After sitting side-by-side over the Winter some of my pots finally got closer to each other — giving me pause to think about how colour and size can matter — sometimes greatly.
The pots were a grouping of eight small bowls by contemporary Ontario artist/potter Christopher Reid Flock (1971 – ) and a very large table bowl by veteran potter Heinz Laffin (1926 – ) of Hornby Island, British Columbia. The two artists are as disparate a pair you could imagine — two different generations, two widely sprung parts of the country and two seemingly apposite visions of pottery and clay.
For a time Reid’s pots (3″-4″ dia. x 1 1/2″ h.) migrated around the living room becoming stacked and un-stacked, stretched out in a line or formed into colour patterns along a shelf. Laffin’s pot (16″ dia. x 6″ h.) wandered from floor to bench to trunk not finding a shelf that could handle either its girth or weight. Unlikely bed fellows save for a shared delight in colour, in the thought of “brush” work and in the thought of “glazing” — three aspects that seemed to want them in closer conversation and proximity. In the end, the challenge of Reid’s smaller pots played out as one of fragility and stability, for none of the eight have what is truly a foot or base — they roll with the slightest touch and with thin light clay walls they are quite unlike their solid, practical and massive stoneware cousin.
What was intriguing with the new nesting arrangement, was just how much I had missed visually. I hadn’t seen how Laffin had used glazing to balance and counteract the size of the form. Nor had I appreciated how his generous application and use of glaze — Tenmuko, Hare’s fur — broke up the dominance of the bowl’s interior and exterior surfaces — nor the accomplished way the glaze performed, flowing with differing tonal degrees, tints and complexity to the rim, footing and the “belly of the beast”. It wasn’t until the saturated mono-cultured colours of Reid’s small pots came into play did I appreciate Laffin’s notions of glaze work — and form — or how the potter-artist’s eye works. I had even overlooked his treatment of glaze, how he ensured a subtle breaking of copper along the bowl’s lip.
With Reid, I hadn’t seen how he used his microfibre “glazes” to challenge not just “glazing” but to set up solid colour glaze as a challenge to blended colour glaze — his palette decision seeming to have the capacity to distort, magnify and test my visual acuity in a different manner. I also hadn’t been quite prepared for his newly “colourized” small bowls to combine in such a clatter of fortuitous nesting. His bowls seemed suddenly not to be quite of one piece. It was as if — which came first? the colour? the form? the glaze? Importantly, what was the clay doing?
Well, the latter was acting just as Laffin’s stoneware was — being an honest support for the bowl in its function and in its surface. It was also having to work just as hard, perhaps even more so, given the fragility of thinly constructed walls and Reid’s “un-footed” bases. Clay was not as absent or distracted a player as I had been thinking, nor was Reid just intent about upending pottery and vessels — he was, apparently, also thinking about how to rewrite this most intractable of all materials.
In truth, quite unlike Laffin’s majestic table bowl, Reid’s pots were confronting the traditional vessel form and tampering with long-established potting techniques, especially demarcation lines — such as the foot’s relationship to the body, the lip rim dynamic, the throwing rings, to name but a few. A clear example, was his attention to the lip, making it stand out as a sharpened entity, carefully outlined through use of his soft, matt coloured, microfibre glazes.
His pots also abstained from an elaboration or finish to their exterior –surfaces are left unfinished, with only the accidental carving of throw lines and surface residue standing in as artistic treatment. It was about using clay in the same way as he used his colour glazing — attempting to refine or reduce hand-crafting and hand painting to its essentials — to have clay become sculptural and glaze — well, more modern. I also kept getting struck by the pronounced smallness of the pots possibly what had attracted me about them in the first place. Yet, beside their West Coast counterpart they were dwarfs — barely bowls at all. The image that kept coming to mind to describe them was that of the maquette, a small model employed by sculptors that is used for testing and demonstrating a much larger work or idea.
Then, in a strange way, I felt I had come full circle. My search for a place of rest and arrangement for both the Reid and Heinz Laffin pots, had become in a manner of speaking a parallel maquette — a testing of how I grasped, learned and lived with pots in all their wonder and complexity, in their own personal colour and size.
For information on Christopher Reid Flock you can visit his website at Christopher Reid Flock or his fbook page. Reid studied at Sheridan College, Toronto and under Ontario artist/potter Kayo O’Young (1998). He trained and studied in Japan from 2000-2009.
For information on Heinz Laffin you will have a bit more difficulty with the internet. Laffin is listed in a number of publications, notably from British Columbia. His work has been chiefly exhibited in Vancouver. Born in Germany in 1926, he arrived in Canada in 1953. Studied at VSA (Vancouver School of Art – Now Emily Carr Collegiate) where he taught from 1965-67. He studied under the late John Reeve (1929-2012) in 1960.