Monday, March 15, 2010

Clay Symposium Part 2: Joan Bruneau Workshop

One of my most memorable ceramic instructors during art school was Joan Bruneau.  She taught me in my 3rd and 4th year at Emily Carr and is one of the reasons I'm still a potter.  The one thing about Art School in general is that 'craft', especially functional ceramics, can be seen as the underdog. After a year of critiques in my 3rd year by fellow students that pottery was too functionally based to be viewed on the same level as Art, I'll admit that it got to me and I ditched functional ceramics for a good long time, choosing ceramic sculpture instead.  Many of my potter friends abandoned ceramics altogether. Despite this, Joan did her best to bring awareness of what Craft is all about, what common perceptions are, and how to challenge perception in a conceptual way, even on your functional pottery.  
Best known for her 'cut and paste' wheel-thrown forms, Joan spent her time this past weekend on the wheel reminding us that good pots are 'dynamic' pots.  What she meant was that the forms create a sense of their volume and that one considers each part of the form by not over-looking the feet or the rim.  She asked the questions- why does the rim have to be straight and round or the base of the pot flat while the middle of the pot has all this expression.  She challenged us to re-think those elements even if it was only subtly.
For instance, on the top part of a flower vase/cylinder form she pulls up for 'corners' ever so slightly to create a scalloped edge.  Subtle, but effective in drawing the eye over the lip of the pot.
Here she starts with a 'foot' that was thrown upside down and then pinched in on 4 sides.  This could be the foot of a cake plate or the base of a flower brick or even a bowl.  Once it had firmed up, she flipped it and attached a coil to what was previously the bottom.  Then she proceeded to throw the coil sides up for the top part of this form.  It becomes a more unified piece than if she had thrown 2 parts and just attached them when they were leather-hard.
And lastly, she cut and re-attached the sides of this very large platter.    Here she talked about complicated forms and resolving what to do with parts of a form that you might aesthetically have trouble with.  When you cut and paste, you may make a lot of un-resolved forms, or, in her words, ugly pots.  And that's ok.  It's probably a good idea to make a bunch of small pots on the wheel and start to cut them up than making a huge pot that might turn out ugly.  Taking an afternoon to make 50 different handles or 20 cut and paste plates or vases are like little sketches in clay.  And doing that every few months sounded like a good idea to me!
While Joan didn't have a lot of time to talk about her glazing process or the inspiration for her designs on her pots, I did want to comment about her lovely use of glaze, colour, pattern and even composition.  Especially because I'm pretty sure that her influence glaze-wise has stuck with me all these years later.  I remember her drilling into us that one needs to consider each part of a pot for it to be a 'dynamic' pot.  Considering that we all have our own aesthetics, our own background, our own historical interests and our own hands, everyone's ceramics really should look unique if all these things are considered, don't you think?
Joan Bruneau is a potter working in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia out of her studio and gallery, Nova Terra Cotta Pottery.  She teaches part time at NSCAD while maintaining an active practice of selling and exhibiting her pottery.


Ashley Schott said...

Absolutely gorgeous! What a great post!

Jan Halvarson said...

It's beautiful work. And so cool to have an inspirational teacher.