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Structure


…if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you probably noticed I tend to stop, when I drive to Albuquerque, & photograph the two cottonwood trees that are right along the highway in Algodones. Starting around midsummer there is a glorious & giant spread of foliage – a universe of its own, when you pull off & step over the fence to stand there for a second. It’s only two trees – but starting in about June it feels like a whole forest, obscuring the sky, creating shade & that special rattly, restless, sound that only cottonwoods make. 

And then. In January or February all is quiet and there are just branches, and sky. You see the actual trees – their enduring part, the structure that gives them shape, or, that holds up the shape you see, the rest of the year.

When I first started as a potter I used to read a lot of Wallace Stevens poems – there was something about them that just seemed to go along with working in clay – that primacy of imagination, the circling earthiness, the power of what you think about, or picture, alongside what you really ‘see.’ I took the above photo last weekend, along with about thirty others, and when I got home & brought them up on my computer I was thinking about that famous stanza:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.


stoneware bowl celadon glaze

 

That pretty much says it – there are the gestures of actual things, and there are the unseen suggestions they make, too, like the sound that hangs in the air after the sound has stopped sounding. I was starting out making ‘functional’ (I’ve never liked that word) forms – bowls and lidded jars – but what I was interested in, and this must have been why I kept reading Wallace Stevens, was the unseen dimension of the forms I made – the way they reach into the empty space around them – the way it’s not just what’s there that’s good, not just what you perceive – it’s what you imagine. I need to get back to  Wallace Stevens – I should get out Harmonium and spend some time before rushing again into the studio. It is easy to work too hard. You have to pause.

I just unloaded the kiln – the bowl, above, was in it – there’s that transparency…and that darkness too, that shade. A good ceramic form, like any good form, makes its own universe, a little – and at the same time lets you look through it to the sky, lets you know the best part of it is invisible.