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

7 thoughts on “Artist Statement, April 2007

  1. The mugs in the grid are beautiful.
    I like the way you decorate your Soda fired ware. I find the combination of surface drawings made by fire with those made by yourself to be very attractive and more exiting then “plain” traditional Soda fired surface.

  2. Wonderful statement! I just saw your work in the May issue of Ceramic’s Monthly – I really like how you glaze your pieces.

  3. We really are part of a continuum–as craftspeople we use many of the same techniques that our ancestors used. We, as they, use the tools available to us in our time.
    You can look at a pot that was made long ago and see the mark of the craftsman–maybe a fingerprint or maybe a nail mark. And, as you say, the work will live much longer than we will.

  4. Just found your blog and have to say your work is beautiful. Thank for sharing it with us and look forward to reading future posts.

  5. Dear Emily,
    I recently started to use a blog to record my research project at the Royal College of Art in London and thought I would trawl around to find other ceramic bloggers. Came across your nice site. Keep it up.
    Mike Eden

  6. Hello, just found my way here by osmosis and so glad I did. I haven’t sat at a wheel in many decades and my heart is called back to it. It is good to see your many resources as I begin this journey.
    Thank you.

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