When 2020 came around nobody anticipated it to be a year that would define the course of the lives of so many of us.
We were all hoping for a year in which opportunities that we might have missed in 2019 would come our way this time around.
I was scheduled to teach in Europe once again and my fingers were crossed to become one of the award winners of the individual artist fellowship granted by the Mississippi Arts Commission for 2021.
If I were awarded with a fellowship, I would have attended the New Members Exhibition and seminar “New Trends in international Ceramic art development”, a Biennial Congress of the International Academy of Ceramics. This would have been my first opportunity to attend this congress in the presence of a world renown group of ceramic artists.
By May 2020, all my porcelain teaching workshops in Europe were cancelled and I knew it was just a matter of time to hear that the IAC Congress would be canceled too.
The congress and show was supposed to start in Rovaniemi, Lapland and then travel to the Guozhoug Ceramic Art Museum in Beijing, China, where it would have been accepted into their permanent collection. The show was postponed, but finally opened in Beijing where it will stay now. The congress is still postponed and will be an online event in September 2021.
When I received the news that MAC approved and awarded me with a visual artist fellowship grant and I could not use it for the purpose it was originally granted, I knew that the time came in which I as an artist really had to proof that the honor that came my way was worthy to those who entrusted me with it. Afterall, we as artists are supposed to think outside the box and be problem solvers.
Under almost complete lockdown, I realized that the best approach was to look at all the aspects of my life as an artist: creating art, instruct art and as technical author. I wanted to see how I can apply the funds to all these aspects. Ironically, it did not even cross my mind to do motivational speeches and presentations with audiences as I did in the past, but the beauty is that I collected plenty of information during 2020 to use in future presentations, including my experiences and a fellowship grantee.
When the opportunity arose to research and write an article for the Ceramics Monthly, Parian ware was on my plate. Composing a Workable Parian Clay Body was published in October 2020
Parian ware is a type of porcelain that is self-glazing. The medium, although lovely, is very difficult to work with, since it has almost no plasticity. There are only a few people in the world that work with it.
This new information led to new opportunities for me in which I could introduce parian clay into my own work. Anytime when we as artists can connect and learn from our peers, we grow. I had the opportunity to connect with other artists in other parts of the world that was already using a commercial parian clay body or that was working with it in the form of a slip.
Art is the ability to see the world through the viewfinder of our minds eye. It is the ability to break situations around us up and to present it to an audience in a different form – Antoinette Badenhorst
My work is mostly inspired by nature: the nature of people, the nature of animals, the nature of circles, cycles, and seasons.
To grow as an artist, it is necessary for me to leave the safety and confinement of my home, my office, and my studio and to see the world through my own viewfinder.
Therefore, when the opportunity came, Koos and I packed our bags, traveled south through Alabama, the Northern parts of Florida, circling all the way into Georgia before making our way back home. While I was searching for ideas and fresh content, Koos was documenting my experiences in art galleries, museums, and natural parks with his cameras.
Although we had limited access to many of these public treasures, we came back home with lots of written notes and sketches, video clips and images.
Experience taught me not to intentionally push to express myself in art. My impressions always need to go deep into the fertile soil of my subconscious, where it is processed before it comes back as interpreted art. Most of the time, I do not even realize when information bubbles back up. It is only when I begin to analyze it after the fact, that realization hits.
This time around, I think the concept of birds were lingering in my mind from long before we took the trip around these Southern States. The fact that I was drawn to the wetlands was probably a confirmation of where my mind was already heading for as far back as my childhood.
The public often interpret the lines that are seen on my sculpted bowls as leaves, flowers, birds, butterflies, or angels. I simply enjoyed the fact that I could give them the freedom to see what they wanted to see, without analyzing it in more detail. It gives me great satisfaction to give the public the freedom to interpret and after all, my theme was spelled out in statements many times before.
Then, with so many people in distress in 2020, I was consciously looking for ideas to encourage others around me. The swallow, which is a symbol of hope, crossed my mind and I began to research them. With the mockingbird and its melodious tunes, robins that do not fly away when I go near them, blue birds and so many other birds to observe from my showroom window, I am not surprised that people often see birds in the abstract lines of my sculpted vessels. If not full birds, there are always references to bird wings, bird feathers and forms.
Bird wings are translucent in flight, something that I think are sometimes replicated in my sculpted bowls, especially in the rhythmic lines seen in my translucent bowls.
Birds has personality, often making me think of people. Therefore, when I was looking for themes to present an online class for schools, “The crow and the pitcher” emerged and I enjoyed it thoroughly! During this time, I did some research about crows, which are certain times of the year taking my backyard over. I ended up presenting the crow in a more whimsical way.
The idea of how we as human can relate to birds often crossed my mind and I think, subconsciously, became an idea to explore.
A bird in flight
We are social creatures that enjoy relationships, conversations, that enjoy our freedoms, that
make pairs, that love or hate, make peace, make war. We feed off each other and every once in a while, we need solitude.
Apart from going to museums and galleries, we visited wetlands, reservations, and botanical gardens. It was the easier places to move around without having to wear a mask all the time or to fear exposure to the Covid virus. Unlike museums and galleries, it was lesser limited to certain hours and it was possible for me to collect a wealth of information, especially since the places was not crowded with people.
I also had a chance to visit a ceramic supply store. Unfortunately, I could not go into the building and choose what I needed from the shelves, but with their curbside policies in place, I brought some raw materials back home with which I could refine my porcelain clay recipes.
I think many of us would like to throw 2020 “For the birds”, but somehow, I think it is possible to take the situation and learn something out of the year. We all experienced 2020 in a different way. For some it brought opportunity, for other their lives were completely disrupted. Unconditionally of how it affected us, the response that we gave is the factor that will stay. If nothing else, we all learned to appreciate our freedoms better, but many of us learned to think outside the box.
As for me, with the help of the Mississippi Arts Commission, 2020 opened new opportunities. I think “For the birds” came to stay. How it will evolve, I have to see, but for the moment I am using the bird theme to show personality and diversity.
I created a more realistic sculpture project with the intent to replicate how I saw 2020. Although the birds are not abstract, they are not completely realistic either. To an extend it was a blend of experimental processes in which I colored porcelain and created Agateware, which I documented in a blogpost. It was a process that I revisited from many years ago. I was excited about the color play of birds, butterflies, and leaves and even shells that I observed, as we went through different places. I did this mingling of colored clays many years ago and enjoyed the process at the time. This time around I found the process too intentional. In the “For the birds” sculptures I used a variety of clay colors but preferred to use the colored clays separately from each other.
This report will not be complete if I do not briefly refer to vegetation and other natural elements that normally inspire me. Nature in general will always be part of the cycles of life, and it forms an integral part of my work. Leaves, tree branches, flowers, and any other seed-like material and how it drift through seasons will always attract me. The reference to human life and the flow of events in history, either personal or public is a central theme.
It was late Fall when we were in Northern Florida. Many of the plants was already dormant or
dead. That in itself held its own attraction. The deformed and gnarled leaves in some places
reminded me of my childhood, which made me touch onto some deformed bowl forms once
The most important discovery that I made, is that it does not have to be the "big events" and "big opportunities" from which we learn. Opportunities are all around us, we just have to look for it.
I was very unsure of how to spend the fellowship funds after my plans were derailed. At first I thought to spend it on just one large item for my studio, but somehow that was not a satisfactory idea. I had the notion that I need to do something that would make me grow as an artist. Just buying an object, unless it was something with which I could experiment with, was not attractive.
When the idea to travel and look for places and areas where I can learn dawned on me, I was still unsure, because of the state of the pandemic. despite that I decided that there will never again be a time like that in my lifetime. 2020 offered me a unique opportunity to see the world from behind a mask, from a social distance and in a timeframe when people behave in a different, abnormal manner.
I mentioned that birds were always kind of in the background of my work. People often made comments that I was creating birds. I saw it as their interpretation of the signature lines on my work. Even during the documenting on video, I enjoyed the birds, but did not pay much attention to them other than their 3-dimentional forms, in the same way as I saw leaves and flowers. It was more a matter of what happens to these vegetation or birds in the cycle of life of nature and how do that compare with human life. Back in my studio, the bird suddenly had a personality. I started seeing attitudes from these little feathered friends.
I may have had that in the back of my mind from earlier last year when I was doing an online classroom project for the Mississippi Whole Schools program: "The Crow and the Pitcher"
I was also teaching a beginner’s class for potters online last year and the whole project was built on birds, bird feeders and bird houses. Those were strictly craft projects, but I cannot help but wonder if the seeds were already germinating earlier on.
Right now, I do not want to make too much of the bird idea, since it can easily become too intentional, but I will allow the idea to grow by doing more research about these little creatures.
the chirping of the black birds