Thursday, April 16, 2009

Subtle Hues, Sugary Surfaces ~ Birdie Boone

Birdie Boone is one of those rare people that you come accross; Intelligent, witty and talented! Birdie received her BA in studio fine art from the College of William and Mary in Virginia in 1994 and her MFA in ceramics from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth in 2005. I was happy that she agreed to take part in SoCalPotters! Be sure to check out her website as well as the Archie Bray Foundation site, where Ms. Boone was the 2008 Lincoln Fellow.
Why clay?
Clay is a medium I was introduced to at an early age. I immediately understoodhow it worked and I guess it stuck. Conceptually, I think it’s important to note the inherent history of its (ceramics) domestic relevancy with regard to my choice to make pots, since my ultimate goal is to explore ‘domestic intimacy’. Plus, twice in my life, I have idolized a age 5, I wanted to be just like my best friend’s mom and at age 20, I wanted to be just like my college ceramics professor. What inspires you? Things that come to mind: life, familiar, family, food, home, personal identity, personality, soft, subtle, sweet, my environment, the natural world, plants, nature and nurture, geography, geology, infinity, similarity, nourishment, nutrition, the omnivore’s dilemma, sanity, good design, genealogy, growth, maturity, balance, the role of the pot in everyday life, celebration, perception, awareness, discovery, revelation, comprehension, curiosity, necessity, physical, emotional, metaphor, a truly good idea, the screenplays of P.T. Anderson, Wes Anderson, and Charlie Kaufman...
You have some amazing glazes, what are you firing to?
I currently work with a mid-range red clay from Canada to which I apply a white bisque slip (which brightens up the glazes). I glaze fire to cone 5 1/2 to 6 1/4 in an electric kiln. It has taken a number of under-fired and over-fired kilns to find the ideal firing cycle for my work (and it continues...)! My current favorite glazes are a Val Cushing base and one of those ‘20g x 5’ base recipes. I have been working with the Cushing glaze for about 4 years now and have just begun to work with the other. Both are lithium dominant bases, so they have lovely color reactions and sugary surfaces. I tend to use small amounts of manganese carbonate and nickel carbonate to tone down oxides and stains. Most of my glaze colors contain 2 oxides, but I am starting to layer glazes, so I am getting results from 3 or 4 colorants in combination that way. Mostly, this tends to result in an even more subtle hue, but sometimes there are unexpected, lovely interactions that occur. My favorite oxides are (in no particular order) red iron, neodymium, erbium, and nickel. I tend to stay away from cobalt, but if I had a scale that measured in tenths or hundredths of a gram, I would probably use it.
I have to admit that I am one of those people who likes to look in a catalog and say “give me 25 lbs of that”. I am not interested in the process of formulating my own. What is it about glaze calculation that you like?
I was taught to give ‘glaze’ as much attention as I give to form. I don’t want to diminish the role of the actual form or shape (because it IS integral to my work), but I tend to think of my glazes as the reason for the form, rather than the other way round. Also, I get to be a chemist! I get to geek out over a grid and pretend to be someone who loves numbers (calculator a definite necessity! and even then, I have to double check). I am drawn to glaze formulation because the process reveals an infinite range of subtleties in color and surface texture. I can make conscious choices about what works best for me in terms of my conceptual ideas and also in order to present the user with a surface so luscious that he/she cannot help but be sensually engaged with the glazed object. I also think that understanding how different materials change with heat and time when combined with one another goes a long way toward giving the work integrity and complexity (even with pots as seemingly simple as mine).
What are your thoughts on the artist as activist?
I definitely consider myself an activist, albeit a fairly covert one. If an activist promotes social change, then my opinion is that most artists are activists, no matter how subtle or indirect the approach. The accountability aspect of being an artist/activist, however, is another conversation altogether. Watching and listening to my parents has almost always managed to fulfill any need for activism I might have. Also, I went to high school with a bunch of young conservatives, who kind of put a wet blanket over my regard for politics. I have to be careful when discussing ‘political art’ because I don’t want to offend anyone, but I definitely have opinions. Let’s just say that in most (note that I have not used the word ‘all’) cases, I would rather listen to ‘The Capitol Steps’.
Who are your favorite artists and why?
I don’t know much about anything other than ceramics, but here we go...Painter Janet Fish for her astounding perception of light and color, as well as for her ‘unglamorous’ subject matter, her still-life compilations of mundane objects in bizarre relationships with one another. Ceramic Designer Eva Zeisel for her amazing life and her comprehension of nurture/nourish as it is revealed through her tableware. Architect/Designer Frank Lloyd Wright for his integrity (!) toward finely crafted domiciles/domestic objects who’s forms do indeed follow function...and celebrate it in the subtlest of ways, as well as for his ability to build ‘with’ nature. Jeweler Cynthia Toops for her ability to use Sculpey like no other! And here is a short list of some of my favorite ceramic artists: Akio Takamori (US), Takeshi Yasuda (China, England) , Janet DeBoos (Australia), Ayumi Horie (US), Edmund de Waal (England), Ron Meyers (US).
What would your advice be to someone just starting with clay?
1. Don’t pay attention to the name-droppers. They think they know it all and all they really know is nothing much.
2. Don’t let the rules hold you back; this applies to the ‘rules’ of thumb that are the general guidelines usually followed when working with clay, as well as physical ‘rules’ such as the rule of gravity. Of course, timing is important for this one.
3. Probably the best advice one can give or receive: make, make, make, make, make, make, make, and then make; this is how the work gets better (and it can almost always be better!).
What’s your favorite cuss word?
‘Shitbucket’ is my favorite ‘secret swear word’, meaning I think it, rather than speak it. I cuss pretty openly to myself while working in the studio, especially as I tend to do a lot of stupid little things that deserve a good cussing out! I am, however, working on cleaning up my ‘public’ vocabulary because, well, because it’s just time to grow up, damn it!
What is your favorite color?
Green, and I say this without hesitation. In fact, my top faves are all greens: new growth green, chartreuse, sea foam, kelly, mint, but I should stop. Although green is at the top of my color hierarchy, I also love almost all colors, especially fleshy hues. It might be easier to mention the colors/glazes that I hate: cobalt blue (sorry), copper red (sorry, again), and purple (on the rarest of occasions, I can handle purple if it’s toned way, way down). I have to admit that I am a glaze color revolutionist and don’t have much regard for the traditional standbys, but that is not to say that I won’t appreciate them if they’re used well.
If you could be anywhere in the world, where would you be?
There are tons of places where I would ideally love to live, but I have recently realized that it’s most important to just ‘be’ wherever you actually are.
What’s your favorite quote?
“All good pots are shaped like a boob.” -Julia Galloway
“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” -Princess Leia
Though not a famous quote, it is my favorite: “It doesn’t matter what you can do, it matters what you do do.” -Buckey Boone (my dad)and finally...
"Are we there yet, Papa Smurf?” -Smurfette

I love this glaze! I may have mentioned before that I have a collection of cups and mugs that I use everyday for my coffee and thoroughly enjoy choosing my cup in the morning. I think I need to get one of these!

Thank you Birdie!


Anonymous said...

HI Birdie! Just looked at your latest work and comments and continue to love your subtle style and colors. I enjoy your cups every day and have them displayed in my living room between use. Oh, your saucers are 'boobs'? I always admire them for how they look like bubbles forming in primal ooze! They embody the fact that clay is 'liquid, man'. You are an inspiration to me, not the other way around! Thank you for paying attention when you were 5 --- I had NO idea! Kitty W.

Steve said...

cool to find you. i guess i'm a so cal potter, except the day job gets in the way...

see ya