My mind has had to take on some new learnings, of the IT kind because my regular band of clever helpers were not available at the precise moments of my crises. It meant I had to nut things out alone and that was a good thing because I now know how to use some new applications and with more practice I will look experienced by comparison. It took me longer than a digital native but I am happy to say my mind is still able to take on new things which means my mind grows a little more on one side or other and that is a good thing.
When hand building with clay especially fine porcelain, it is a matter of constantly adding even weights and thicknesses of clay and giving the clay time to consolidate before adding another piece just like adding new learnings to a brain. An expert in this field is Stephen Benwell who is exhibiting at Heide Gallery. http://www.heide.com.au/exhibitions/future/exhibition/stephen-benwell-beauty-anarchy-desire-a-retrospective/edate/2013-08-08/eid/448
His forms are outrageously large and finely built and a mystery of construction if you have ever tried it yourself.
His earlier works are quite muted colours because of the clay he used and the fact that in Australia in the seventies there was not much advice about firing coloured work which he discovered was better in an oxidation firing than reduction. I made the same mistakes at the beginning of my course. In those days he decorated with geometric forms on quite classical shapes. There are legs and feet on many vessels and at one stage he goes through quite a zoomorphic phase based on Pre Columbian figures. You will have to visit the exhibition to see those forms because my camera hiccupped at that point.
Here is one with feet though.
As he acquired more understanding of clay and firing and how glazes work in different firings his colours gradually come to life. The stiffness of his forms loosens and the surface also loosens and sings with colour and texture. The white surfaces become canvasses for luscious colour while the classic influence is directed more at the imagery on the vessels in repetition of classical tiled Roman walls.
Eventually the sketches of forms on the surface metamorphose into the actual figures without the vessels and have the quality almost of porridge which he accomplishes with layers of slip and glaze over the already slipped and glazed surface with just hints and smudges of the underglazed colour showing through the misty surface. A kinder way to describe them is to say that they are made of cloud material but if I said that I would feel pangs of jealousy because that is what I have always wanted to achieve! A couple of the pieces worked this way remind me of Cy Twombly paintings.
While viewing this exhibition someone asked me how one person can make a figure out of clay and for it to be a success and yet another person cannot. My answer in Stephen Benwell’s case is by adding a touch of tenderness. It reminds me of the old Milton the Monster song where the mad professor adds” just a tincture of tenderness ..but not too much” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gJAm1BA6Fg
The expressions drawn out in the facial expressions or bodily gestures have a magical quality that can only be put there by transferring a bit of one’s own soul into the creation. Many years ago I interviewed Melbourne naive artist Anne Marie Graham and she not only kindly tolerated the presence of my four children in her tiny apartment but she directed half of the interview to them in order to pass on her secrets. One of the most important gems was that no matter what you are painting or creating whether it be a rock or a bird, you need to inhabit that thing for that moment of creation, so that if you are a rock you know its heaviness on the earth and its drape of muscles and if you are a bird you know the flightiness of its perch. When you work like that you leave a part of yourself in the work. Stephen Benwell’s works breathe with a part of him.