Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What's On My Plate

What's On Your Plate?

possible position for sculpture relative to plate

I was invited to participate in an upcoming show at Boxx Gallery in Tieton, called "What's On Your Plate?". Initially, I thought the idea was to try to combine the idea of a plate with representations of what things one is juggling in life, such as job, family, aspirations, responsibilities, hobbies. I had come up with an idea to make a large plate and include a representation of my sculpture growing out of the plate. 

chain wrapping around the bottom of the sculpture 

I hadn't quite figured out how I would represent other interests and responsibilities (such as my family, teaching, and blog) on the plate when I got an email with the official details of the show. It turns out that the concept is more simple, it is about table settings, cooking, and rituals around food. 

Plates Can Be Dull

But I've always been a little bored making regular plates or functional work. For a few years around 2003, I showed work at the Cambridge Pottery Festival. After the event, there was a Potter's Dinner and the artists/potters were invited to bring a plate to trade. We were supposed to put our plates on the table and take one of the other plates for ourselves. 

poster of exhibiting artists from the 2003 Cambridge Pottery Festival

The first year I participated must have been 2003. At the time, I was making raku-fired abstract sculpture and plenty of functional work in the form of hand-built lidded boxes. I wasn't making plates and by the time I knew about the plate trading event, I didn't have time to make a plate. 

my work in 2003

I figured, since I was juried into the Pottery Festival based on my non-plate work, the organizers must just be suggesting the rough size or value of a work; "Bring a plate to trade" probably meant "bring something roughly the size and/or value of a plate."

the plate base for this project

So, I brought a small lidded box. Admittedly I am partial, but these boxes I was making were fun. They had all these spikes and texture in contrasting colors and looked like sea anemones or alien plants. The lids fit snugly and it was clear how they were to be oriented. Often the lids had rattles in them, so you could take them off and shake them to make a sound. But, the boxes were clearly not plates. After I set my work down, I watched that box sit on that table, alone and unloved, while person after person walked in a picked up a boring ol' utilitarian plate for their trade. Eventually my box found a home, but the message was clear; it should have been a plate.

trimming the plate for this project

I hatched a plan. The next year, I would bring a plate, but I would defiantly make it the most annoying, least utilitarian plate I could manage. It would be in the form of a plate, but it would be less useful than my lidded boxes. I threw a plate, but instead of just glazing it like a normal person, I attached small round sprigs all over the surface, spaced out so as to maximize the bumpiness of the plate without leaving room for anything as large as a burger or even a hot dog to rest on the plate's surface. I glazed the bumps green so they would look like peas. I imagined the plate being used by someone who chose to eat a plate of peas or maybe a casserole that included peas so that the person would keep trying to scoop up the ceramic peas in place of the real peas. I also envisioned this plate being super annoying to clean.

pea plate from 2003/4

Of course the next year I had a conflict with the Potter's Dinner, so I didn't get a chance to go, trade my revenge plate, and laugh at all the functional potters who wanted only boring plates like those they made themselves. I still have the plate. it has a trimming hump in the middle, but I still think the spaced out peas decoration is hilarious. I crack me up.

The Sculptural Plate

Unless it were to be a reprise of my pea plate, I knew I didn't want to make just a straight "functional" place setting, so I decided to go with a slightly simplified version of the plate I envisioned earlier in the summer.

sculptural plate in progress

I threw several plates and the form of a small sculpture, a simplified version of sculptures I tend to make. Rather than just attaching the sculpture to the plate, I wanted to connect the plate and the sculpture visually in two ways: with chain and with sprigs.


sprig molds resting on the plate

The sprigs I used for this piece were all made from knots and textures found on a section of an old Christmas tree trunk. I used several different sprigs so that the textures seem to repeat, but are not all identical.

tree trunk section with beautiful knots I used as to form my sprig molds

I wanted the sprigs to be suggestive of barnacles in a tide pool and the way they encrust the surfaces. 

a tide pool near Port Angeles
I hoped the sprigs would to seem to cover over the separate surfaces of the sculpture and the plate indiscriminately like mussels or barnacles on the underside of a boat or dock.

textures on my sculpture and plate

In the end, the process of attaching the sprigs and adding the background texture of tiny holes (reminiscent of coral, rock, or corrosion) overwhelmed my view of the overall effect. I chose to put the sculpture dead center in the plate and not to build up the corner where the plate and the sculpture were once separate. The sculpture has the excessive texture I wanted, but I'm not sure if the placement is entirely what I wanted.

base of plate/sculpture read for drying and firing


I also wanted to incorporate bike chain into this sculpture. I knew that I wanted the bike chain to connect the sculpture with the plate, so a mini sculpture I had created earlier in the summer would not work for this project.

sculpture I started earlier this year for this project

I have another project in mind for bike chain, so I spent several hours cleaning several chains. I used some simple green and a scrub brush first and then took the chains to a wire brush on a stationary grinder. The process is fairly straight forward, but it was hot last week when I was cleaning the parts and I had on long sleeves, gloves, goggles and a mask, so I had to break up the cleaning into 15 minute bursts or end up really cranky and hot (I ended up cranky and hot anyway).

dirty and clean bike chains

The completed plate/sculpture will have a chain winding down the sculpture, around the plate, and out one side of the plate as a kind of tail. I also added a bike gear to visually and physically divide the smooth bulb of the sculpture from the textured complexity of the base and plate.

rough plan for gear and chain position in sculptural plate

I am considering adding a cup/mug and fork/knife to the place setting. The work is still a bit wet. I threw the form and added texture over the course of at least 5 days, so I wanted to make sure the piece dried slowly. After firing, I've got a few weeks before school begins in which to add color and put the pieces together.

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