ceramic art

Building the House for “The Empty Room”

Construction of the house for the film “The Empty Room” began in early September.  Or original plan was to space the build out over several weeks and fire stories as they dried, but after a test build we determined that the box construction would require more dry time than anticipated so we opted to push the build into one very intense week.IMG_6476As with all projects we began with prepping clay and pressing the molds, one story at a time.  Each story needed about 100 lbs of clay wedged and weighed out into specific slugs to accommodate each mold.  Each floor was about 3 days, clay prep was the first.

IMG_6353 IMG_6351The second day was focused on pressing the molds and preparing the wall for assembly.  This was a huge job, as the pieces are very complex and have many details that needed to be prepped on the same day.  Not only did we make molds for the build, but also many of the tools were custom-made for the project.   This tool was designed to give us perfect cuts on the edges of the walls and floor so we could more precisely control fit.

IMG_6349The day following pressing was assembly.  The floor was put in place first and the corner with the stairs was attached to the floor.  This is the second floor.  The cut outs pictured here will be for the staircase on the floor beneath.

IMG_2067 IMG_2068Once the corner was reinforced and secure, the staircase was attached.  We began with the landing and the bottom half and built up from there.  These pics are also of the second floor and so include a handrail that is not present on the first floor.

IMG_2069 IMG_2073 IMG_2074 IMG_2077 IMG_2031IMG_2083The windows were cut earlier on this story to give us access to the underside as the entire stair well is likely to be shown in the film and needed to fe completely finished.

After the stairs we put on the remaining two walls were applied.  With each wall the corners and other details from the molds had to be tuned back up as handling was somewhat damaging.

IMG_2021Once all four walls were in place, the flange was attached to the top and cutting windows and clean up and finish work could be done.

IMG_2033 IMG_2042 Another thing we learned from the test build was that the walls wanted to move quite a bit during the drying process.  To control this to some degree Gabe devised a cap to fit into the flange and stay with the floor throughout its shrinking and firing process.  This was a fairly last-minute addition to the group of molds and had to be resolved quickly, so the original was made from a combination of wood and clay.

IMG_6442 IMG_6454The first two floors were very similar and so we could build a skill set from one two the next and refine the process.  The third floor was another matter, There are far more windows on this floor and another wall inside the structure.  It also has a large facade and a roof.  Mold prep was the same in many ways, but with molds we had not yet used in an order that we had not tested, this was the greatest challenge of the project.

IMG_6481 IMG_6482 IMG_6485 IMG_6489 IMG_6490 IMG_6496 IMG_6499 IMG_6504Because they were made so close to one another we were able to see them wet all at once, which made a great group.


ceramic art

Judy Onofrio


This piece titled “Flux” by Judy Onofrio is featured in a review of her work in Ceramics Art and Perception issue 92.  The work is composed of ceramic forms and found objects, primarily bone, that the artist collects and cleans for this purpose.  The assemblages are then unified by paint surfaces that accentuate the feeling that the sculptures are a living thing.

Bone are very particular objects.  They are not made, by hands nor geologic process.  They are grown, but unlike most living things, they survive death.  They are the structure of animals and carry a memory of them, yet taken as objects they evoke another kind of architecture.  They can evoke a sense of the undying principles of life, it is this I believe that is behind a cultural obsession with the human skull.

This work then, which combines found objects grown from natural process and artist rendered shapes made from earth and transformed by fire come together to give new meaning to both.  The delicate hue of the assemblages pulse with life and point to a notion that the cycles of life and death are part of the creating process, a part of every life.Judyonofrio2twist Judyonofrio1

ceramic art

International Top 10: Alexandria Engelfriet

Alexandra Engelfriet1

The second artist in my personal international top 10 is Alexandra Engelfriet.  I have a very strong personal connection to the work of this artist that relates to the way I discovered her.  Almost two years ago I divorced a man who was not only marriage partner but a ceramist and a collaborator.  The first few months following our separation was a very difficult time for me.  Although I was in school, and so felt very powerfully connected to art and sculpture, I had lost touch with a connectedness that is so essential to work in clay.  My BFF would often send me videos through this time, mostly things that were dirty or funny and lots of music, but also videos made by artists and art videos.  I often think this exchange was the beginning of my obsession with video as medium.  The Alexandra Engelfrit video came on a particularly difficult day, and literally resurrected something in me that I was sure had died.  In the video she works alone in her studio, in silence, sculpting a glorious form.  No fussy attachment techniques were needed for the very plastic natural looking clay she uses.  In the course of the well edited and shot video she builds a vessel that seems to grow from the earth its made of.

alexandra engelfriet2

In that incredible synthesis of complexity and directness, I remembered why it was I chose clay as a medium nearly 20 years prior, and though my former partner was completely woven into that experience my connection to the material could be enough to point to a future.

There also seemed to be great meaning in the form itself.  So many branches coming from the central pillar.  It reminded me of my connections to the people who were in my life, my friends, my children, parents, so many connections, all centered together, connected and essentially one.

Engelfriet collaborates with the earth itself.  Her work is the story of the body and the earth.  Her videos are a sort of sculptural performance where, like in the above video, she makes her gallery work, or in others such as the three posted below, she uses great effort and massive labor to give the same undulating form to the earth itself.

There are many videos that I love, but I will not post them all here, rather I will post three from a recent public work in Le Vent des Forêts in France.  the videos follow the progress of the work through its making, firing and finished stages.  The videos follow her formula.  No sound track but the effort of her body in the making and the sound of the world around her.




ceramic art

Keeper of the Dead and the Bugs


The most recent work for the Monsters and the last for the show was the Keeper of the Dead.  This is a piece, like the Lion, that waited for its purpose as the story evolved.  This piece features asymmetrical horns, a detail that troubled me when I finished with the piece.

The original plan was to  make three dead monsters for grouping of the Dead Ones, each at a different stage of exoskeletal growth.  I unfortunately ran out of time to make the third dead one for the series before the show.  I still wanted a grouping of three since the other monsters are centered around groups of two.  I chose to bring the piece that came to be known as Keeper of the Dead to hold the number three in the grouping.

Unlike the Singer and the Hunter, the Keeper of the dead is chosen rather than born into a particular family.  The deformity of the horns indicated a particular talent that is required for the duties of the keeper.  The Bugs activity makes a particular sound in the bodies of the Dead Ones.  This sound causes the keeper to have a type of hallucination, and  this is how the will of the ancestors is interpreted.

The singer, with his roll as historian, the Hunter as person primarily responsible for the physical welfare of the clan and the Keeper who interprets the will of the ancestors, comprise the government of the Monsters.  Decisions about location and movement, interaction with other clans and other factors impacting daily life of the clan are decided by this group.

ceramic art

The Dead Ones and the Bugs

The Dead Ones were planned from the first conception of the monster work.  In considering biological rules for anything, an understanding of the processes of death is primary.  The project changed a great deal however after the invention of the Bugs.  As ancestor worshipers, the bodies of the dead monsters needed to retain an interest that would transcend a body on the ground, partly due to the monsters inability to make the art and monuments that surround the deaths of modern human ancestor worshipers.

The bugs provided the perfect vehicle for this idea.  The bugs are in the bodies of the monsters from the time of their birth.  During their lifetime the monsters secrete a chemical that suppresses the growth of the bugs.  The bugs activity still is enough to create the exoskeleton of the monsters, which grows throughout their lifetime.  In fact the exoskeleton is a common cause of death in aging monsters, having grown to large to allow breathing and eating.  At the time of death the suppression of the bugs ceases and the bugs leave their microscopic state and move into their developing stage, becoming more Queen like the longer the host monster has been dead.

In addition to the growth of the bugs, the growth of the exoskeleton accelerates to create a hatchery of sorts for the next generation of the bugs, creating the floral quality of the bodies of the Dead Ones

ceramic art

The Hunters and the Bugs


The most recent work in the monster series began with the resolution of the loss of the Lion’s original partner.   Rather than a victim, I wanted a partner that could match the direct gaze and strong stance of that sculpture.  I chose for that roll a hunting partner.

Several questions were presented with this potential solution.  First was the look of monster, how much of the original partner would carry forward into this one?  The only element from that piece I lost that I felt was really too powerful to loose was the element I was unable to resolve, the bone arms.  To resolve this in the clay I first began with an anatomy study.  While I was not interested in super realism I wanted the bones to be clearly and immediately recognizable.  As always I worked with Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck.  Working out the bones and the attachment points plus managing dryness of the individual elements was the main challenge of the monster.  After several lost attempts, I learned that both construction and attachment needed to happen at a stage dryer that I like to work.  This meant that there was a small amount of post firing repair required before the piece could be painted.

This decision brought the next question immediately to the fore.  Why the bones?  What is the history of the piece or the necessity of the manipulation?  To best answer this question a discussion of what the monsters hunt was necessary.  As always this began with a chat with my collaborator and BFF, Gabe.  How would the bone arm figure in to the hunt was the primary question.  To solve this the prey animal had to be invented.  The rules of the world dictated it be an exoskeletal animal that would move at a slower pace than the already slow monsters.  Rather than designing an animal to fit the criteria of the world and the monster, the method of the kill and the food source was decided and the bug was designed around those rules.

The bone arm is the only tool in the monster world.  She is the inheritor of one of the oldest families in the monster world.  This family has been responsible for securing the food for the entire tribe and making marks on important individuals for many generations.  Her father began to break the growing exoskeleton from the arm as it began to grow when she was a child.  She was also paired with her lion at that time.  The lion and hunter comprise a lifetime relationship which can be quite short.  The spikes of the queen bugs are very poisonous and most hunting pairs only hunt for a limited time.  Due to this mortality females are always chosen as hunters because they do not bear children.

The claw is used in the hunt as a pry tool.  The hunt begins with the pair hidden along a game trail.  Because of the limitations of speed in the world the pair rely on ambush.  The Lion attacks first and breaks the poisonous spikes from the Queen Bug’s body.  The Hunter then comes forward and pries the segments apart on the bugs body.  The edible part is between the two layers of the bugs bodies.  “Slip bugs” was the first title for them as I used gobs of the material, oozing from the joints of their bodies.  A queen is killed by breaking her body open and then she is turned to reveal her bright yellow underside, to indicate to the rest of the tribe where there next meal will be found.

The Hunter holds a primary position in her tribe.  With the Keeper of the dead and the Singer, she makes all important decisions of the monster tribe.

ceramic art

The Story of the Lion


The Lion is a piece that has gone through many changes since the first idea.  Origionally I wanted to do a monster with a cat on its back, inspired by the purple monster with a bird on its head in “Singing and Listening”.  After several sketches the idea was abandoned for impracticality with the making technique used in creating the work.  Instead I chose to morph a monster with a cat.  I studied the bodies of mountain lions for the model.  The making process was thrilling for this piece and really changed how all future work was constructed.  I learned a great deal about how to control the coiling slabs, and when it was finished I felt it was very successful.

For a partner I settled on a meeting moment.  His original partner was probably the most beautiful monster of the group.  Very tall and lean, she was caught a moment of surprise as if seeing the lion for the first time and being afraid.  After the success and learning of the lion I chose a new way to build the leg-arms, a much more aggressive technique that sacrificed the stability of the long slab in the back for a slab on slab straight build.  The arms were to heavy then to support their weight and dropped off while loading.

I decided to save the rest of the piece and build arms of another material.  Looking at the other monsters it was decided that the rules for replacement had already been established with the baby, that they had a skeleton inside the exoskeleton and the replacement would be wooden bone arms.  I spent a solid week hand carving humorous, radius and ulna from a hemlock handrail.  It was difficult work.

The problem then remained how to secure them to the ceramic in a way that would ensure the life of the piece.  Knowing the work was to be handled by others in its life as a gallery object, I wanted to be sure that it would need no special handling or set up.  After several months of frustration I decided to edit the piece.

It was a difficult decision and I really mourned the loss of the pair for a while, thinking that the lion would not be paired.  I therefore sent him to a show last month, thinking the piece complete.  Pulling it out of the studio and putting it into its intended environment really caused me to see him with fresh eyes.  I decided I would try another monster and really change the context of the relationship.  For this second piece I wanted a partner rather than a victim, and so the hunters came to be.  More notes on this pair coming soon.

ceramic art

Singing and Listening


The next pair in the series is titled Singing and Listening.  It depicts the courtship of a young couple.  This is a piece that has evolved a great deal in my thinking toward it.  initially it was the beginning of a deep relationship that I was most interested, but I have been very curious about the role of singing in a world with no ears.

There are two ways that the story typically develops, first as a lead element in the making of a piece.  I get an idea and build it, very straight forward.  The second way is more interesting in that it leads more places.  When sculpting I am focused on form and material primarily and forget the narrative that drives the piece.  I did not intend to have a singing monster, but following the lead of the clay, found one anyway.  The second piece was made in reaction to him, as a means of explaining him.  It was during the build that I decided to have the horns be hearing organs.

This has worked deeply into the culture of the monster world.  The singer holds an important place in the community.  Lacking hands, writing or written language has never developed.  All knowledge traditions are oral, the singer is the keeper of culture and history for his group.  A young singer begins to train in memorization at an early age and typically recite the stories daily so that no fragment is lost.  Despite this care  change does occur over time.  One of the many ways I am planning to record the stories of the monsters is in the songs.  Presenting them like gospels of the bible would account for the difference in stories throughout time.  It is in this way that I plan to tell the story of how we lost our hands and became monsters thousands of years ago.

The bird on the purple monsters head is another inconsistency that I have yet to understand.  These early pieces were made before I had considered how large the world would grow.  I may find a way to account for the bird being as unchanged as it is but in the end the piece may need to be remade.

ceramic art

Sleeping and Watching

This is the second piece created in the monster series, “Sleeping and Watching”.  This piece was very important for moving the story forward.  For many people this piece is pretty horrible, until I explain that the baby here is not dead but sleeping.  Because of the horns and the body changes I needed a different way for the monsters to reproduce.

The first pair set a  precedence for a shift in gender thinking.  The piece that looks female is Gabe and the piece that looks male is Jenirae.  I carried this idea further with this work in letting the males give birth.  The baby rests in a segment of his fathers body which he separates when the baby is ready to be born.  All monsters are born skeletal, the exoskeleton is excreted over the first few years of life and continues to grow throughout the life span of an individual.

As for the face of the father I have yet to understand the significance of his laking a mouth and nose and having instead that bony ridge.  I have considered several explanations but none satisfies the rules of the world.  The idea came from a sketch and it was important to use it at the time so I am sure I will find a satisfactory explanation for it eventually.  Its actually great to have pieces of the work that I cant really understand.  Its part of what keeps me so interested in this project.

The title for this piece also set rules for the growth of the project.  Truly the work is about human relationships but in titling the piece I began to consider that they also represent interior relationships.  There are always parts of ourselves that sleep and others that watch.  The title is meant to point to this.

ceramic art

Monster Stories

This piece was the first of the series that I call the monsters.  This work revolves around a story that is added to as the pieces are built.  In this blog I hope to work out the details of this story.  This piece was based on my best friend and his wife and their wonderfully close relationship.  It was after they were made but not yet finished that I considered they might be something more.

Originally I thought of them as busts.  On closer consideration and with the beginning of the next pair I began to think of them as complete creatures.  Humans, after some cataclysmic change that took our hands thus our ablity to make things.  What we see that remains is their relationships.

Most of the monsters are presented as pairs or groups of threes.  Revolving the work around relationships has given it an urgency for me as my own long marriage has dissolved.   Dancing the line with biography in the work has been important so that it does not become tied to a moment in my life but can still carry the urgency of real experience.  I have found looking outside my own concerns and thinking about the relationships of others very helpful in this.

This work makes its gallery debut next month.  At the opening I am planning to have the creation story of the monsters finished to read.  I’ll continue to work that out here in my blog