Friday, February 8, 2019

#liberty #justice #equality

 In 2010 I was asked by Winterthur Museum to reverse engineer the process of making an 18th-century Liverpool creamware jug to inform their publication Success to America: Creamware for the American Market referencing the S. Robert Titleman Collection, the finest collection of patriotic jugs in the world. This genre of colonial era ceramics, largely produced and exported from Liverpool, England, documents an incredible historic record of war, revolution, independence, and trade. Commemorative and celebratory depictions of American revolutionary heroes, merchant ships, war ships and sailors adorn these British ceramics “made for the American Market.” At first glance, the inscription “Success To Trade” appears to be an innocuous salutation but the reality of Britain and America’s cynical capitalistic enterprise was the brutal business of human commodity and Liverpool the largest slave port in the world.

Patriotic Jug 2018 

“Patriotic Jug” historically connects the actions of NFL player now Nike spokesman Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee against the inhumanity of mass incarceration and institutional racism to the iconic image of the ‘kneeling slave’ made famous by Josiah Wedgwood’s 1787 abolitionist medallion ‘Am I Not A Man and A Brother. By the early 19th century, ceramic sugar bowls and tea sets were decorated with abolitionist themes featuring images of the kneeling slave as a call to boycott sugar produced by slave labor- directly instructing social activism through household ceramics. The transfer print of a kneeling enslaved woman on the face of the jug is borrowed from a 19th-century pin cushion worn around the wrist, an artifact of women’s work, and an intimate daily reminder of the injustice of slavery.
A transfer print of the 1st amendment encircles the interior of the rim and the Nike campaign moniker EQUALITY opposes the iconic image of Kaepernick’s extraordinary action to risk his career and raise his voice with millions watching by taking a knee on behalf of the voiceless who suffer the injustice of racism.
photography  Robert Hunter

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Trumped Up China

Years of cynical republican leadership assaults on immigration, women's rights, voting rights, planned parenthood, LGBT rights, climate change, and gun legislation - the ugly politics of us and them gave Trump his rebel yell.
... read more at trumped up china

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Michelle Erickson: Conversations in Clay at Virginia MOCA

 during my my solo exhibition conversations in clay spring summer 2015 at virginia moca director of exhibitions Alison Byrne videographer eric hales and associate curator of education truly mathews combined efforts to make this short video connecting 'master class' making with a look into the galleries. many of the works in the show came out of exploration and experimentation during my 2012 v&a residency..

a project to get area youth engaged in art resulted in these two teen audio stops. each work chosen from the exhibition by the teen author to create a narrative the piece evokes from their imagination .
rake's progress: the orgy scene

 green squirrel and second amendment squirrel

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!