A Raku firing

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I very much enjoyed returning to the media of Raku firing this autumn.

The freedom and immediacy of the technique calls on you to become less precious about aims and to allow what will happen to happen; within the parameters of the physics involved. The heat and cooling cause wonderful colours and pattern effects, but if not controlled can leave you with nothing to show at the end. This comes through experience.

I did my first Raku firing in college in Derby in 1980; I wrote my college thesis on the culture and technique, had my own wonderful coke fired kiln in my audio in Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire. The pots I made there were extremely popular and I sold virtually all I produced.

I got to share firings with friends in America, there is always an atmosphere of sociability and sharing food and drink at a firing, the whole technique itself was created to enliven the tea ceremony in imperial Japan for that very reason.

As a teacher of ceramics through the rest of my time I have found it to be invaluable as a way to encourage students to learn the totality of ceramic making, especially the effects of fire on ceramic, as one gets to see and smell the force of the heat directly, rather than just through a peep hole in a gas or electric kiln.

On our recent visit to Japan, Sarah and I enjoyed a stroll through a beautiful suburb of Kyoto to visit the Raku museum situated alongside the traditional home and workshop of the original Raku family. Now in it’s 15th generation!

This is not Sellotape.

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In 1989, amongst other works, I produced this conceptual sculpture; as part of my Degree show at Middlesex Poly.

Whilst fiddling with a roll of Sellotape one wet Sunday afternoon, as you do.. I found that if you rolled it up on itself and kept turning the resulting mass randomly, 3 rolls would produce a solid ball the size of a baseball that had a  golden glow in bright light.

The motion of pulling a length of tape up from the roll on a roller between your knees and rolling it into the ball was very relaxing and rythmical, in the same way as knitting.

I set out to make lots of them.

I had to get a lot of Sellotape, not cheap to buy on a student income, so on contacting 3M the company that produced it, I was invited to visit their factory North of London and a contract was made. They filled my Renault 5 car with boxes of Sellotape seconds that they couldn’t sell, IF I signed a letter promising NOT to tell anyone that it was Sellotape or where I had got it from.

This I did and next Monday unloaded the 20+ large boxes of tape in my art space at Wood Green Studio, a large echoing industrial building hired by the college.

Immediately other students came up and said: ” Hey where did you get so much Sellotape? ”

I had to reply, “It’s not Sellotape, it’s adhesive tape”.

I then set to task. Filling the studio with the ripping sound of the tape being pulled of the roll and bound into golden balls, 3 rolls per ball.

This attracted a lot of folk to come and see what this repetitive and eventually slightly annoying noise was.

” What are you doing with all this Sellotape ? ” they would often ask, or a variant there of.

“It’s not Sellotape.” Had to be my initial reply; and then a discussion of what to do with the balls would usually follow, often quite funny suggestions would be made.

The production went on a pace, in between my other projects, lectures tutorials, teaching practices etc after a few months I’d accumulated a lot of golden tape balls; as the rolls came out of the boxes, balls filled their space, I noticed that the volume taken up by solid mass balls was more than on the roll. A scientific phenomena that Paul Klee would have recognised. See my previous post on klee. I started to see the balls as similar to the molecular models that used to adorn the science museums of my youth, usually round coloured “atoms” joined to each other with wire. I only wanted to use tape in my sculpture for the phenomenological purpose that was coming together. So I started to make a new shape, by rolling the 2nd and 3rd rolls in one plane only, A Disc appeared.

It looked like a blood corpuscle, or a planetary form.

By wrapping more tape around, 3 balls could be neatly and aesthetically attached to a disc.

Disc production ensued for a few more weeks.

Meanwhile my tutor, always looking to analyse the psychology behind his students’ work and activities, decided that all this repetitive work was a carthasis from my years as a potter. I wasn’t going to argue with him.

The balls were made attached to the discs, and I waited until the day before the show to put them all together, just resting on one another as seen in the photos. A form inspired by the final shape of Carl Andres’ famous bricks.

The final touch was hanging up the letter of agreement with 3M, that promised not to tell anyone what it was, and to give the piece a title.

‘This is not Sellotape’ 1989.

Alas no more.

But the concept lives. Even more so now.

I guess I could make one again if anyone wants one!

Fish oils


1985 One of my attempts at oil painting to broaden my skill base whilst creating a portfolio to apply for a fine art course.

Up to this point I had been working as a studio potter with total immersion in the tactile world of clay, producing successfully both domestic wares and more intuitive sculptural pieces.

In this case it seems now, with hindsight, that I was exploring my precise (domestic ware) skills, but releasing my imagination by improvising with the subject matter totally at the same time.

Again immersion in a limited dimensional world in water with a palette of few colours somehow expresses the 2D world of sealife.

It worked, as I got on the fine art course at Middlesex Polytechnc on the standing of my portfolio not just my pots.

Perhaps one day a blog will appear about my ceramics?

Watch this space.