Ceramics, more specifically Studio Ceramics is more than a medium. If the only difference between the different art areas were materials, then the distinctions would cease to have much significance. But clay is more than a gooey alumino-silicate: gloriously plastic. Clay is a way of working, a way of thinking about process. Clay is a history or group of histories. It is not the progression from cave painting to Jackson Pollack1. It does not much care about the transition from tempera to oil in the early renaissance. It cares more about the transitions from low to high fire, about the Japanese/Korean pottery war2 and the effects of trade secrets, about form and function and about the relationship of surface and volume, and about the universality of whorl patterns. It is concerned with the move in many cultures and continents from decorated earthenware to porcelain and the search for artificial jade.
Clayers have a set of primary aesthetic principles that are different from those of other art areas. We talk of form and function, surface and volume, breath and bones. Our primary forms are vessels. We stress volume over mass or structure.
Clayers have a long history of abstract expressionism3. It stems from the process. There is an inherent level of Taoism resulting from the need to "go with flow" when working with clay. The medium teaches the philosophy. And the philosophy reverberates in the need to accept a work as it is and move on to the next. This set of qualities encourages an expressionistic response to the material.
Clay is an excellent recording medium much as the saxophone4 is an excellent transmission device. Clay responds to emotion by recording movements as they happen. Although parts of an object may be cut away, it takes a conscious effort to delete expression. Even with conscious effort this deletion often fails. Clay memory5, a result of the fine particle alignment structure in the walls of a vessel, invisible until the clay is fired, can restore information that has been scraped away. The surface, gloss, particle structure, form, volume, and bones (gross wall structure) all act as separate tracks for the impression and then preservation of emotion and action.
Oddly in Japan and China the appreciation of expression in clay seems to grow because of an appreciation of expression in calligraphy. Calligraphy, as practiced in China and Japan, is a branch of painting. But like potting it is very formal and functional.
Zen inspired calligraphy seems to stress a direct connection of spirit to hand. The emotional impact on the artist of the words about to be painted is channeled through the hand to the brush and then to the paper.
Some tea ceremony ware, throwing as taught by some Leach6 school followers, or by students of Ken Ferguson7 has the same stress on jazz, on spirit to hand transmission. That is a stress on the direct intuitive responses from eye, heart and intellect to the hand.
We hear a great deal about minimalism in painting and sculpture. Yet pots are often minimalist works dealing with form and proportion. What is the perfect shape and placement of the handle? How wide is the mouth as compared to the neck and the feet? How low on the belly should the attachment of the teapot spout start? These are formal design considerations and often, if not usually, have primacy over other less formal concerns.
Representation is rarely the issue in ceramics. We make things, real things, usually not representations of them. However sometimes the objects exist as both presentations and representations as in Richard Notkin's work or in the work of Gail Busch, my wife. Notkin's teapots are teapots but also represent skulls or hearts. Gail's teapots represent teapots while sometimes being teapots. Objects like these add a rich depth to the genre' and blur the sometimes meaningless distinctions between the concepts of representation and presentation.
The fine art painters8 are humble. In choosing the title they give themselves, "painters", they recognize an equivalency among users of the term: those who do walls, interior and exteriors, and sign painters. In contrast the term ceramicist is a term used by those vying for a special place for the ceramic arts-a seat at the fine table of art, and a wish to vacate the table of craft. Potters, really a subset of ceramists, seem to distance themselves from their sisters and brothers, the status seeking ceramists. This is false modesty, a denial of the inherent human expression of clay. If they were truly aiming at modesty they would align themselves with the seemingly mundane makes of tile, brick and toilets. These are people who usually do not recognize the expression they impress on their creations.
Not a ceramist, nor a ceramicist, I am not a potter. I am a clayer. Like painters I label myself in unison and siblinghood with brick makers, kiln builders, and skeet manufacturers.
The Peter Voulkos of Paint
The Japanese are reported to have stolen an entire village of Korean potters to start a porcelain industry.
Utilitarian pots are abstract-they represent nothing. Just look at European Medieval pitchers to see expressionism.
I only learned of Saxophones as an adult. They were musica-nongrata in my father's house.
Clay memory is responsible for teapot spouts unwinding in the kiln and much warping. In my students work it often returns the signs of their constituent coils to the surface of previously smoothed ware.
If you don't know who Leach is you need more art history before reading this.
Don't pronounce Ferguson in a sweet tone or too softly. See note 6 above.
Historic paints were just ceramic pigments ground into linseed oil or fish oil. In this respect painting is just a flat subset of ceramic art.
Written at Siem Riap, Cambodia. December 51 PE
Art, any artifact of intelligence.
Craft, any artifact of intelligence.
Ars, to assemble or put together.
You can never attain mediocrity by striving for it.
Voice One: What do you think of Louis Katz's two videos in this exhibition with multiple voices, multiple personalities and multiple points of view expressed in words?
Voice Two: I think he has an ‘edifice complex'. Just look at all those Styrofoam bricks, all sizes but one form, all light except where clay weights hold them down. He is a builder of ideas.
Voice Three: You are full of words. He loves clay which sets him off in other directions.
Voice Four: He must know what he is doing. He teaches at Texas A & M in Corpus Christi.
Voice Five: (loudly) A professor who teaches ceramics. Wow, a professor exhibiting at a college gallery! What else is new in the world?
Voice Six: He speaks and writes Thai (in fact, he had a Fulbright there in 1988-89, I think).
Voice Seven: So what, I do not understand Thai and cannot read it.
Voice Six: (softly speaking) Well, so what? He does!
Voice Eight: The whole exhibition seems to be Louis Katz. We are all inside him, speaking our own language, all at the same time, all with different ways to express ourselves and different eyes to see the world and different minds to interpret his simple but mind-blowing philosophies. These voices (all Katz) are all coming at us in the same unit, all different and all true to themselves.
All the voices together: Louis Katz is a clayer. His manifesto told us so. We are the clay.
Joe Kagle, the reviewer: ‘But I have to write a review. Where do I start?'
All the voices of Louis Katz speak at once: "Start with the man, move to process, then concepts and finally arrive at philosophy, knowing all the time that this is a circle that will ultimately return to process since process is concept and philosophy. It is all functional and a cycle. Everything is. He is a clayer. We are the clay."
About the Man: Louis Katz (through the voice of the reviewer): ' I think that if I had to give any painting in the history of art to Louis Katz as representing the process/concept/philosophy cycle, it would be Leonardo's Mona Lisa. That painting has survived because it is a "question" not an ‘answer'. It is "and" not "or" in content :that is, it is the woman smiling in front of the deluge where the floods have come in and this is the scene after the waters recede (Da Vinci wrote a book called The Deluge where he outlines this); it is the question "Why is she smiling? This is the end and beginning of the world" (DaVinci makes the smile even more of a question by having two scenes, one on each side of her body); and then DaVinci makes this a showplace for his knowledge of water and its actions (through the scenery and the woman's folds in her garment). It is the perfect gift for a man who tried to see reality times one million to the trillion power. He is the perfect exhibitor for a college whose mission is to learn while teaching and teach while learning.'
Of course, if this reviewer would allow Katz to introduce himself, he might say:
‘I am the product of my heroes: like Kurt Weiser. I am the extension of my travels: inside myself and outside to the world (Thailand especially where I am now a member of a family in a Thai village). I am the process of allowing clay to shape my life as I shape its existence in some form.
I am numbers: a driver's license, social security nine-number code, an address, a website, a telephone number, and like the Styrofoam cups that I explore in my video, I am stamped somewhere with a sign that says, "Return to sender". I am explanations, voices in my consciousness, conflicting personalities that try to define me, a Hippie and professor, a scientist and an artist, a lover and one loved, one and other, self and un-self, me and many. I am Western and Oriental and....really other, again'.
Mostly, to define myself, I say: "I am a clayer".
Louis Katz-The Thinker: (The reviewer's voice, pretending to be Katz, says): "Art is everywhere, everything, and all people and processes. Technique is doing something well and improving the self to make it better. Art is the building blocks of life. Art is in the interpretation and the defining moment when it is allowed to breath. It is the utilitarian pots sold at Wal-Mart, the over 10,000 3 ½" pots that I love and sell for $2.50 each (if you buy a gross of them), and the most elegant pot that was ever made (which are many and hard to define except if you were my wife who makes elegant pots). Pots are what made me choose my profession and I love them all. Art is more than "trying to stir the pot" but it is that too. Art is the key, the window, the door, the hand-skill tool, the language to find the art of ARS."
The Exhibition and Louis Katz: In one room, a viewer enters him or herself, cut off from the outside world by curtains (paintings, Katz would say) made by soaking canvases in linseed oil and held down with clay weights so that the wind (the ch'i) of words coming from the videos about Styrofoam's ordinary-ness and elegant-ness are explained and over-explained by the multiple voices of Louis Katz. The cups, white but "compared to what", are handled, explored, researched and evaluated until the listener shouts inwardly, "I don't care. It is just a functional item that pollutes the world today", and Katz' (now in our heads) quietly remarks, "There is nothing as simple and complex as just "functional". A picture of one of my pots is supposed to be worth a thousand words. OK, give me one. Now give me a thousand. Now give me a million...and on and on and on. Art is not words. Words cannot make art (except in literature)." Katz believes (but even that concept of multiplicity might be placed in front of the viewer for debate) that we must, each of us, build our own world to live within. We do not need size codes or brands to tell us where we were manufactured and we certainly do not need some reviewer to tell us, the viewers, what our inner life should use to form or reform our existence (although if it were not for reviewers, where would all the voices come from). Sitting or standing in this exhibition, you, as a viewer or listener or learner, are placed inside yourself looking out to the world and/or placed inside a world from which you must go out to find yourself. And if you stay long enough within this Louis Katz exhibition, called Louis Katz, Clayer, you, the viewer, and this reviewer, begins to become Louis Katz and you enter your own ‘edifice complex', building the structure of your life with multiple voices and multiple characters in multiple cultures (you even see the flame that finishes the pot reflected in a multiple 3 ½" pot- covered screen) ...and the edifice of yourself starts to listen to the voices of the world about other edifice makers, other "wombs with a view". Listen, they are speaking to us now. Louis Katz is not a clayer only but a door to where those other voices reside:
Style is trendy and fleeting. Bad taste is timeless. Anon. Man, there's another freedom out there, and it comes from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is the place I'm interested in. Frank Gehry When a building is as good as that one, f#*@ the art. (On Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim as a place to experience art) Philip Johnson Ar-chi-tect \är-ke-,tekt\ n. One who believes that conception comes before erection. Rob Daly The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines. All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable. Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture is "frozen music"... Really there is something in this; the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us. Sir Winston Churchill.
And if we are lucky, one of the last voices that we hear is that of the 13th century Mystic poet, Rumi who asked: "Am I outside, knocking to get in, or inside, knocking to get out?" I think Louis Katz would approve of that question and that voice.
This is a marvelous exhibition if you come into it with an open mind and let the voices of the world give you some new thoughts to explore (insights about self, really). But, then again, that is why it is an exhibition in a place of learning. It will only be up from March 16 through April 2 but if you visit it during those times the voices will last longer.