Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Be Still, my Soul

Henryk Hector Siemiradzki: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

"Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev'ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav'nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

"Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

"Be still, my soul: The hour is hast'ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still my soul: When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last."

~ Text: Katharina von Schlegel, b. 1697; trans. by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897; music by Jean Sibelius. From the Presbyterian Hymnal.

I really love the hymn! It is ancient, it is calming, it rings true. Sometimes I get going a little faster than I can keep up with myself, and I need to chill--this picture and this hymn really do it for me. Nothing like the reminding oneself of the "big picture" to realign one's chi and get back into harmony with the universe again.

A black and white image of this painting was in a book called "The Children's Bible" that my grandmother gave me. I really liked it. I always wanted a "Jesus Patio" -- it seemed to have the right "Feng Shui" as it is called today. Dave Stewart and Marguerite had outdoor spaces that felt like this one, where thoughtful conversations could take place, insights and inspirations could come to us budding artists. May you find such a place yourself, to contemplate your place in the universe and make peace with your God. Your artwork will improve, as will your life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Where does the power come from?" (Chariots of Fire)

This sculpture is by Gerhard Marcks, who was a friend of Marguerite Wildenhain's (with whom I studied) and was her teacher at the Bauhaus. Modernist. Minimalist a la the Bauhaus "form-follows-function" mantra. Yet he captured a reality of some sort here. There is movement, personality. The whole point at the Bauhaus was to capture the Essence of something with the Least amount of effort. No Rococo, Gothic--ewwww! Simple, elegant. Whether that was a teapot or a seated girl, Marcks taught his students to "see" what was essential. Quintessential, in fact.

Marguerite had her students at Pond Farm take Wednesday afternoons off from wheel work and go sit in the shade of the oak trees and draw. We occasionally drew each other as models (plump models are best), but were usually tasked with difficult still lifes (a single leaf, a potato, empty wine bottles). What made the leaf "leaflike?" Or the potato "potatolike?" (It was stinkin' hard to make a potato not look like a piece of excrement!)

I am a cartoonist, cariacaturist, line drawer. I don't do shading or any such "fine fussy work." I chewed the erasers off pencils as a kid, so when I drew, there was never any going back and redoing! I had a tough time with the Pond Farm drawing afternoons. But I understood the concept of trying to see the bare bones of something--what few features gave a thing its thingness. My line drawings, while not realistic in any anatomical sense, convey feeling, emotion, character. Good, evil, sassiness, mistrust, rambunctiousness, longing--stuff like that--all with minimal line work. See "Familiar Faces" for examples.

Back to the sculpture: looking at the left forearm, for instance, there are only a few "planes" involved in expressing it. You see a flat plane on the top of the arm, another one to the side. You expect there would be a third one hidden from view. That's it. Did Marcks need to put in all the anatomical musculature that shows up in Michelangelo's David? No. "Arm" is there. You know it ain't "Leg," or "Piece of Lumber." It is "Arm."

There's a segue at the elbow, and another at the wrist, and these segues are pretty tricky--you can make them too complicated--then the next part is done, again, with very few planes.

Marcks' faces are usually bland like this one--guess he wanted the viewer to interpret the minimalist expression for themselves. I usually have more expression in my faces.

In Rodin's Testament (which Marguerite read to her students each year), he admonished his sculpture students to first establish the big planes, and the details "will take care of themselves." This advice is probably the best there is! Take enough time with the big chunky stuff. Get it right. Use the big tools. Don't even bother with the details until you are SURE your work is right. Then, go to the details. There's no rush! And, THIS is where the power comes from: getting the big planes right.

Well, that's my sculpture lesson for today. Go look carefully at a potato. Draw it if you want a challenge.

"Meat's Back on the Menu, Boys!" (from the movie Lord of the Rings)

Well, so much for remaining anonymous on the web! This is me, at Christmas 2011 in San Diego. My eyes are a bit crossed, but the retina is fine. Apparently I healed properly, or else my brain has accustomed itself to a couple of extra blind spots from the laser job scarring. The expression is typical.

So, now it is October 2012, I am still playing tennis. I have decided to declare victory on the house remodel/restoration; thus I have more time to slide things into the schedule that got left out for the last two years. Like CLAY!

Since this blog is entitled "Clay in the Potter's Hands" I might as well throw in a picture of my latest foray into the great, plastic dirty stuff:

I have no idea yet what her name is. I will figure that out once she makes it through the bisque firing.

I just signed up for a course in sculpture at the Green Valley Clay Studio. The class got canceled due to the teacher breaking her hip, but free time to do one's own thing sculpturally is still being offered, and I took the offer up. This piece got photographed after I spent about six hours on it (see my other blog, "Barb's Pots" for more photos of this one). Just kinda came to life under me hands...

Anyway, the title of this post describes how I feel after starting up with clay again! Missed it. Nice to stick a chunk on a work surface and start modeling and scraping! 

But I find that there is a lot of social pressure at the studio to hop right in and volunteer--like, teach. I am not really ready for that. I always have a suggestion handy, if anyone asks me a technical question, and that's how I like to "teach." In small doses! 

"Could you teach me/my friend/child/ to make pots?" used to make me shudder. I guess I still shudder at the thought of having to deal with an inquiry like that about clay work. 

"Why?" you may ask, puzzled. I guess the quick answer is, I'm proud and selfish, don't want to give away trade secrets. But that's bogus. More like, I am overwhelmed since I envision taking on an apprentice for seven years and having to feed and clothe him. Or her. I guess I think of all the thousands of hours spent drawing as a child/youth/adult. All the years of trying to make something decent on the wheel. All the glaze failures, cracked pieces, the interminably slow learning curve! And then trying to transfer this experience to someone else. It is an impossible task!

But, if I would just realize that most people, when they ask me such a question, merely mean, "Can you entertain me/my/friend/child for an hour with a demo, or walk me through making one miserable piece of crap that I can fire and put on the mantlepiece?" Then, ah then, I would be able to smile without shuddering at the huge responsibility, and say "yes." Or "no." Depending on whether I liked them or not, or had time. Pompous people get the "no," earnest and sincere people the "yes." Maybe.

There seem to be a lot of people here that earnestly and sincerely want to have fun playing with clay, and whatever they make, they plan to give to a grandchild. There isn't a lot of pretension, even if there may be creation of what I think is kitsch. So--I am right in my first answer to your question "why?"--I am just proud and selfish. Hopefully, in time I will mellow and be able to take on the teaching requests and hop in there to make someone's awareness of art a little better, to tap into someone's talent and coax it out, to forget the apprenticeship thing and just move someone one step closer to the light.

Here's a great quote apparently from the tennis great Arthur Ashe:

"Start Where You Are. Use What You Have. Do What You Can."

It's very Zen. I want to keep that in mind.  It would help me be a better teacher. Heck, it would help me in everything--tennis, sculpture, cleaning the bathroom, whatever!

Anyway. I have gotten back to CLAY, and it has not forgotten me. Sculpture -- gotta look at it as 3-D line drawings. I don't have to make stuff like Da Vinci (though I'd LOVE to), or Gerhard Marcks. I'm Barbara Szabo, and my thing is capturing character, simply.