I have always been interested in living gently. All my ceramic work incorporates this philosophy, this respect for the environment. My lifestyle choices include growing my own food, generating my own solar power, collecting my own drinking water, building my own hand-made house from local materials, and growing my own fuel for my kiln. So when it comes to making my art work. I choose to make it from locally available materials that I can find around me, in my immediate locality. This grounds me in my environment. It also severely limits what I can make, but it is an intriguing challenge that engages me on many levels physically, mentally and spiritually.
I dig all my native ceramic materials locally, within a 50 km radius of where I live. This has enabled me to develop my own unique quality of wood fired porcelain, made from these special native stones. The Essential nature of this enterprise is about a respectful interaction with my environment.
When I was young I wanted to believe that there were some absolutes in life. I wanted to believe that there could be a definition of such concepts as truth and beauty. I’ve come to realise that there will not be any absolutes in my life. I have had to come to terms with the fact that good and evil, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness are all relative and coexist in each of us, all of the time. I accept this duality and embrace the angst that comes with the rejection of false certainties.
We have lost our bush land, we are losing our native animals. The corner shop has gone. We are forced to drive in a car to a distant, edge of town, shopping mall to get to a bank and supermarket. I have to go to greater lengths to search out the remaining family owned small businesses, the butcher, baker, fishmonger and greengrocer.
Steve Harrison, Coexistence, Wood fired, unglazed, native ‘bai tunze’ porcelain stone body, showing delicate red/orange/pink flashing and white/grey flame bleaching on the fire face, 74 x 128 x 125 mm. Image courtesy the artist.
We are no longer a nation of makers, we are all being corralled into becoming a nation of consumers. I reject this coercion. I will not buy vinyl coated chip-board and plastic, throw-away rubbish from the hyper-mall or DIY assembly shops. This apparent convenience is ruining the world. I want real things in my life, things that are beautiful as well as useful and that will last a lifetime if needed. I enjoy engaging with the patina of age and the mundane chips and tears of a life well lived.
Being brought up in a loosely Buddhist/Quaker household, this ground my cultural lens and set its focal length. I suppose that this supports Loloya’s assertion that the man is made in the child before his seventh year. I can only say that I am made this way. My mother in particular was interested in living gently. She was also the one interested in Buddhism. This life that I have created seems ‘right’ to me. I’m a product of my particular circumstances.
So when I think about firing my kiln, I first think how important it is to fire as cleanly as possible, as I would be the first one to be concerned, if my neighbour were to create a lot of unnecessary smoke and pollution in his day to day life. I don’t see that being involved in a creative activity gives us some sort of carte blanche or ‘get out of jail free’ card to pollute.
I also think about how I can use as little wood as possible while still being able to see that my pot is obviously wood fired. I don’t buy my wood fuel from a merchant. I grow it, cut it and split it myself. I have a finite amount of energy, everything that happens here is facilitated by human effort. However, I do use a few machines these days to help me do the heavy work as I get older. I have replaced my original old cross-cut saw with a chain saw. The block buster with a hydraulic splitter. I am not a luddite, but I am aware that everything has an environmental cost. However, as I age I need to reduce the physical strain on my body if I’m to continue to keep working and creating beautiful objects into the future.
I have an image of what I want to create. I chase after it, it inspires me. It is beautiful, but elusive. I can never achieve what is in my minds eye, but I keep prosecuting the illusion that it is possible. I like the intimacy of the bowl form. It is small, round and engaging when cupped in the hands. I love them as objects, the symbolism of sharing, the embedded meaning of the food container, nourishment and sustenance. I love the rich history of the peasant rice bowl and the Japanese tea bowl. They are omnipresent at every level of my life. I eat and drink from my bowls every day.
This image that I have of a beautiful bowl worthy of contemplation has a gentle wood fired surface. A surface that I have worked at developing over the past forty five years of my creative practice, This subtle wood fired ash glazing of the ceramic surfaces at high temperatures develops a wide range of colours, textures and patinas that are not usually seen on porcelain.
I think a lot about my firing process and the best way to get the soft, delicate surfaces that are tactile and smoothly functional. I also think about the effect that my firing will have on others. Will the viewer appreciate the philosophical meaning embedded in their making?
It has been said that the most rare and expensive commodity today is time. My methods are fully hands-on, antiquated, quaint and oh, so very slow, so my output is quite small. These objects are time solidified and made manifest. Beautiful, unique things like these take time to be brought to life, and more time to be given a useful life in daily use, so that they develop their mundane scars and patina of use. They grow and develop over time, just as they require time to be fully appreciated by use and enquiry.
The unexamined bowl is a bowl not worth living with.
I have been engaged in the making and exhibiting my wood fired ceramics that I make from locally sourced stones, gravels and wood ashes for...