Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When words are worth more than a thousand pictures. . .

This may be the one time words are worth more than a thousand pictures.

It came to me after I hung the three pieces of handmade paper I plan to use for Jim’s triptych and then began to tack on the images and the words he and I have been collecting in our sessions in the studio.

It was the first truly inspired moment I’ve had in weeks.

After Scarlett’s porcelain vessel was completed, I cleaned up the studio getting ready to jump right into my next two commissions, both mixed media works on paper.  The first and more involved of the two is the triptych I am doing with the input from Jim (see previous August post “And So It Begins. . .")  At the beginning of any project, there is usually all kinds of energy, excitement, free flowing exchange of ideas between artist and client.  But this can be easily derailed if one or the other is not ‘present’ – that can be either physically or psychically. . . or both.

That first August meeting in my studio where we began to discuss and then collect images for this piece was a good beginning. I felt very encouraged and was looking forward to our weekly meetings. By the end of five or six weeks, I was hoping to help Jim take those images which are most significant for him and create one or more small collages which would then be incorporated into the final piece. 

That was the hope and the plan.

But the next week, Jim didn’t show up.  Apparently, he totally forgot, which could actually have been a consequence of the residual memory loss from his accident. So I decided to both email and call before our next meeting as a reminder.  He called me the morning of that meeting and apologized but couldn’t make it because he hadn’t slept much the night before and had some pain in his legs.  What could I say?  Whatever air had been filling my creative balloon for this project was escaping . . . fast.

Between Jim missing for whatever reasons, and my missing a week being in Los Angeles, we’ve only had 3 sessions since August 13. It felt to me that Jim was coming when he could but wasn’t really invested or engaged.  That left me feeling at a loss. What was happening to this project? Just before our session last week, not being really sure he would show up, I decided maybe I’d just better get going on my own; take what we had done so far and start.

That’s when, after putting up the paper, the images and the words, I had my epiphany.

On the blue paper for Jim’s life before the accident – the one when he was a policeman, the job of his dreams - I tacked on mostly images he had brought in and a few words we collected.  On the silver/gray paper, which will depict the accident, I put just the series of words he and I had found.  And for the last piece of bronze paper, where he wants a phoenix to symbolize his life today, I put a few phrases.  But as I looked at the whole, it became very clear to me that perhaps the center piece shouldn’t have any images at all, but be a series of layered words, words that describe what it was like for Jim to be in this horrific accident, 3 months in a coma, with a number of major surgeries and years of rehabilitation behind him.

When I told Jim my idea last week in the studio and asked him what he thought about this ‘imageless’ word-filled center piece, he sat there almost speechless.  And then he said, almost not able to get the words out fast enough, “Oh, my gosh, that’s perfect. . . that’s it.  The whole time I was in a coma I had no images.  Even when I came out of the coma, and I could speak, I had no recollection of what was visually going on around me.” 

My inspiration had hooked him. And no surprise, then I was hooked as well.  This was the first real creative connection of our collaboration.  I think I’ll be seeing him this week in the studio.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Unintended Drip. . .

or the Kiln Kiss as Life Lesson.

If you plan to work in clay, you better be prepared to accept the ‘slap-yourself-upside-the-head’ life lesson – “You are NOT in control.” The lesson can come at any one of the many steps you take as a potter. To get the piece that you’ve imagined in your mind, through your hands, from the wheel or work table, and into and out of the kiln to be exactly what you imagined when you began is never a given. Ever.

And really, when I think about it, this life lesson which is always with me in my studio, is life’s main lesson, one of the hardest to learn and one I end up learning over and over again not just in my studio.

That said, these days, I rarely approach an unopened kiln with anything other than enthusiastic anticipation. Will the pieces I carefully stacked the day before, come out as I envisioned? Since I am so familiar with the clays and the glazes I’m using, I’m rarely astonished. Still, there is always one brief moment when I open the lid, where I think – OK, where’s the Kiln Kiss? The Kiln Kiss is what I call the one place on a piece that is unexpected – unintended – always carrying along with it a life lesson I’m not necessarily wanting to learn. The Kiss can be a beautiful surprise, something that I wish I had done intentionally, wish I knew how to reproduce such as a soft ‘bleed’ from an interior glaze to the outside wall. 

Or the Kiss can be the ‘Kiss of Death’ – a crack not seen before firing, a glob of glaze stuck to the bottom of the piece, a hard bleed that renders the entire outside an ugly drab mess. These pieces invariably end up thrown into the bottom of the garbage bin.

So when I opened the kiln the other day to see how Scarlett’s big, delicate, carefully glazed porcelain vessel had survived the fire, I literally gasped. All I could see was this most amazing floating, shimmering, sky/ocean blue – looking all the while like waves - like clouds - covering the interior. Had I planned this glaze to look exactly as it looked, it couldn’t have been more perfect. This was a Kiln Kiss extraordinaire!

But then I pulled the piece out and saw the ‘drip.’ The unintended blue drip, a drip right there where it should have been pure soft matt white. It was the not so nice, not so planned Kiln Kiss. Not the ‘Kiss of Death,’ mind you, but a Kiss I didn’t ask for and just for that moment, my heart sank a little. This wasn’t what I had envisioned – a blue drip right there. The ‘perfect’ piece was now somehow no longer 'perfect.' Here was the Kiln Kiss passing along the life lesson of acceptance, of going with what is and not with what was hoped for or planned. The larger lesson: We are not in control.

But now the worry, would this 'imperfect' pot be acceptable to its new owner, Scarlett?

When I took it out of the packing box, I was secretly hoping the drip had somehow transformed itself into a pleasing drip, a drip that could be almost intended, a drip we could all happily live with.

Scarlett’s reaction to the piece when she saw it said it all – “Breathtaking! I’m at a loss for words it’s so beautiful. And when I saw the ‘dot’ (she had already given the drip a new name – taking it on as her own),” she said almost hesitantly, “ it spoke to me and to a moment in my life which was so unexpected – but one I knew would be a part of me and I would have to accept.” She choked up and couldn’t say much more except that she loved her new piece.

Life lessons are presented to us in many guises. And maybe that old saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is one to keep in mind, especially when opening a kiln, looking for a Kiss.