Strange Range – Creatures of Carbon: is an exhibition of 39 large (20”x20”) ceramic plaques depicting a diverse collection of animal images imagined in a slightly surreal environment. They are stylized and graphically designed to be recognizable, but somehow out of place in their world. Carbon plays an integral role in the creation of this artwork. Each plaque is rendered in a process that involves subjecting earthen materials to fire, extreme heat and smoke to create a unique surface.
I originally conceived of this body of work when I witnessed a flock of Grackles (iridescent crow like birds) at our bird feeder one spring. I often depict animal imagery in my work, and this scene of aggressive, shinny creatures caught my interest. I have been designing and sculpting in clay materials for over 40 years. I believed I could capture that energy and spectacular iridescence in a permanent work of ceramic art. It evolved into a three-year project depicting a range of animal images, with the goal of displaying all 39 of them together as an installation. They are all individually drawn on blank clay slabs, hand carved, glazed and fired in a carbon smoke reduction process generally referred to as raku.
Carbon compounds form the basis of all known life on Earth. Plant, animal, human; all contain large amounts of carbon in their make up. It is the second most abundant element in the human body (about 18%) after oxygen. Humans are not only endowed with carbon, they seem to embrace it and produce it, often to the detriment of their own living environment. The amount of carbon on Earth is effectively constant. Consequently, any process that uses carbon (combustion of organic materials) must dispose of it somewhere (smoke and in this case effecting the surface of my artwork).
There is a bit of Alchemy involved in the creation of this work. The Emerald Table, a key text of Western Alchemy, in a 17th c. edition states, “Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose practitioners have, from antiquity, claimed it to be the precursor of profound powers”. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied, but include the transformation of base metals into gold and silver. In relation to the creation of this artwork I am combining and working to transform the base materials of earthen clay, copper (in the glazes), and carbon. The result is a hardened ceramic object with a surface gleaming with iridescence green, silver and gold luster. The rich black background results entirely from the infusion of carbon into the surface of the clay. There are unique ceramic techniques applied to the surface of the work. I attempt to put these basic elements together, subject them to extreme heat, and direct the outcome. Often things happen in the process that must be the magic of Alchemy, because when I open the carbon reduction box in the final stage of creation, the results are usually beyond what I even imagined – and they can never be exactly duplicated.
The animal imagery depicted on these plaques is easily recognizable, but they are not dwelling on familiar ground. I have chosen to place each one inside an alien surrounding. This hard edged, geometric space relates to the change and loss of their natural environment due to man’s abuse of the earths natural resources. Carbon is both the culprit and the creator.