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8. March, 2010 / Idun

To glaze or not to glaze!

You would think that clay and glaze walk hand in hand, and I suppose that in many cases this is true. We glaze for beauty and functionality, but it is my opinion that we also glaze to mask. Why do we do that? Yes, I do realize there are many transparent glazes, but have you ever thought about how most of ceramic objects have coloured glazes? Next time you go to any shop that has ceramic objects, for example Ikea, have a look around. Look at the colours, you will understand what I mean. I do recognize the need for glazes on tableware for reasons of hygiene and easier cleaning, though as long as the clay has been vitrified, glazing for the function of holding water is not needed. I believe the natural colours of the clay can come into focus.

I have always found glazes quite tedious. You spend ages measuring and mixing, then after a test you realize it’s nothing like you thought it would be… and if it is, you will never be able to mix it that way again. Well, I presume it’s not like this for everyone, but that is my experience. Glazes can be irritating, and in many cases toxic to work with, which is why gloves and gas masks must be worn when mixing glazes. Glaze waste should not go into the sewer system, and must be disposed of by professionals. I think this is another reason why I don’t particularly like glazes. Even though most glazes are made of natural minerals, the fact that it can be bad for your body makes it feel unnatural to me, and makes me not want to work with it as long as I am not forced to do so. Clay on the other hand is not at all toxic. Clay is used in skin treatment, and some even say that eating clay is good for you. Especially in Africa pregnant women have apparently been known to eat dirt to fill the physiological needs for different nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc. I find it a bit ironic that the natural clay should be covered in “toxic” glaze.

I think that many forget that different clays have different colours, and that the variation in colour is enormous depending on at what temperature you fire.  What I have started to discover as well, is that mixing clays together creates even more colours! There are some artists that work with unglazed clay, and working with different clays to create colour variations.

Julian Stair is one I have found interesting. His work consists of mostly vessel forms made of different unglazed clays. His work is characterized by ‘a subtle relationship between form and material and a subdued palette of grey, red, black basalt and white porcelain’. He is concerned with questions of functionality, and explores the nature of pottery and its ambiguous occupation of space. He does this by placing functional pottery on ceramic stands or  grounds,  exploring the ritual and ceremony of ceramics on our houses.

I especially find his latest work with funerary ware very interesting.

“Whereas much of my work is concerned with the manner of art’s engagement with human activity and pottery’s haptic qualities, the funerary ware that I am currently engaged in has a different relationship with the body. Using the anthropomorphism central to ceramics I extend the familiar identity of the pot as a metaphor for the body – complete with foot, neck, shoulder, lip, belly – and invert this relationship by making work which contains the actual body.

The pot no longer is reliant on the body to animate it through use but instead houses the remains of the body itself. Through this transformation the symbolic becomes re-invigorated and in the process becomes tangible again. Like pots sustaining the body in life through the containment of food and drink, this funerary ware contains the body in death and underlines the profoundly somatic characteristic of pottery.” (Julian Stair, 2004)

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