In all my work the interaction of fire on the ceramic surface are of prime importance and all these pieces are fired in live flame kilns - whether by raku or wood-fired stoneware and salt/soda glaze.

Raku

Raku, the Japanese expression meaning enjoyment or happiness has many connotations. It is the name given to the particular technique, a philosophical state of mind and a religious endeavour - or possibly a combination of all three.

The raku process involves the rapid firing and cooling of the ware, with the pots being removed red hot from the kiln and is probably the most exciting and spectacular of all pottery techniques. However as a medium, raku is more decorative than utilitarian.

The raku kiln is often seen as a symbol of experimental involvement with heat and ceramic, in contrast to the production kiln and its repetitious control. The popularity of raku has grown rapidly in recent years and the introduction of morecontrollable, efficient and portable ceramic fibre kilns has made this technique more accessible to potters

Following the first, or 'biscuit', firing the pots are glazed and placed in the raku kiln. After rapidly reaching a temperature of between 900c and 1000c the glazes have melted and the pots are removed with tongs, red hot and glowing from the kiln and usually placed in drums of woodshavings. The intense thermal shocks cause the glazes to craze and reduce, the smoke penetrates the clay body enhancing these crackles. The pots are then usually quenched in water to seal these effects.

My involvement with raku came from a desire to use a firing process which required a far more direct and personal input. The work consists mainly of press moulded and handbuilt vessel forms, which I develop in series, allowing me to investigate the limitations of the applied surface decoration, whether this be contrasts of tone, texture, glazed and unglazed areas or the interplay of simple, almost classical forms with the graphic, highly coloured decoration. All the pots are subjected to a heavy post firing reduction, usually in dry sawdust or straw.

It is in the ability to control the design, decoration and carbonising of the unglazed areas to a totally individual level, added to the inevitable and unpredictable movement of crazing and shadows across the surfaces that, for me, the intrigue of raku lies.

Woodfiring

Like raku, it is the active participation in the firing that first drew me to wood-firing. The surfaces of the work are imbued with a special vitality that influences the visual appearanceandtexture. The firing process is also not without its risk and I intentionally embrace the unpredictability with enthusiasm.

Contrary to many potters I find the process of woodfiring a relaxing and spiritual one, gently stoking the kiln to its final temperature of 1300 degrees centigrade. The deep rumble as wood ignites and flames rush through the chamber is a living process. During firing the ash circulates throughout the kiln snowing down onto the pieces, settling on surfaces and melting into a natural glaze wherever it lands. Each piece has its own distinctive visual record of its journey - the effect of flame on clay.

As the temperature reaches its peak soda is introduced into the kiln chamber, volatising the soda and reacting with the silica in the clay body to form lively and vital surfaces. Only small amounts of soda are used. I do not want or enjoy the hard, reflective surfaces normally associated with soda and salt glazing, rather the subtle flashing and tinges of highlights. Viewing these pieces you can only imagine the dancing of atmospheres as flames swirl and caress the surfaces.

At these high temperatures we are working with the true elemental forces of nature, instigating and conducting circumstances and harnessing their fierce and enduring beauty.

 

 
© Steve Mattison
6 Chapel Street, Mochdre, Colwyn Bay LL28 5BB, Wales, UK

stevemattison@mac.com