Art residency season is quickly drawing to a close. My artist practice is recursive. I continually spiral back to my starting points to re-think what I thought I knew, what I thought I mastered, what needs re-invention. A foundation class is an advancement class as it reinforms me about processes, practices and possibilities. My best way for me to go forward is to go back to the where it all began.
Working in classrooms sends me back to the beginning and continues to add another layer to my artist practice: ideas spark when I share my ideas, techniques and suggestions. Curious minds ask provocative questions. Busy hands show me how my own practice transforms in a shared creative process. Ideas go places I never would have imagined. Exhibition and celebration brings new ideas to move forward.There’s always much to show for these joyful moments in the classroom, and I long for studio time so I can go forward with new ideas and new work.
Recently, I completed an ArtStarts residency in two ceramics classes at Kitsilano Secondary School working with Sandra Grosch. Fascinated by the alchemy of ceramics, Sandra and I designed a residency that offered students the opportunity to explore the possibilities of working with native clay, local clay excavated not far from the location of their school. In the past, I have come home from various locations with a handful of clay that I formulated into both functional and decorative object, and often I offer them to the owners of the land from which the clay was excavated — produce from a garden a few feet deeper. Working with native clay is a trial and error process, and I shared with students information about the history of pottery in British Columbia. Coastal British Columbia has a contemporary ceramics community but lacks an indigenous one. The clay that is found along the coast and up the Fraser Valley is soft and fires into a brittle form; hence, this clay requires refractory materials to be added in order to make the clay both workable and functional.
Students confronted the challenge of working with native clay by experimenting with the limits and possibilities of a material new to them and discovered ceramic forms that would keep their shape. They discovered that a traditional pinch pot had to be much thicker in order to retain its shape and that cylinder ware had to be much wetter to prevent cracking along stress lines. They were surprised that coil work was almost impossible. Once they were able to work with clay that had been formulated with materials that made the clay more plastic, they were back in their comfort zone and could apply some of their handbuilding techniques to make forms that would hold their shape. Their discoveries reflect a sense of wonder about their own community resources and curiosity about what else lies beneath the surface of the land in their locale
Currently, student samples of their first native clay exploration can be viewed at the ArtStarts Gallery in conjunction with Timescapes — Local Connections and Natural Indicators of Time. This installation of figurative clay work made during my residency at Kitsilano Secondary School is on show through August at the ArtStarts Gallery at 808 Richards Street, open Tuesday through Saturday.