It was a bit of a shock, really, when I recently hung this older two dimensional work of mine, Protector/Betrayer: The Myth of the Cure, and took a closer look.
There it was – the torn paper – showing all too graphically how I felt after my first bout with breast cancer. I honestly didn’t remember using the ‘tear’ as an expressive technique much before my newest clay series.
But then, much to my surprise, I saw torn clay in an even earlier piece, Bridal Veil Mirage, which I made well before my diagnosis but after what was an idyllic trip to Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite. The tears were used more literally here – water falling into an uneven end.
So what is it about the tearing of paper, of clay that apparently has always been part of my creative tool bag but all of a sudden has become such an integral part of my work in clay?
This is how I explained it a few months ago when I had to write a statement about my most recent work which can be seen in the slide show on the right:
I began to create these new works in clay after what seemed to be a very long, fallow time. It took moving my studio from the one we built at our house on 8th Street in Berkeley to one half the size in a commercial building in Oakland to shake the cobwebs from my hands and get my creative juices flowing once again.
These pieces seemed to explode from an unconscious place, without much effort or thought. One finished vessel implored me to begin the next, trying to go beyond what I had just done aesthetically – make the pinch pots thinner, larger, smaller. Start tearing the clay. Now carve into the clay. Now throw and alter the clay. Tear. Carve. Throw. Alter. It became a physical mantra for me, and before I knew it, my shelves were bulging with this new work.
It wasn’t until I began to look at the pieces as a “body of work” that I saw what I had created – it was my life as a vessel. These were manifestations of my bout with breast cancer – the body torn, scarred, but still aching to be sensual. Then the train trip two summer’s ago, back to Iowa – the landscape of my youth so indelibly seared into my soul, worked its way out onto the clay’s surface. And of course, some of the pieces so very delicately balanced remind me just how unsteady life can be unless I let myself find that sweet spot of stability.
Many think potters are “craftsmen” and forming the clay is a craft. I think when you have something to say, when you have found your voice, you can speak through your hands by working in the mud.