center. teaching and learning to throw is a close connected process and I prefer to start people out with a few private lessons or a wheel only class.

This class is for adults and serious art students of any age.

Cleaning Up at Foxy-Wolff Studio

With school and The Magic Box complete we are moving back into projects and ideas that we had to leave behind because of the limits of time. First up is the heavy cleaning/rearranging of the studio for a series of classes coming up beginning in early February.

The studio is above all a functional space and changes a great deal to suit our current project, most recently, aside from a small space for us to fill some christmas pottery orders it has been a storage space for The Magic Box. Also we’ve been so focused on that project that some of the unused corners of the studio had filled with unconsidered objects.

My grandpa loved games and puzzles and there was one he had that I played with often. It was a small plastic number slide game.

Rearranging a small space is exactly like playing this game, it’s all about how you begin. For us this meant moving the boxes, pedestals and art from The Magic Box into storage until it shows again. So the storage room was the place to start for us. Gabe is an animal about this kind of work, and he had all my personal storage lined out in an afternoon and the pedestals and the rest put away in the next few days.

While he worked that out I had to make sense of the working area. That space has a tendency to get cluttered with the remnants of works in progress, including old clay bits in need of reclaim and tools misplaced on shelves. A clean studio is not always the highest value but its great to get a clean reset before the beginning of a new project. I think it helps to keep ideas fresh and forces us to deal with the dust fairly often.

This freed up the center space, leaving only the Kuan Yin of the Magic Box on a table in the center of the room. More heavy lifting cleared a space for The Great One and we hung her where she can watch over the large front room.

The glaze room was the next priority, that involved clearing the old front office space of everything and then gathering all the materials and tools used in surfacing the ceramic in the kiln.

Critical to inviting other people to the studio to make art was lighting all of the work space. Gabe to the rescue again. Heres a funny little video he made to celebrate getting up on a ladder (again).

Look for posts coming this week with details on the upcoming series of classes.

The Magic Box Complete

The Magic Box has been the central focus of Foxy-Wolff over the last three years. During that time the project evolved into more than we could have imagined when we conceived the idea in hotel room in Hays Kansas. To bring all that time and work together into a solid installation was the focus of nearly a year of that time.

The first step to bring the installation to completion was the show catalog. The size of the objects with their projections makes photography one of the most demanding aspects of a show like this. To get the images we felt we needed, we were fortunate to borrow the gallery at Colorado State University.

Magic Box Catalog (low res)

This was a dress rehearsal for installing the complete show and so required us to consider every aspect carefully. This meant pulling together and retesting all the tech, building the pedestals, and solving the problems set aside for later consideration. Once done, we were ready to set up and photograph the show.

Because projected video is such a crucial element of the installation, lighting the gallery was a central consideration every time it went up. For the catalog we lit the space far more than we did for the actual showings of the work, but even so the images were very challenging to work with.

One of the most incredible things about this project is how multifaceted it is, requiring us to extend all of our skill sets. This was especially true of the catalog. Most graduate students hire out this aspect of their MFA show, but because of my intermedia emphasis, I chose to do this myself. One of the long-term goals of my education was to become proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator. This was the first step on that road. Using some terrific online tutorials, I shut myself in the house for 6 weeks and got focused. In the end I had to learn Indesign as well, plus stay focused through repeated edits but it was a wonderful period of learning and we were really happy with the result. Here is a link to the tastytuts channel. It’s a fantastic resource.

https://www.youtube.com/user/TastyTuts

Once all these preliminaries were complete we were off to install the show at the Moss-Thornes gallery on the FHSU campus in Hays Kansas. Getting the work and equipment to the gallery was our next major hurdle. Our plan was to rent a truck but by the time we finished acquiring all the last-minute gear for the show we were way over budget on the project and so had to find another option. fortunately we were able to arrange the install with graduation weekend so my parents took it and us in their camper and we all stayed for the weekend.

We consider the blog and the website a central piece of The Magic Box. To bring those aspects into the gallery we used QR codes as gallery tags. We generated these through a Japanese company that allowed us to incorporate text and images into the codes design. Using these meant we could keep text and other distractions to a minimum in the space and worked beautifully with the overall content of the piece.  All the QR tags are shown in the catalog pdf above.

Once all the details came together the installation came down to the same effort and endurance required of all installation days. Though exhausting, this is one of our favorite aspects of working in the visual arts. With a couple of good hard days we had the show up and ready for visitors.

In addition to the show in Hays we were fortunate to be invited to show it at the Hoag Gallery at Colorado State University-Pueblo. It was wonderful to get to put it up and take it down so many times in a year, of course each gallery added new features and challenges to the work which really allowed us to understand the dynamics of the entire show.

 

It’s a thrill to see the installation complete and hear from so many people who appreciated the work. We have settled on our next large-scale project and will be developing clay bodies and concepts in the coming months, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuan Yin of The Magic Box

The last two months has seen a flurry of studio activity as we close in on the date to install the Magic Box show in the Moss-Thorns Gallery at Fort Hays State University.  The last major piece to be built for the show is a large-scale copy of the Kuan Yin that is featured in the fourth video, The Black Church. This piece will accompany the entire edited video in the last space in the installation and in many ways is the anchor for the show. I see it as an opportunity to flip the scale of the viewer in the gallery and reinforce the image of the viewer themselves within the context of the space, especially as it relates to the cell phone interaction that will be integral to the experience of the show. for this reason as well as my real and abiding love of the work it is based on we have been determined to do a good job on this piece.IMG_9701

The first step was to build the easel. Gabe accomplished this using an old solid core door, a 4×4 and some canvas we has in the studio from the Art Center days. The tech is really costing quite a bit for this show so keeping costs down in other areas has been important over the last year. The easel was heavy and difficult to move which was a good thing considering the amount of clay that would need to be stacked on it.

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The next step was for Gabe to use his observational super powers to scale up the figurine on the canvas so we would have a frame-work for stacking the clay.

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While Gabe worked on that, I prepped the clay for stacking. To build the piece I used a highbred technique of the brick sculpture I used to do with Jarrett Pottery and the large solid sculpture techniques learned during the Beth Cavener workshop in January of 2015. (see post here) The piece required about 550 lbs of clay, which I shaped roughly into bricks straight from the extruded blocks from the clay factory.  I used talc between the bricks to prevent sticking, which turned out to be mistake in a way as I changed my ideas for taking the piece apart to more reflect Cavener’s technique rather than the brick sculpture I had done in the past. The best choice would have been to work for solid attachment of the units to each other as I built the wall.  It would have saved valuable time in the disassembly and hollowing stage. For clay I chose the cost saving measure again. We were still sitting on about half a ton of Laguna’s Whitestone, which is really the last clay I would have chosen given the problems we’ve had in the past with it, but it’s what we had and the dates are approaching quickly so we went with it. Because of this choice we anticipate a good deal of epoxy after firing, with that in mind we will be using a fired and cold approach to the surface.

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Gabe, in the mean time, worked on a second outline, on paper this time, that could lay over the stacked clay and allow us to map in the essential elements.  After that it was a matter of stacking the clay, brick by brick.

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On this last image you can see the outline that was traced onto the clay using the second, paper drawing. The clay was very wet here and carving for detail was not possible, so for the first week or so only crude shaping and removal was possible.

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At this point the form was basically mapped and fine detail could be added. While the piece was based on the figurine, the scale shift required a greater attention to detail that the small piece could not support.  These changes are most apparent in the folds of the fabric.IMG_9774 IMG_9785

You can see in the above image that the clay was really pulling apart, which made finishing imperative. The last section to be tackled was the head.

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I did return later and add material to a few places, the knee and the nose, brow and chin most notably. This is the face before the additions.

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The additions to the face were made after the piece was cut away from the larger whole. In this image the “brick” separations are clearly visible. The first step in the deconstruction phase was to attach the bricks together.  Once this was complete and the attachments had time to set, the entire section was flipped on the foam and carved out from the back to make firing possible as the density of this clay will not allow solid firing as brick does.

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Once the pieces were attached and hollowed out they were sculpted and finished. The remaining sections stayed on the easel as I worked.  After a while the pieces became so dry on the canvas backing of the easel that the whole thing had to come down and be more thoroughly wrapped so they would last while I worked. It took about a month the finish the disassembly.

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After hollowing and attaching, part of the finishing process involved placing each section on a waster slab and then resurfacing with steel wool to remove the making texture from the forms.

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The last step was to wash the sections with a red iron oxide wash that will be sanded back a bit before these pieces are loaded into the kiln in a couple of weeks. Reassembly and cold finishing to follow.

The Black Church

The filming of the last segment of The Magic Box was of course, the most complicated yet.  The difficulties came from the structure of the church itself. Part of the immersion into the world required that no windows or external light be present in the interior shots. That required all internal shots to be done on the GoPro, and more than that, our arms were to big and short to make clean shots possible so a rig had to be made for the camera to ride.

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The rig was made from aluminum shower slide pieces we salvaged from Dionisio Metal and Iron. A mount for the camera made from scrap tin was mounted on to the slide and string was used to manipulate the camera inside the space. Gabe is testing the tension on the string in the image above, to insure the camera will move smoothly. Gabe produced this little video to show the rig in action.

For shots from the other angle, the structure of the building was built to come apart so that the larger camera we usually use could access the shots.

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The result of these filming challenges was a video with a very singular feeling and texture, inadvertently giving the action inside the church the otherworldly quality we were hoping for. This does not become a linear solution that one might expect from a film with the intent of telling a story, rather the last piece conjures many questions and uncertainties that keeps the work firmly aligned with art, in-spite of the narrative structure that it follows.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Thanks for watching and don’t forget to subscribe to our You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCor8dP1FkdrYAp6xkC9l5rw

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

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We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

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The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

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From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

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The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

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The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

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The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

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Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

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Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

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Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

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The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

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Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

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Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

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Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

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All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

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