2009 Emerging Artist
June 2009 | by Sara Baker | Issue 68, October 2009
A wood-fired ceramic vessel by Eric Knoche.
There is much more to Eric Knoche’s work than what initially meets the eye. His ceramic vessels are abstracts of human figures, bones, houses or even machine parts. Each piece is hand-built using coils or slabs, and then wood-fired.“Wood-fired surfaces have a unique ability to reveal themselves to a viewer over time,” says the Asheville, N.C., artist.
“Clay is very sensitive to the way it is touched,” says Knoche.“Even if I show someone exactly how I make something, the way they touch the clay will be different, and therefore the final piece will be different.” As a result, he keeps no secrets when he’s teaching workshops.
Knoche began his career as a professional artist just three years ago, after working as an English teacher in India and Thailand. He is experimenting with a new series of large, human-size vessels and a series of interactive ceramic puzzle sculptures.
Knoche’s work sells for $90 to $9,000. It is available at galleries including Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville, N.C., Anderson O’Brien Fine Art in Omaha, Neb., and Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville, N.C.
I just finished installing five large outdoor sculptures at the Asheville arboretum as part of Handmade in America's Craft and Design Expo
They will be on display this friday and saturday from 10-6
Buidling large work
My desire to create large scale work stems both from my ongoing aesthetic exploration of scale and mass as well as a need to challenge myself technically. While bigger is certainly not always better, with large scale work there is the potential to create a presence that simply isn’t possible with smaller work.
While it is difficult to make accurate generalizations about any art, for me, sculpture that approaches the size of a human body takes on additional meaning simply because of its size. Of course this is not to say that large sculpture is in any way better than small sculpture, nor would any random small work benefit from an artificial increase in size. However, I think due to the way humans intrinsically perceive the physical world, we interact differently with large sculpture.
To some extent, most ceramics involve taking the artistic vision from the right side of the brain and bringing the final piece to fruition using the left side of the brain. While there are exception, most ceramic artists have at least clay and glaze formulas to consider, drying and firing schedules, and perhaps structural aids like armatures and molds. The complexity of all of these technical aspects increases exponentially as the size of the work increases. When a solo artist can no longer pick up her work by herself, there is a significant difference in the making process. For me, creating these large vessels involved the help of others at numerous points in the process. Particularly since the kiln they were fired in was over twenty miles (some of it over bumpy gravel roads) from my studio. Thus, they had to be carefully loaded, transported, and unloaded in an unfired state. In making large scale work there is simply more planning and thinking ahead that has to happen for the piece to be successful. Both the artistic exploration and the technical challenge and how they interact are important to me.
Although my current work lacks an overt narrative and on one level deals largely with formal issues of line, shape, mass, texture etc., my hope is that my work communicates with others on a level outside the spectrum of speech and conscious thought. I endeavor to communicate directly with the viscera of my fellow humans. The spacial relations and formal visual components of my work are the result of an ongoing personal exploration into the ability of physical space to resonate within the human spirit. It is my belief that a similar line of inquiry over centuries led to the development of such ideas and philosophies as the Golden Mean and Feng Shui. I think of myself not only as a sculptor, but also as a temporal artist, exploring and crafting this interaction between humans and objects. Ultimately, I am searching for a deeper understanding of the human spirit and its relationship to the things and space around us.
During the fall/winter of 2008-09 I had the opportunity to work as a short term apprentice in the studio of Isezaki Jun, Living National Treasure, in Bizen, Okayama, Japan. This short film documents my experience.
(The password is "woodfire")
My time in Japan
I wrote in an earlier post that, for me, working with clay is essentially a collaboration with a material rather than a dominance over it. I think firing a wood kiln is similar. Each kiln is different, each firing is different, and even the reaction of the kiln to each stoke of wood may be different. By working with the kiln--during a firing and from firing to firing--success, in my opinion, is more likely.
After the firing we took all of the work out of the kiln, brought it back to the kiln and then began cleaning it. To clean wood fired ceramics a variety of tools are used: blocks of silicon carbide take off the large burrs, sandpaper is used to make the surface more friendly to the touch, and if necessary, a grinder is used for large or stubborn protrusions. Finally the work is washed in several changes of clean water to remove the dust from cleaning and any remaining loose ash.
After the work is cleaned, it is organized and certain pieces are selected for upcoming exhibitions.
The timing of my stay in Bizen was such that my first activity was processing clay and my last was cleaning the fired work. In between, I got to experience helping Sensei make work, peparing for the firing, loading firing and unloading as well as various assorted tasks. Thus, I was able to experience a full cycle of making work in the studio of Isezaki Jun Sensei.
In addition, I made several life long friends, learned a great deal of Japanese, and grew in many other ways. This experience was particularily interesting to me because of my prior experiences. About three years ago I finished a two year apprenticeship to Jeff Shapiro. Since that time I have worked as an independent artist and made my own work. Much of what I leared at Shapiro's as well as much of what I employ in my own work has roots in Japan and particularily Bizen. Therefore, to apprentice again, this time in Japan, after working on my own for several years, felt very much like I was tracing my own artistic lineage. Though I do not consider myself a traditional artist, I certainly recognize the importance of tradition on my work and humbly regard my self as the grateful recipient of several traditions.
More pictures of my time in Japan can be found at picasaweb.google.com/superduperdog3
Also, with the approval of Isezaki Sensei I made a short film about my experience. You can watch it here.
There is a password that is required. It is "woodfire." We have just begun firing. After three months of hard work by Isezaki Sensei, Koichiro-san (his son), Kibata-san (the oldest apprentice), Ishida-san (the other apprentice), Hatori-san (an employee who mostly handles the wrapping and shipping of finished work, but also helps where ever needed), and myself, this the culmination. Last week we loaded hundreds of Sensei’s pieces into the kiln. While in many places in Japan and around the world the firing’s primary purpose is to transform the clay into ceramic and the applied glazes into hard glass, in Bizen the firing as another purpose as well. Traditionally no glazes are used on the pottery and so it is the firing itself which gives the work its finished patina. To be more accurate, it is the interaction of the clay, the form, the loading and the firing which patina the work. In Japanese the term for this kind of work is ‘yakishime.’ In english, as is often the case with woodfired ceramics, we do not have one concise word for it, though it is usually referred to as ‘natural ash glazed ceramics.’
Isezaki Sensei's Anagama
Because the path of the flame through the kiln and wares in extremely important in determining what the final results will be both on individual pieces as well as on the kiln load as a whole, great care is taken during the loading and much consideration is given to directing the flame. During the firing the flame behaves much like water, taking the path of least resistance, speeding up as it constricts, swirling and eddying as it flows around the wares.
Loading the back of the kiln
This style of kiln is called an ‘anagama’ and is basically a tube running at an incline up a hill. The pitch of anagama kilns vary a great deal but Sensei’s is fairly steep, almost completely eliminating the need for a chimney. Infact, the chimney on this kiln is only about two feet tall.
For the next ten days we will take turns stoking the kiln continuously in eight hour shifts. Typically during kiln firings my favorite shift is the overnight shift because of the stillness, but this time Ishida-san and I are on the 4 pm to Midnight.
Sensei pulling a teabowl from the kiln as the kiln approaches top temperature. Each firing a few pieces are selected for this technique which is called 'hikidashi.' The results are dramatically different from the work left in the kiln to cool naturally.
Excavating clay from under a local rice field.
Bizen clay, often dug from under local rice fields, has very high levels of organic matter. Therefore, the temperature of the kiln must be raised very slowly in order to burn out these impurities. If the temperature goes up to quickly, the escaping gasses can cause bloating. We are currently raising the temperature by 5 degrees celsius per hour.
This style of firing is incredibly labor intensive, somewhat unpredictable, and relatively expensive. However, as you see in my next post, the results speak for themselves.
More pictures are at picasaweb.google.com/superduperdog3
Some of my work
Thanks for reading!
Eric I have been working in the studio of Mr. Jun Isezaki in Imbe, Bizen, Japan for a little over a month. In addition to myself, Isezaki has two other apprentices right now, Kibata and Ishida. And in addition to their jobs as apprentices I have recruited them both as de facto Japanese instructors. The first few weeks after my arrival I learned what feels like a tremendous amount of Japanese as we worked together on various projects.
Crushing the dry clay by hand
The timing of my stay here as worked out perfectly insofar as I will get to experience an entire making cycle. My first job when I arrived was manually crushing natural dry clay and looking for lime. Auspiciously this was the exact same task I was given on the first day of my apprenticeship to Jeff Shapiro. (Shapiro is also my connection to Japan and to Isezaki). I think crushing clay and looking closely at it is a good place to start an apprenticeship. Also, during the first few days of my time here Isezaki’s son Koichiro (who also studied with Shapiro) began loading his own anagama (wood kiln) and invited me to help. Loading is my favorite part of the process and, in my humble opinion, just as important as the firing in terms of surface development. Observing and helping with this loading and firing was extremely interesting since it was generally similar to the methods I am familiar with and therefore I felt I could understand his decisions. However, every wood fire ceramist does things a bit differently and it’s always interesting to witness this. Koichiro Isezaki really is one of the very finest young potters working today.
Constructing a basic form
Each day here starts with a comprehensive cleaning of the studio which includes sweeping the studio and out door work spaces, wetting the clay floor (which, incidentally, is fantastic to stand on-much better than concrete) and generally putting everything back in its place. After cleaning, we begin the work of the day. While the specific tasks vary and often we will be working on several projects at once, things are very rhythmic and cyclical.
The kiln of Bizen potter, Kondo-san
As I mentioned above, I was fortunate enough to arrive at the beginning of a cycle. Making ceramics begins with making clay. While many potters use commercial clay (clay that has been mined on a large scale and heavily refined), Mr. Isezaki uses almost exclusively local, unprocessed clay. First the dry clay is crushed by hand and large stones, twigs and other material are picked out (though some stones are left in as they add to the character of the clay and thus to the finished work). The clay is then put into large wooden boxes with water to hydrate it. After several days or weeks the clay is taken out and put into terracotta pots to dry it back to working consistency and finally it is run through a pug mill (a machine which mixes and compresses the clay). Mr Isezaki used a number of different natural clays which are blended in different proportions depending on the form he is making.
Shards from the site of a 1000 year old kiln
After the clay is prepared, we can begin making the forms. Some forms Mr. Isezaki makes entirely by himself and some are begun by the apprentices and finished by him. Roughing out simple forms to his specifications can be very challenging. While I am certainly not an expert potter, I am not a novice either. It has been very humbling to work in this studio. For example, to take a given weight of clay and make a given size slab by pounding it out by hand without cutting or touching the edges requires that every time the clay is touched it is touched consciously and deliberately. The slight changes in dimension that occur with every touch must be monitored closely so that the whole piece of clay is slowly and evenly transformed. As I said, I am not a novice, but I am learning a whole new level of working with the clay.
In addition to making clay and preparing forms, there are many other tasks around the studio. We have already begun preparing for the firing. It took the other two apprentices and me several days to clean the kiln and and all of the kiln furniture (the shelves and posts that the pottery is placed on in the kiln). Other tasks in preparation for the firing include pounding rice straw (which is used to burn orange lines into the potter) and making “bota” (slabs of refractory clay of various shapes used to influence the flame patterns left on the pottery).
More pictures are at picasaweb.google.com/superduperdog3
World-Herald, Oct 15, 2009
Published Thursday October 15, 2009
Beautiful, evocative patterns emerge from hands of ceramic artist
Sculptor Eric Knoche loves patterns.
He’s been known to check cloud formations for the face of Elvis.
His artwork, on display at Anderson O’Brien Fine Art in west Omaha, arranges wood-fired ceramics into beautifully evocative patterns.
In fact, the first thing you see when entering the gallery is “Aurora,” a collection of ceramic squares and rectangles that Knoche arranged into a giant starburst.
Works such as his “Untitled Expansion No. 1” and “Untitled Expansion No. 2” don’t form a specific shape. But they do seem to radiate out from a central point, like an expanding ceramic universe.
The works are abstract, hence the moniker “Untitled.” Still, the patterns of seemingly expanding ceramic tiles imbue the works with remarkable energy.
Like most ceramists, Knoche makes some functional art — that is, art that can be used around the house.
His two beautiful flower vases fall into that category. These works have a modern, angular design.
“Flower Vase No. 1” is especially striking for its decorations — the hardened pottery seems to have fossilized shells imprinted on the sides. It’s as if the artist turned beautiful fossilized stone into art.
Some of Knoche’s other works are less functional.
His ceramic platters, for instance, lack flat surfaces, making them impractical for everyday use.
Knoche has some favorite shapes. One, in particular, is shaped roughly like a ship’s curved hull.
He put two of them together in a work called “Two Boats.”
He arranged six of them in a work called “Stacked Ribcage in Six Pieces.” They’re stacked to look somewhat like a bow tie.
Knoche encourages the viewer to imagine his ceramics arranged in different patterns.
That’s kind of what he does when he searches for Elvis in the clouds.
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