SCULPTORS' MATERIALS #6: CLAY

 

Merete Rasmussen, Ouroboros, 2019, Ceramic with coloured slip

SCULPTORS' MATERIALS: CLAY

Welcome to the #6 email in our series on Sculptors' Materials. If you would like to visit the gallery before Christmas, you still can! We are remaining open until the 23rd December by appointment. For now we are looking at the use of clay in sculpture over time.
Clay is a fine-grained natural soil material containing minerals and a variable amount of water which gives it its plasticity. It is naturally developed after erosion and can be found near large lakes and marine deposits.

Clay is ideal for unlimited creativity thanks to its plasticity which helps the material to be malleable. It can be used for sculpture on any scale - from small figurines to large works. Any clay can be sculpted. Its colour changes depending on the oxides that it is composed of. If there is more iron, the clay will be red, if there is limestone in its composition then it will be white. With the addition of kaolinite you can get strong and translucent porcelain. In order to fire it, it needs a progressive heat from 25 to 1000 or 1200 degrees Celsius depending on the clay used. It then hardens and can no longer be changed.
 

Ceramics is one of the world’s oldest crafts made by man using fire, before bronze and glass. Many sculptures were made of clay during the Palaeolithic period. Venus of Dolni Vestonice, now in the collections of the Moravian Museum in Brno, is the earliest clay piece that was found alongside other sculptures of animals and more than 2000 small balls of fired clay and dates back to 25 000 BCE. It measures 111 x 43 mm and was found amongst prehistoric ashes, broken in two. Researchers have found a child's fingerprints on it, and thought that he or she may have handled the sculpture before it was fired at a relatively low temperature (around 700C).
Terracotta and clay were used from the Palaeolithic period to the Fall of the Roman Empire, and then we observe a decline in its artistic production and use during medieval times. It resurges during the Renaissance when clay models were made to then be cast into bronze. It was also a way for people to collect sculptures at a cheaper price as clay is a less expensive material than bronze. Ceramic art can be painted or enamelled to bring a similar finish to the sculpture. 

The Chinese Terracotta Army Warriors, discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a water well at Mount Li, China is composed of more than 8000 warriors and horses in clay made between 246 and 208 BCE for the First Qin Emperor. More than 700 000 employees were hardly working on this project as the sculptures were supposed to serve the emperor in his afterlife.

Clay can also be used in architecture to decorate the exterior facades of the buildings. The Natural History Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Albert Hall in London are all covered with ceramic to give their facades more detail.
Nowadays clay is becoming a more acceptable medium for contemporary sculpture and fine art, raising it from being considered only as a material for craft. Major international artists use this material to express their creativity.

Grayson Perry, the first ceramic artist to receive a Turner Prize in 2003, creates his vessels with complex surfaces using many techniques like glazing, incision, embossing and photographic transfers. Edmund de Waal went beyond the potential of ceramics mixing it with architecture, music, dance and poetry. Finally, Rebecca Warren uses the representation of female form in ceramic to express both tenderness and aggressiveness at the same time, always with a reference to other historical works and artists.​
Jon Buck<span><</span>span<span>></span><span><</span><span><</span>/span<span>></span>span<span><</span>span<span>></span><span>></span><span><</span>/span<span>></span><span><</span>span<span>></span><span><</span><span><</span>/span<span>></span><span><</span>span<span>></span><span><</span><span><</span>/span<span>></span>/span<span><</span>span<span>></span><span>></span><span><</span>/span<span>></span>br<span><</span>span<span>></span><span><</span><span><</span>/span<span>></span>span<span><</span>span<span>></span><span>></span><span><</span>/span<span>></span><span><</span>span<span>></span><span>></span><span><</span>/span<span>></span><span><</span>span<span>></span><span><</span><span><</span>/span<span>></span>/span<span><</span>span<span>></span><span>></span><span><</span>/span<span>></span> Pangolin Designs Jason Wason

JON BUCK

PRESERVING VESSEL, 2018
FIRED CERAMIC
38 X 31 X 31 CM
UNIQUE

PANGOLIN DESIGNS

STAG, 2019
GLAZED CERAMIC
89.5 X 53 X 35 CM
UNIQUE

 

JASON WASON

BLACK AND GOLD JAR, 2018
CERAMIC
17 X 16 X 16 CM 
UNIQUE

 

 

 
Zachary Eastwood-Bloom, Sacred Geometry, 2017, Ceramic
Merete Rasmussen, Fluid Form, 2020, Ceramic with coloured slip
 
 
A FEW FACTS ABOUT CLAY:

1 - The potter’s wheel was invented in Mesopotamia between 6000 and 4000 BCE facilitating the creation of uniformed bowls and vases.

2 - It is on a pottery that archaeologists have found the oldest writing in Ad Putea, Bulgaria, in a fort that used to be a Roman road station. The 7000 years old ceramics include two pictographic signs, a swastika and a group of other written signs.

3 - German potters are the first to produce stoneware in the 1400s. They then used finer clays and fired it at a higher temperature than earthenware. It was then more convenient and practical than earthenware as it was naturally non-porous.

4 - Picasso was a prolific artist in ceramic. In 1948, he learnt how to sculpt clay and stayed 7 years in Vallauris, a village in the South of France known for its artistic ceramic. There, he created more than 4000 original works, some of them were later edited from 25 to 500 copies.

5 - Today we can use clay (under its porcelain mix) to create hips, teeth or head skull prothesis - as ceramic is more stable and more tolerated than metal by the body.
 
For a price list of works using clay please click here.

NEXT WEEK'S MATERIAL: IRON

To read last week's wood post, please visit our blog, where our Sculptors' Materials series will be available to view at any time.
 
Images: (From Top), Merete Rasmussen Ouroboros; Venus of Dolni Vestonice, Moravian Museum in Brno, Photography: Petr Novák; Terracotta Army in Pit 1, Photography: Maros M r a z; Terracotta gargoyles on the Natural History Museum, London, Photography: the Natural History Museum ; Jon Buck, Preserving Vessel; Pangolin Designs, Stag; Jason Wason, Black and Gold Jar; Merete Rasmussen, Fluid Form.
 
December 16, 2020