Ceramic form, 'Blockhead', earthenware clay / terra sigillata, Alan Watt, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1996
Designed and made by Alan Watt (born 1941). Watt is one of Australia's senior potters. He trained at RMIT in the 1960s and has worked in ceramics, and taught since that time. He is currently head of the ceramics department at Canberra School of Art. While trained in the traditions of wheel-throwing, he has always been interested in working against the wheel-thrown functional ceramic aesthetic, and has used instead, moulding, casting and other processes that are also part of ceramic traditions. However, his work has always been to do with the characteristics and properties of clay itself, and the processes of working with it. For some years he has been interested in the landscape: 'not the pristine landscape of wilderness, but that which displays evidence of the intervention of mankind - the cuts, the scoring, the manipulation and ordering'. (Catalogue statement, In Context, 1997) This work is an excellent example of the development of these ideas over a long period.
Significant is the technology associated with both 'Blockhead' and Lightning Ridge', as both works have been fired in the same copper-fuming process, but have emerged with different colours and effects.
Watt uses a white earthenware clay, and sprays it with terrasigillata (sealed earth) slip; a superfine clay, made from soaking clay in water with a sodium material so that it separates. The aim is to get a shiny surface in places because this will pick up the blue colour. A shiny or tight surface can also be obtained by slicing with a knife or burnishing. The work is black fired (in a heavy reduction, smoking atmosphere) at 1050C in a fuming device. A small amount of powder made of copper and a soda material is put in front of the burner, and this drifts through the kiln and settles (unpredictably) on shiny vertical surfaces (works like Lightning Ridge are fired in a vertical position). In this case it results in a metallic blue glaze on the black surface as with 'Lightning Ridge' (which is an optical effect, because if the glaze is later applied with water the colour goes until it is dry again). It is a very difficult process and it is not properly understood how it works. If the copper material is applied to the clay surface before this occurs, the result is a matt brown/orange surface, as with 'Blockhead'. Here copper oxide was sprayed to the surface before firing. Thus these two works provide an example of the variation that is possible with this process.
See c/v and various catalogue essays in file.
'Blockhead' was made in 1996 while Watt was an artist in residence at the Frankston campus of Monash University, and 'Lightning Ridge' was made at his home studio at Tanja, NSW in 1994-5.
Exhibited in the exhibition 'In Context', the annual exhibition of the Potters Society of Australia at the Manly Art Gallery, 30 May - 22 June 1997 (see catalogue).