Friday, May 29, 2015

NCECA 2014

My blog version of the article I wrote for NCECA 2014 Journal as Demonstrating Artist
Michelle Erickson

My career-long fascination with ceramic history during the period of Western exploration, expansion, and dominion began with exposure to archeological ceramics in the “colonial triangle” of Virginia. Fragments of British, European, Asian, and Native American pottery unearthed in early colonial excavations embody a remarkable global convergence of cultures in clay.  My now 25 years in the rediscovery of lost ceramic techniques of this era has come to define my work as a contemporary artist.
My work has been cleverly and aptly described from time to time by critical genius. Garth Clark once dubbed me a “Post Modern Chameleon.” (Fig.1
Liberty private collection
Photo Gavin Ashworth NY
The then prince of craft Glenn Adamson prior to his recent coronation at the Museum of Arts and Design encapsulated the nature of my practice as both a “grim fascination” like “a driver slowing down beside an accident” and a ‘Magpie flitting through ceramic history.’ (Fig.2) 
Pagoda Tulipiere's Museum of Art and Design NY
Photo Gavin Ashworth NY

Ceramics in America editor Robert Hunter poetically captured the spiritual side of creation describing my trancelike modeling of clay forms as “channeling an ancient votive maker worrying the clay between her fingers.”  (Fig.3)
Temptation Posset  Private Collection
And in his 2011 The Pot Book Edmund de Waal included my Pectin Shell Teapot  in his top 300 worlds pots.  Definitely flattering but it’s his words that I want on my tombstone which truly animate the calamity of making art.  In describing my work he begins:  A cobbled-together cartoon teapot has the feel of an object that cannot wait to be made. There is an urgency about this situation: a response is required, right now.” (Fig. 4)


Pectin Shell Teapot  2005
Photo Gavin Ashworth NY
Edmund’s visceral description could perhaps only come from a fellow ‘maker’. As such he could see the impractical, unpredictable, and impossible constructs of my work, which is often full of arcane unknowns and clumsy imperfections, but in the end they have to work. I want to have a self-possessed understanding of the ceramic objects that inspire me. Although mimickery, appropriation, and even the direct use of historical artifacts and their refuse can be an extraordinarily effective means of reference, my art is actually about the connection gained through the intimate act of recreation.
             During my tenure at the V&A I created three films in collaboration with the V&A and The Chipstone Foundation that document the process of recreating two icons from British ceramic history: one illustrating the arcane forming, decoration and social function of an 18th-century English delft puzzle jug and the second revealing the enigmatic techniques and elite production of a 1750’s Staffordshire pectin shell agate teapot. (Fig. 5)
Making an Agate Teapot Video Still Juriaan Booij

The third video documents my working studio and curated exhibition case in the V&A’s ceramics galleries that included 13th century London jug, indigenous clays foraged from East London construction sites and sprig molded patterns taken off Olympic trainers donated by Nike 2012 Olympic Track and Field Innovation  to make dragons, sauce boats and other stuff . (Fig. 6)
My V&A Residency Cases
Photo Robert Hunter
 The videos can be seen on the V&A Channel (QR code) or just by using google. The videographer Juriaan Booij is extraordinary as he collapses a decade of work into 5 minutes. (Fig. 7)
In my V&A residency studio with videographer Juriaan Booij filming Making an English Delft Puzzle Jug
 Photo Robert Hunter
This blog ME@V&A is a resource that further describes and illustrates my research and experimentation while there and since.
Beginning in 2001 my experimental archeology became the subject of an ongoing collaboration with the debut of the annual journal Ceramics In America now in it’s fourteenth year. The journal published by the Chipstone Foundation has both incorporated and initiated projects resulting in several comprehensive articles on my process of reverse engineering historical ceramic technologies. To date they include English slipware techniques, English agateware, recreating an 18th-century American porcelain picklestand from the Philadelphia China Manufactory of Bonnin and Morris.  In addition, I worked in collaboration with ceramic historians and curators to reproduce a North Carolina Moravian figural flask, a ring bottle, and several slipware objects. (Fig.8)
2nd Amendment Squirrel courtesy of Ceramics in America 2009

In 2008 my commissioned artwork appeared on the cover of Ceramics in America and featured in the article Fit For A Queen written by Ivor Noel Hume OBE who tells the story of my design and creation of the official gift given to Queen Elizabeth II during her historic visit to Virginia in 2007 commemorating the 400th anniversary of founding of Jamestown. (Fig 9) 
Terra Nova presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll as the official Gift from the Commonwealth of Virginia
During The Queen's historic visit to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first English settlement at Jamestown in 1607. Cover Article by Ivor Noel Hume OBE Ceramics In America 2008
Queen's Collection
Photo Gavin Ashworth NY
My work with Ceramics in America has given me access that includes the amazing photography of 
Gavin Ashworth, to an extraordinary breadth of context and scholarship on many previously unpublished archeological and antique ceramic collections.  These lengthy full color illustrated articles have been a mutually beneficial experience tailor made for publishing this aspect of my practice. Equally important, however, is the significant role this historically based perspective on the American ceramic psyche plays in the development of my art. Whether using the precedent of anti-slavery ceramics for the basis for my series on 21st-century child soldiering, (Fig.10)
Front and Centerpiece collection of the Chipstone Foundation
Photo Gavin Ashworth NY
 or exploring the fascination in the 18th century with the discovery of fossils to address our own predicament with fossil fuels. (Fig.11)
Fossil Teapot collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
21st Century Galleries
Photo Gavin Ashworth NY
 The substance of our shared past is a tightrope I walk between the constraints of physical recreation and the liberation that exists within those boundaries, a balance between force and direction. No matter how many ceramic genres and techniques I have explored I am always compelled by the material of clay, from it’s ancient geological origin to it’s modern space age use. Its history is the history of us.  
21st century material culture is inundated with the technological phenomenon of seemingly instantaneous proliferation in art and design yet it reminds me of the invention of fast food- it seemed so great at the time. Now more than ever the art of the hand is increasingly significant in the context of virtual experience and continues to be irreplaceable even in the production of our most sophisticated technology. Clearly evidenced in recent headlines like “300,000 Foxconn workers produce 500,000 iphone 5S units every day”[viii] Has Technology advanced art? I like to look at our most sophisticated advancements- the future- as arcane methods of the past and in that future the unconscious pursuit of technology for it’s own sake is force without direction an ambition that has the dubious distinction of being the greatest thing since splitting the atom. (Fig.12)
Demon and Deity-pot collection of Arkansas Art Center
Photo Gavin Ashworth NY

 I suggest that it’s when art advances technology that humanity is universally advanced and somehow clay is always at the center. Grandiose words from “Hampton potter Michelle Erickson”.

Solo exhibition Michelle Erickson: Conversations In Clay is on view at Virginia MOCA thru Aug 16 2015


1) Garth Clark Blue + White = Radical Catalogue essay, Garth Clark Gallery NY 2002
2) Glenn Adamson Re-enter The Dragon: the Post Modernism Of Chinese Ceramics,  Transfer: The Influence of China on World Ceramics. Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia No. 24 Cover Article, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art page 158
3) Robert Hunter Specializing in the Diverse: Kerameiki Techni Aug 2004, page 43-47
4) Edmund de Waal The Pot Book, Phaidon Press Oct 10 2011 page
5) 2007? Daily Press whatever article Mark St John Erickson

Michelle Erickson has a B.F.A. from The College of William and Mary. Her contemporary ceramics in museums collections include The Chipstone Foundation, The Museum of Art and Design, The Long Beach Museum of Art The New-York Historical Society,The Peobody Essex, Yale University Gallery, The Carnegie Museum, The Mint Museums, Seattle Art Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Cincinnati Art Museum, Arkansas Art Center, The Potteries Museum Stoke on Trent, UK and the Victoria and Albert Museum London. Her work has been featured in numerous national and international publications. Erickson is renowned for her research into 17th- and 18th-century ceramic techniques published extensively in Ceramics in America and has lectured and demonstrated her work widely for scholarly groups and institutions. She has designed and produced ceramics for major motion pictures and HBO series John Adams. As Artist in Residence at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2012 Erickson created three videos now on the V&A Channel the films were shown at Ceramic Arts London 2013 and the International Ceramics Festival UK. She received a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 2013-14 fellowship.  Michelle was guest artist at the North Devon Festival of Pottery, funded by the British Arts Council Sept 2013 Demonstrating Artist  NCECA 2014, and Guest Artist at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for their Friday Focus An Artist's Perspective April 25th 2014.
Erickson's recent exhibitions include her solo show Potter's Field was at the Clay Art Center NY April 2014. The NCECA Invitational Exhibition at Milwaukee Art Museum Flow Feb - March 2014. Enough Violence SCC 2013-14 and Traveling exhibition Inciteful Clay




Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mover Shaker World Class Maker







The V&A categorized my artist in residence as "World Class Maker".
Titles can be a useful way to stake out territory especially since we can't go around pissing on everything we want to lay claim to.  At first it seemed a bit mocking but one day it struck me to take my props- embrace and even brandish the moniker. One- why not? B-  I realized it is a literal description of my specific approach as a clay artist, and a very a useful way to give people some idea what they may encounter - one whose work in clay includes a serious skill set. It definitely sets the tone- the only trouble is then you gotta come up with the goods!
 There is a strong compelling movement within contemporary ceramic art that is about NOT making things out of clay- but making things out of clay things that have already been made or using clay to define that which will never be made - the temporal shaping and arranging of clay material creating an impermanent vulnerable momentary tap into the ceramic cosmos - a kind of alter ego to the earthly manifestations that clay has been bound to for millennia. A valiant attempt at impeaching this imperishable artifact from our collective past-a past we can't run away from but one we can perhaps travel at light speed to escape at least for a moment. I like it! After all ceramics today is the material of space travel diabolical weaponry and the key to solar energy!? what? it is as much a material of the future as the past and one that allows our present predicament an escape to both- sometimes at once.

 London truly seems to be ground zero for some seriously righteous paradigm shifting mind altering endeavors in clay and a lot of other so called craft and design (ugh). I have like many become swept up in the dragnet of critical thinkers in the field ambitious to redefine what and who is art- artist-craft- craftsman design- designer, a back and forth momentum that has begun to exhaust itself (or at least me) while inching closer and closer to an anticlimactic balance point- like the mystic tale of the stag whose mad pursuit of a heavenly scent drives him off the edge of a cliff and contorted from the fall, his head encircled to his belly, he realizes the origin of the divine fragrance that compelled him to his death was in fact emanating from his own navel.

  So where better to explore all that we call ceramics than in the belly of the beast- swallowed whole the undeniable proof of our karmic china closet and at once the germ seed of provocateur- the enemy within, laying, navigating, wounding and wounded alike warriors on the conceptual minefield of art and clay.
 In light of this I had a 'senior makers' moment- the V&A organized a pow wow at the om point for a small diverse group- whose common ground is clay- to explore the meaning of ceramic art in the 21st century a high minded pursuit that quickly devolved into playing with Nike Olympic trainers, London clay and of course tea and cake- it was all very civilized.


 V&A Curators Reino Liefkes, Alun Graves, Catrin Jones, and intern Kate Quinlan, residency and 'long table' coordinator Ruth Lloyd, ceramic artist's Phoebe Cummings, Carol McNicholl, Clare Twomey Conor Wilson, Matthew Raw and Ceramics in America Editor Robert Hunter who took the usual high ground and all the great pictures.
 True a few heavy hitters were MIA but I tried to compensate by using a bigger hammer.
Nike once again was literally on the table I was continuing to explore the trainer patterns from the olympic trainers Brett Holts had brought me from the Nike 2012 Track and Field Innovation


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Making Movies


      


Bisque Fired Puzzle Jugs
Shane Porter and I in the studio
The London clay experiments had to play second fiddle to getting the video's completed. I had made several puzzle jugs which was necessary to film the throwing and construction process in one session. I then needed to bisque fire them in order to film the glazing and decorating phase during the next filming. Luckily my assistant Shane Porter an MFA student from The Royal College of Art  arrived just in time- his first task / opportunity- to sieve the delft glaze. I  had made a 'proper' batch which needed to be large enough, about 10 k, to film glazing- dipping and turning the puzzle jug. Shane was pretty surprised at how long it took to sieve but I was delighted to have the help since up to this point I was operating mostly solo and I was furiously trying to get the entire agate project from model and mold making for all the parts- to clay formulating and testing as well as delft and creamware glazes before making the larger batches. Shane is terrific and one of the amazing young artists coming out of the RCA ceramic and glass program.

Measuring the 18th Century Agate Teapot from the V&A
Still Juriaan Booij
I left off on the agate project where a collaborative effort resulted in a discovery while filming. Senior curator of ceramics and glass Reino Liefkes, associate curator Catrin Jones, their intern Kate Quinlan and Ruth Lloyd my residency coordinator were all engaged while I was trying to create the form for the pectin shell teapot model. I began by throwing a form based on measurements from the original and an image of the piece scaled up 10% larger than actual size to account for shrinkage.



Trying to determine the the underlying form in order to recreate it is harder than it may seem because the agate pattern obscures the shape of the piece to the eye. Using non invasive conservators putty we decided to take a small impression of the crown of the shell relief at the shoulder.  When I then pressed a piece of clay into the silicon putty impression taken off the period example the solid clay without the busy pattern clearly revealed the form.
Reino suggested it looked much like a shell impression I had made from a scallop shell mold I brought with me that I cast during the Bonnin and Morris project Making a Pickle Stand in Ceramics in America 2007.
Shell Mold from Bonnin and Morris Project
Still Juriaan Booij
I agreed it looked very similar and I decided to compare the size shape number of lobes etc to the shell mold and to our surprise it was damn close to the scaled up image of the original agate teapot. I decided to cut the thrown model I had started and press it into my shell mold to see how close it would come to approximating the original. So we then shifted to the premise that this teapot, unlike the salt glazed stoneware block mold, contemporary to it, of a 'shell like' form was in fact a literal natural shell form.

Cutting my thrown model in half  to press into the shell mold.
Film still  Juriaan Booij
Marking the 'growth rings with a compass.
Film Still Juriann Booij

Various experiments with when creating the original form.
The revelation that this particular teapot form was really meant to closely imitate a natural shell or was in fact taken directly from a natural shell is more than just a technology insight it cuts to the very core of the enigmatic nature of this genre of ceramics within the larger landscape of the global industrial powerhouse the Staffordshire potteries had become. The salt glaze teapot block mold I chose to put on display in my case has a form much more conducive to the function of a teapot. This block mold, used to produce molds for casting and press molding salt glaze examples , has a more baroque character where the design approach for the model is a stylized shell sculpted into a functional teapot shape incorperating a combination high relief from modeling and surface relief created by incising into the plaster cast of the model to further embellish the elaborate shell. 

The design of the agate teapot however relies on both  the complexity of the fabric which by nature of the technique is inherently individual to each piece, and couples that stone-like patterned clay (with origins Chinese antiquity) with the decidedly purist approach to the form of a natural scallop shell mirrored on both sides, a classical design and one where the art of the form supersedes it's adaptation to functionality. This becomes very evident when looking at the piece 'head on'. The unusual form of the agate pectin shell teapots I have reproduced in the past has always seemed puzzling but it was not until I had the chance to live with the original in my V&A studio case that it finally became clear that there is something unique and telling about the design and development of this elite ware.

Below are the salt glaze block mould and a teapot taken from similar mould both in the V&A collection



Shell dish form in the study cases Room 138 the V&A Ceramics Galleries



The Staffordshire salt-glazed pickle dish in the center has similar characteristics to the agate pectin shell teapot though simpler and smaller it's clear this dish has a related approach.

The press molded shell forms I made from my 'Bonnin and Morris' shell mold were very close but still needed a lot of manipulation to match the form of the teapot I was working from. All of the other elements had to be modeled and molded and the lid and finial required some carving into the molds once cast.




The models and molds I created to form all the parts of the agate teapot.

Incising into the teapot lid to create relief this is easily seen on the white salt examples above but again was almost undetectable as an element in the 18th century agate piece until close inspection.
Film still Juriaan Booij
I formulated the agate clays using all UK materials and managed to get some really nice cobalt manganese and iron clays with only a couple of test firings fortunately since that is all the time I had.

Manganese Iron and Cobalt earthenwares I formulated for agate.
Film still Juriaan Booij
Fired clay and glaze tests for the agate,  press molding of  'laid agate' is integral to the process so in order to get good tests of the clays the full agate technique has to be done and press molded to maintain the integrity of the pattern.  in this case into the shell mold and a skull mold. 
The film on this process will be available to see online on the V&A Channel and Artbabble soon so I won't elaborate on the steps in between but the resulting teapot in it's unfinished state is shown here to illustrate the almost precarious form that defines the character of this piece.
The leather hard agate teapot after construction showing the profile of the 'classical' form next to the fired clay and glaze test.

A hard days work! 






























Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mucking Out

Miners operating a Greathead Shield to 'muck out' London tunnels


I have a habit of keeping my eye out for construction sites as a source of indigenous clay. I had already found myself reaching into pits where waterlines were being repaired to grab precious handfuls of the dense muck London is built on- mostly disdained by Londoners as a total nuisance.
My partner Rob Hunter had taken a trip to Highate Cemetery to do photography and saw piles of solid clay that had been excavated during some street work nearby. Two days later we returned with bags to haul back as much as we could carry but the clay was gone- with the Olympics looming things were probably more expedient than usual and the only clay remaining was in the work pit. I took a chance and climbed inside the barriers just to grab what I could but I had to lay down on the concrete and hang in so I didn't dilly dally.
Line repair near Highgate Cemetary


When I came upon my second chance at a large construction site in east London I decided to carpe diem -
Meet Joe my knight in shining reflector tape in my quest for London clay! 

 When asked- Joe, who was more puzzled about how I knew his name than my strange interest in the clay, quickly responded by saying the clay in the pile was 'rubbish' and I would want the 'solid sticky stuff' and that there are a couple of different types. Needless to say Joe's working knowledge of clay was impressive, he offered to bag up some 'good clean stuff'  and I could come back for it later especially if I brought some 'hot girls' with me! I did attempt to honor his request but the man for the job was once again Rod 007 Jellicoe -Joe did bag up the clay as promised about 60 kilos- but when I asked around at the V&A if there was anyone with a vehicle to grab the precious cargo the response was 'we usually take the train or ride bikes' clearly that was not gonna happen. Rod to the rescue, he picked me up and when we arrived I could see the disappointment on Joe's face as I explained that Rod was the hottest girl I could find with a car…
Getting the clay into the museum is a story in itself, the security gate guards and all involved were amazingly responsive to the impromptu situation so Rod maneuvered his way into the V&A loading dock and delivered the payload once again!
The clay in bags in front of my V&A  studio in gallery 143

One type of clay from  east London which is black in it's raw form

The second type which has a marbled stratus and is almost oily feeling.
This excursion was in the midst of my preparation and filming of the delft puzzle jug and the agate teapot I describe in an earlier post. The clays were pretty moist the day I got them but I had to turn my attention  to the videos and by the time I could begin my experiments they had hardened- but not dried- the most difficult state for reconstituting. I also wanted to try to preserve the marbleization of the 2nd type which requires it being wet enough to use directly or thoroughly dry.
I  thought I might play with the idea of the natural agate in contrast with the extraordinarily contrived process of the Staffordshire type I was busy developing for the video and also wanted to continue my Nike 2012 Olympic trainer patterns with east London earth. But the most compelling thing about these clays is experiential not result oriented, literally using the ground I was occupying to explore their unique unknown properties-  unpredictable-volital- beautiful and not necessarily anything anyone in their right mind would want to mess with. Right up my ally!
The unfired black clay impressed with some of the Nike patterns to test. 
London clay is famous for the fossils it contains which dovetails with my interest in connecting fossil imagery with fossil fuel and the notion of a 'human fossil' exemplified by my work Fossil Teapot
Fossil Teapot Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art's, Richmond VA

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Victoria Miro and Joe




#Lamentation 2012 Greyson Perry

"The Dead Christ… "Andrea Della Robbia V&A










I had the opportunity to see Grayson Perry's take over of the British Museum during The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman in December where the tapestry and fabric works included seemed to be imbued with the palpable excitement of virgin territory (no pun intended), so I really wanted to get to Perry's exhibition of tapestries The Vanity of Small Differences at Victoria Miro Gallery  this summer.  Of course it came down to seeing it on the last day but my guru Rod Jellicoe had highly recommended I make the effort and I was glad I did. The venue allowed for the work to be seen both intimately and expansively in lot of natural light which is not what you typically encounter with fabric exhibitions so that in itself lent an irreverence to these charged works.

I feel a certain simpatico with how Perry translates the past into narratives of the modern human condition. Our works were both acquired in 2003 by the Contemporary Art Society of London for the Potteries Museum at Stoke on Trent when consulting curator Andrew Watts was building up the collection with contemporary clay artists that reference Staffordshire pottery traditions.  Perry's and my relationship to British ceramic history are very different but our conceptual paths do 'cross' now and then- though you'll rarely catch me in a dress!

The Lamentation is a subject well represented in the V&A collections in numerous mediums and periods. The piece above is a renaissance terracotta example I had the great honor of passing every morning on my way in and when leaving late at night. The museum was often most compelling when dark and empty, and though this work was not directly in my path it always managed to capture my attention for at least a moment sometimes longer. As an artist who has worked a lot with 18th-century material I'm aware of scenes from the life of Christ serving as compositional tinplates for satirists of the period, a nice double edge to Perry's sword- or knitting needle- as he weaves in William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress to set up the loaded circumstance of his 21st century commentaries.

Strangely prior to my coming to London I had been developing a political work referencing a pretty brutal satirical engraving by Paul Revere entitled The Able Doctor or America Drinking the Bitter Draught. When I first discovered this work something about the composition was familiar and I realized it was the Lamentation- in place of The Dead Christ is a 'Native America' being held down and orally sodomized with a teapot - a vessel that Rob Hunter brilliantly incorporates in his lecture on 18th-century rituals as being clearly symbolic of male sexual aggression. With the political climate here, the rise of the so called Tea Party and it's overt agenda on women's reproductive rights 'dominating' Republican policy and rhetoric, this image could not be more relevant to 21st-century American Politics. A disturbing revelation in itself - I'm definitely not done with this one yet.



 During the Bush administration I created 2 works protesting the Iraq war one in 2003 Liberty on Leave and one in 2008 Paradise Lost. Both pieces reference the allegorical depictions of Fecundity by Bernard Palissy.   I came to know these works through trying to recreate the subsequent versions produced in the 17th-century by London delft potteries. The imagery translated into clay by Palissy correlates strongly to this mid-16th-century painting  from Fontainebleau depicting the Birth of Cupid. This painting reflects  the flourishing paganism at Fontainebleau almost at odds with the religious symbolism that dominates renaissance art and turning the idea of the virgin mother on it's head.

The Birth of Cupid Master of Flora ( Italian, Fontainebleau 2nd half of the 16th century
Fecundity dish Bernard Palissy or Palissy School on view in the V&A ceramics galleries.



Paradise Lost 2008  currently in COVET Ferrin Gallery




Victoria Miro is a fantastic gallery with compelling exhibitions, dramatic spaces and a tranquil garden complete with cupcakes! But the excitement of that day was to continue when on the corner across from the Mcdonalds there was a big construction site and where there is a backhoe there is usually clay-


This is where I meet Joe...  To be Continued…