My making cycle is around two to four weeks long. I avoid planning each piece in detail, rather preferring to explore what is in my subconscious through abstract sketches. I start each cycle reflecting; it may be on a piece I have made previously, an idea that came of itself or something I have seen that has nothing to do with ceramics. I then use that to sketch. At some point, some of the sketches will suggest a form or an idea for the surface and it is then that I progress to forming. To my eye, form and surface are interdependent to the point that they are inseperable and their development always follows a parallel path.

Clay is the foundation of all ceramic art and pottery. The type used has a profound, indeed defining effect on the end result. Contrast is the main instrument I use to define many features of my work and the two clay bodies I use are a vast contrast: one fires black and is a custom mix of clay bodies and inclusions, earthy, textured and rugged. The other is a very pure white fine translucent porcelain. Their differential shrinkage rates require careful consideration during assembly, firing and decoration. Some of the glazes and slips I use contain wild London clay dug directly from the vicinity of the studio as it is an excellent source of Iron Oxide and reinforces the link between the pieces and the place where they are made. 

The surfaces are decorated with metal oxides and slip (liquid clay), dried thoroughly and fired at low temperature to create a stable surface to hold glaze. I have developed glazes over many years of testing. They are loosely based on those of historic Japanese and Korean ceramics but extensively modified to the requirements of my own clay bodies and surface effect. I make use of recycled and found ingredients such as rust from scrap iron and steel as a source of Iron Oxide and crushed glass, not least to recycle these valuable materials but also as they render a more variable and textured effect than commercially available ingredients.

Clay is a material which can be formed directly by the hands, with few or no tools whatsover. The directness  of this method and the responsiveness of clay to gesture are among its strongest appeals. My early work was dominated by the wheel, a technique which is like a dance between two partners, the human hands on the one part and a conspiracy between the centrifugal force, plasticity, elasticity and friction of clay on the other. A technique which is very pleasant to do and dominated by soft round curves. These can be modified but I found that the flat surfaces and hard edges most of my forms demanded were usually better served by working directly with slabs of clay, jointed, cut and marked by self made tools. Notwithstanding, the wheel and its particular rhythm will always have a place in my work in pieces that demand its particular textures.

Following the first (bisque) firing, each piece is lined and decorated with glaze. These start off as carefully formulated suspensions of mineral powders in water that melt and form a glassy surface at kiln temperatures. This process is every bit as demanding as the forming of the piece itself. Recipes take years, even lifetimes to test and develop and in this age, a solid understanding of glaze chemistry and physics. I use a series of glazes loosely based on historic Japanese and Korean ceramics but modified to suit the clays, textures and colours desired. These subtly shift in colour from dissolved metal oxides diffusing from the clay itself and from areas where oxides are directly applied.

 

 

 

In the penultimate phase, glaze firing, the pieces are returned to the kiln to face its fiery heart for a second time, allowing the glaze to melt and the clay to partially fuse and form stoneware, a very hard and durable form of ceramic. Levels of fuel and air are carefully regulated to alter the clay and metal oxides for beautiful colour and surface effects. At stoneware temperature, the glaze intimately fuses with the underlying clay - minerals and metal oxides flow from one to another creating a myriad of colours and textures, a process which is only partly under the control of the maker. Each piece thus acquires unique features through an element of chaos - a true dance between the maker and the forces of the universe. I regard the process complete only when someone else acquires the piece and discovers its textures and their use for it for themselves, be it simply to hold to admire its details or to use to hold precious and well loved contents.

 

© Marek Pitera 2017 - 2020. All rights reserved.