JACK CASEY- 12/10
is functioning ceramic art, exploring ideas of permanent use, it can be used decoratively when wall mounted, or functionally as plates and platters on the flat surface. This collection was exhibited at New Designers 2019, acclaimed as 'University Highlights' and Awarded the PotClays Graduate Award 2019.
I designed this collection of work in my final year of my degree, Design Crafts, at De Montfort University. (you can check out my blog post 'about my degree' for more info) This was my FMP or final major project and was the culmination of a year long project, as well as the application of all the skills I had learned over my 3 year degree.
Looking back at this project, it stand out for me as the most technically difficult things I have made as well as the most conceptually sophisticated work, real ceramic art. The technical difficulties along the road of designing and making this project meant at times I was simply fed up with it; I hated it at times and I certainly did'nt love the outcome or the process of making it.
This is probably quite common amongst artists and designers; you become so close to the work and the making of it that its hard to see it in any other light than a negative one, noticing its every flaw and imperfection. Especially when working on a project over a long period of time and constantly having the work reviewed and scrutinised.
All that being said, I now look back and realise that i relished the difficulties. The many many failures and redesigns and visits back to the drawing board are what made this project worth while. It tested and developed my skills, and my character also; forcing me time and time again to pick myself up after a disappointment and keep trying. I can now sit back and feel proud of the work, and look forward to making some commissions.
The ideas for this project began during the summer holidays as most of my ideas usually do with looking at my surroundings, notably the architecture of the cities and towns i have spent my life. Initially, much to the entertainment of various friends of mine, I was looking at chimneys. I was interested in them for their forms; if you look out of a top window of any pre 20th century terraced housing estates you will see collections of chimneys of all different shapes and sizes. They remind me of a group of pots, closely nestled together in little compositions, sat on plinths atop the sea of housing. I also began to think of how interesting it was that these objects served such an important functional purpose when they were originally made and installed, but now are almost completely obsolete. No one in the city really needs a chimney anymore, we don't tend to burn wood or coal as often as we used to, yet still even new houses are fitted with a chimney just to look, well, right.
This idea of redundancy was interesting and i started looking for examples of old, large and obsolete chimneys from the industrial past of the UK. However these are surprisingly hard to find, a quick youtube search reveals why, 'old chimney demolition' videos are all over the web.
Taking a step back I started playing around with this idea that chimneys are like a collection of pots, compiled upon plinths or stacks. Very quickly the ideas turned towards pots slotting into location points on plinths, of two sections fitting together.
On returning to Uni for my 3rd year, I was encouraged to put any idea of final pieces or function out of mind and focus on ideas, making and sampling. So I began down the road road of making these big chunky plaster blocks, that did nothing else but connect to each other in interesting and in my eyes satisfying ways. The idea was that these artefacts were beautiful objects in their own right, and their use was simply to be nice to look at.
This got me thinking about use and function. Some makers, myself included, feel a pressure to make something functional and fear making objects with no obvious function other than that of being displayed. Its hard to describe, but there is almost this nervous anxiety that someone will ask you 'well what does it do' and all you can say back is 'well nothing'. Of course this is a flawed notion; we do not question the function of a portrait or painting, we appreciate it for its aesthetic beauty or ability to make us stop and look, and think. from this I decided I wanted to make something that would fit both criteria, functional artworks, to be used and displayed. Of course displaying something gives it a function, but i wanted something that had another use other than that of being displayed.
This tied nicely in with these objects that fitted together in interesting ways; my pieces could have wall mountings that they locate onto when they are not in use and be displayed from. So that is a summary of the ideas behind 'Locate' and how i arrived at them. Interestingly I have never thought about it in such detail and documented the process retrospectively before, at the time it just happened.
It would be easy to write endlessly about all the making that went into this project, there were so many different elements and avenues that I explored whilst making it. There was the preliminary modelling and plaster based work, testing colour samples, trying different shapes, trying different methods of wall mounting the pieces in a way that was a feature as opposed to an after thought... I could go on. So I will simply talk about the making of the pieces, once i had reached a final design that I was happy with.
These pieces are made using a process called slip casting. This involves making a mould out of plaster, a difficult and skill full discipline in itself, and then casting liquid clay into the moulds to create your pieces. Slip casting works because the plaster absorbs water; everywhere that the 'slip' (liquid clay) touches the plaster, water is absorbed away and it hardens. After a certain amount of time, a mould is drained, and a solid clay shell is left stuck to the plaster. this is the piece we are after. The easiest way to think of how this works if you are struggling is to imagine an easter egg and how it is made. Hot, molten, chocolate is poured into a cold mould, everywhere the molten chocolate touches the cold mould, it solidifies to form a shell, whilst the rest of the molten chocolate is poured away. the longer the chocolate is in the mould, the thicker the shell. This is effectively the same with slip casting.
Making the moulds to cast the pieces is a time consuming process; with plaster needing sometimes as long as a week to dry before it can be cast to see if the mould is working correctly. These moulds were 5 pieces, not the most complex, but definitely more complex than I had made before. To further make things difficult for myself, the location pegs and the negative space in the platters themselves had to fit together perfectly, if i was to avoid the necessity for some sort of mechanical join between the two. The difficulty in this lies in the fact that clay shrinks when it is fired, depending on clay body anywhere from 8-13%, so accuracy and precision at the mould making stage was imperative.
After a couple of weeks working on my first moulds, I came to testing them. After the first 2 or 3 casts, (it usually takes as many before you work out how the mould should be used) I was reasonably happy with the results. The pieces were a little rough at this stage and required cleaning up after their first firing, but this was no big deal. After the 2nd firing however, an issue became clear which would send me right back to the drawing board.
The straight sides of the pieces, had all sucked in horribly during their final firing. I now came to learn that clay does not like straight edges, especially if it has been slip cast and especially if those straight edges are thin and not supported by what is called a 'return'. As the design did not allow for a return or for overly chunky edges it was clear that I would need to re-design and make my moulds and fast as deadlines were creeping ever nearer. Seeking help from the amazing mould making technician at uni, i realised that i needed what is called a 'spring' in the straight sides of the mould. This is effectively an outward curve on the straight edges, that counteracts the tendency of clay to suck in along straight lines. There is nothing you can really do to stop the clay doing this, other than to compensate for it happening and hope you finish with a straight or near straight edge.
I re-made the moulds, re-cast the pieces and waited for them to be fired, praying to the kiln gods that it would work, as i had run out of time to do anything about it if they failed and would simply have to submit whatever i had for my FMP. They worked, the kilns were kind and i had a full set of pieces that were all pretty much perfect.
Thinking back to the making of these pieces gives me the goosebumps and I don't think I will write anymore just now. It was a pretty stressful time by all accounts. As said before, I am a better maker for it, an i now know how to make these pieces much more successfully, but never perfectly. I hope this was interesting or useful in some way for someone out there.
Thanks for reading.