Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Artist Statement, April 2007

Looking back and moving forward.

Clay is one of the oldest materials used by humans, and its place in the lives of humans has changed and evolved as we have. It's had a central place in a community as vessels that store water and grains. Today we most often see clay in the form of toilets, sinks, heater elements, and our molded dishes. With modern manufacturing we have personal spaces which we can easily fill to overflowing with things, so that few people can really say they lack any quantity of items. We store water in disposable plastic bottles, we store our food in layers of boxes and plastic bags, and once we've used these up we store the garbage in more layers of plastic until they can be taken away in the metal boxes on wheels. Things just flow through our hands, from factory to landfill, each item indisguishable from the next and inevitably forgotten once sealed in the earth.

So the place that clay has in our world today is much different than it's been before. Clay is still plentiful, but it's never been disposable. And clay as art still has the intention and purpose behind it that long ago would have been present in every vessel. It can be something to stop our busy lives for a few moments in the morning to meditate over our morning coffee out of our favorite mug. It can be a vase that with or without flowers, we can stop to think about how it is one of the few objects in our lives that are hand made and individual.

Each and every piece that I make is one of a kind. I often make pieces in a series, but because they are hand crafted and fired in a soda kiln no two pieces are identical. I'm drawn to the pieces with a depth that you can explore, with subtle nuances in the texture and patterns in the glaze. A piece where you can always look a little closer and see something new. You aren't going to see that in a mass produced plate from Target, or a ceramic mug from Ikea. Our lives are busy and we often don't allow ourselves to slow down and take a moment to reflect. I see clay/pottery/ceramics as a way to feel a connection with another person, and an excuse to slow down for a moment.

Clay is a material that has a long and rich tradition. I try to reference that history, but in the context of our contemporary world. This is why I love the process of soda firing, also a contemporary adaptation of an older process.

In the 14th century potters began using a technique called salt firing. By adding salt into a kiln, the pieces would be glazed without having to individually apply glaze to each piece. This was great for the very utilitarian pieces like sewer pipes and whiskey jugs. But by the 1970's there were problems with the technique – black smoke comes from the chimneys, and it wasn't very friendly to the environment or your neighbors. So another technique was developed, using soda ash and baking soda. The kiln is gas fired and this soda mixture is added to the kiln near the end of the firing (around 2200°F); the soda vaporizes and is carried on the flame throughout the kiln. The soda reacts with the pieces, changing their color and texture. The variations you see on the pieces come from the variations in the kiln – how close a piece is to the burner, how much room there is for the flame to flow across the piece, even the temperature outside or the humidity can effect the outcome. Even after firing soda kilns hundreds of times there are still surprises to be found in how the pieces react. The pieces that I have created for this exhibition are tributes to the unpredictable and unique effects of this process.

Emily Murphy

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Artist Statement

I recently wrote a new Artist Statement...
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I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, surrounded by handmade things. Every Christmas my mom would go to the fabric store and buy all the different color corduroy that they had in stock to sew pants for us. The quilts on our beds and the curtains on the windows were made by her as well. Although my sister and I played with Barbies, the clothes were purchased at craft fairs, and my dad made beds for them that my mom finished off with hand sewn mattresses, pillows and quilts. My father is a painter. I’ve always been surrounded by his work, and observed him while he was inspired by the natural beauty of the New England landscape.

Things in our family were often handmade out of necessity. My mom baked all of our bread, in part, because it was less expensive. But it was also because she loved the process of making it. Growing up in an environment where so many things were made by hand that could have been more easily purchased, I learned to consider and appreciate the story behind a piece. The value comes from the care and thoughtfulness put in by the maker.

Coming from New Hampshire, it’s easy to recognize the beauty of the environment. Six years ago I moved to Chicago, where the beauty of the environment is not as apparent. Beauty is still there, but it’s in the more intimate aspects of life, not in majestic landscapes. I discovered that my inspiration came from the things that I encountered everyday; no longer a forest or a mountain, but those moments amid the busyness of the city where people slow down and appreciate their surroundings. I am honored when my pots can be a part of those moments in people’s lives. Perhaps they will become as familiar to you as the patterns of the cracks in the ceiling above your bed.

Making pots is quiet and personal, an experience I want to be reflected in the pots themselves. But I also am a potter in a community of potters, working alongside both students and peers. Being a potter in a community, it is now hard to imagine myself as a solitary potter. Everyday I share resources, experience, and perspective with my fellow artists. As part of a large community I’ve been given many opportunities to teach students with diverse talents and backgrounds. Teaching has let me experiment with new ideas and perspectives, challenging myself at the same time as I challenge my students.

Being a potter is a very balanced profession. As a potter I am a designer, a maker, a business owner, a laborer a chemist, and a physicist. I love throwing, trimming, pulling handles, firing, I love to decorate, to sketch out ideas in the clay. I am lucky that given all the aspects of my profession, I love and enjoy them each, and I love the product of my craft and its place in the world and in people’s lives.

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