23 April 2012

NEW WORK ON SHOW: BRUSH STROKES AND ARABESQUE






















These are some of the ceramics I am showing at ARTSPACE 21 at the Barn Galleries between the 12th and 27th May.

In these works, I continue to explore the relationship between form and decoration, the contrast of decorated and undecorated spaces and the variations I can make with few colours and limited means.

Large areas of the vessels remain white. My medium is tin-glazed earthenware, the traditional medium of maiolica. I have resisted the temptation of most maiolica painters to cover the entire surface. Porcelain is often appreciated for its white or off white glaze, but the workaday tin-glazed earthenware rarely is. Perhaps I can't shake off my graphic design training, where I was taught that good design must have a lot of white space. These designs become muddled if there is too much in them.

My motifs have gradually developed from scribble into arabesque.  Although I don't read Arabic, I am aware of the shapes of Arabic calligraphy, and once I saw the connection I began consciously to combine short hooks with long strokes, lines with dots and curves with loops like the motifs that make the rhythm of written Arabic. 

The way the brush behaves is crucial to this work. It must hold enough pigment for a long stroke and the blunt beginnings and pointed tails depend on the shape and elasticity of the brush.  Although the designs are spontaneous, the brush strokes are not done quickly, so the brush must be firm enough to glide smoothly over the unfired glaze without suggesting hesitation.

Chinese brushes of goat or wolf hair are easy to get in large sizes and are cheap. The treatises on Chinese calligraphy talk about precise movement, sometimes starting the brush in the direction opposite to the way you want it to go and of the need for long practice.  Perhaps I haven't learned to use Chinese brushes properly, but for the arabesques I can use only sable brushes.  The broad washes of colour (blue and black on the pots illustrated) can be done with soft, wide brushes of goat or ox hair.  Brushes of artificial fibre are too stiff for my work.

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