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Ceramic Storms

By Mamie Spiegel

There’s been a revolution in clay. Nowadays ceramists are using a new kind of clay. It has paper mixed in with it, and surprisingly, it doesn’t blow up. In fact, putting paper in the clay makes it amazingly easy to work with: doesn’t crack, doesn’t crumble, doesn’t slump, and doesn’t warp.

Art: Works by Ellen Johnson and Edna Dickinson. Sat, Feb 4, 6-9pm. Zoho gallery, Fábrica La Aurora

Edna Dickinson and Ellen Johnson are taking the revolution in clay a step further.  They add a very long and supple fiber that makes the clay so strong it’s able to do outrageous things.

“We’re pushing the limits of clay, taking it to the extreme,” says Edna Dickinson. For 20 years Edna worked as a research scientist for the biotech company that developed the first test for detecting AIDS. She’s a born researcher.

“I glaze paper towels and then dip it into clay slip,” says Edna. Most people make something out of clay first, and then put glaze on it.  She reverses the usual process and puts clay over glaze.  When it’s fired, warm luscious glaze falls out of matte porcelain. You’ve never seen anything like it because nothing like it has ever been made.

This is not surprising. Edna has been making and exhibiting exquisite and unconventional ceramics for years. “I like to think about ceramics in a different way, using unique processes to create new work. I like to make things that are fragile, vulnerable. I like to play with the potential for the deterioration of form. I like to create units, and then make the units into systems.”

Says Ellen Johnson, “This new clay allows me to work in a gestural way. I can be spontaneous with it, expressive.” Ellen had worked with paper for many years before taking up clay. Now she mixes clay and paper together and combines them with paint and pencil and wax. Sometimes she attaches pieces of paper-to-paper clay, and sometimes she attaches paper clay to paper; whatever her substrate, she will finish the piece with layers and layers and layers of paint. Plus drawing and scratching and marking and scraping.

“I like layers.  Some images fall away, others struggle to be seen. Layers conceal and reveal, hide and retrieve. There’s mystery in layers.”

“I have been interested lately in the metaphors of seeds and wind.  Seeds bring distant possibilities and the wind blows them where it chooses.   Anything can arrive or be blown away.”

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