Friday, July 19, 2013

Forever a Bridesmaid

Strictly Functional 2013
"There were 1522 images submitted from 322 ceramists who applied this year.  Jim Connell chose 114 pieces from 107 different artists.
Regretfully, the work you entered was not accepted for this year's exhibition..."

Doh... we throw our best on the pile. Sometimes it floats, sometimes it doesn't.

Closed necked vase produced in collaboration with Jessica Fong

This years juror's statement provided by Jim Connell.

“I get tired of DJ’s, why is it always what he plays?”  Joe Jackson.

Wow, this year I get to be the DJ. Playing the hits I want to hear. How cool is that? First off, I must acknowledge I have never had this kind of power before. I’ve juried a couple of small inconsequential show but nothing on the scale and importance of this exhibition. So if I piss a few people off...

I’ve heard people say that jurying a show like this can be a challenge. I’ve read the dire warnings of the time involved and all the agonizing choices to be made. I prepared myself by cutting out a week of my summer studio time to devote to this project. I even gave myself a specific deadline to meet (I was headed to the beach). As I sat down and started to review the slides all of a sudden, boom, it hit me; this isn’t hard, it’s fun. It turns out that looking at 1500+ functional pottery images is a very enjoyable thing. Who knew? 

Yes, picking the show was enjoyable and relatively easy; I just picked the pieces based on three things I find important for a successful piece of pottery: color (or surface), form and creativity.  Of course there are two other very important measurements to consider: craftsmanship and function but these are simply impossible to judge from a 2-­‐dimensional image. I definitely tried to picked pieces that looked well-­‐crafted and were fully functional but only a “hands-­‐on” approach will reveal their true nature.  

The true craftsmanship and functionality judgments will have to wait until I meet my picks before the show opens. At that time the best crafted and the most useful pieces will get the awards. 

So here are my criteria: Color, Form and Creativity. I love color and surface treatment. Without it the best forms suffer. I absolutely adore rich vibrant colors; colors with a surface depth you can dive into. Second; I am a nut for dynamic classy forms. Give me flowing lines, well placed appendages, lids that conform to the body and forms that have the potential to deliver their function. For my third criterion, creativity, I looked for a concept, some sort of communication the piece was trying to express. Was it speaking the language of function? Did it cry out to be held, even caressed?

Looking over the choices I made, I think almost all of them deliver on these three fronts; dynamic use of color (surface), great attention to form and contained some creative zeal. And, if a few pieces don’t measure up to all three of my standards…well, as Meatloaf sang: “Two out of three aint bad”. 

I did not do any statistical analysis of the entries or of the accepted pieces. No counting of teapots or mugs or firing method was tabulated. There were just too many pieces to count. I picked the best pieces regardless of their purpose, type of clay or temperature. I have no idea if the exhibition is balanced. I didn’t go back and rearranging or changing my choices based on numbers or size. I just picked the best pieces.

When I began looking at the slides I was half expecting to see a number of copper reds glazes (only a couple of entries), some sandblasted surfaces (only one person) and a fair amount of carved, faceted pots (two or three tops) since that is the type of work I make. I remembered Linda Christianson telling me she faced a truckload of wood-­‐fired images when she juried SFPN and Malcolm Davis told me he looked at a lot of shino pieces. Last year’s juror, Jack Troy, stated that 28% of the entries he juried were wood-­‐fired. All three jurors strongly suggested they were attracting their own element. Well Linda, Malcolm and Jack, based on this year’s entries, I can tell you that isn’t the case. It’s not you, in particular, as I too faced a large amount of wood fired and/or shino glazed pots. Apparently, there are a lot of potters out there firing with wood and just as many using shino/carbon trap glazes. But didn’t we already know this?

Some quick thoughts about the process:
1)   My first look at the images took over an hour, running through the 1500+ images pretty fast (click, click, click). The next day I sat down for my first serious look. Halfway through the list I had already picked out 90 pieces with 40 maybes. I liked a lot of what I saw. Over the next three days I proceeded to whittle down and shove aside many, many nice pieces. When I thought I was finished I came back two more times making sufficient changes before I was satisfied. Then I mailed the accepted choices off and immediately began to question a few of my last decisions.
2)   I only recognized a half dozen people’s work. There were a lot of first time entries (one
third of the total number). Consequentially, I had no pressure taking care of friends and relatives.
3)   Unfortunately, many artists really need to concentrate on taking better slide images.
What a difference it makes! Out of focus, poorly lit and poorly framed images were abundant and hurt any chance of being juried in.
4)   In my humble opinion taking a shot of your piece with a squirrel (a la Ayumi Horie) or some other prop is great for a postcard or a web site but not altogether appropriate for a juried show.
5)   Use a clean, professional paper background. No scratches, no cloth, no tree trunks. Ugh!
6)   Invest in a good camera and an even better lens. A macro lens is preferred.
7)   Providing a second, detail shot is very helpful and highly recommended.
8)   Try not to be so derivative. If you must look at other pots try to go back to the source
(historical precedent) for good form and decoration ideas.
9)   I was tickled by some of the imaginative titles for mugs and jars. Titles like “Lunch Set”, “Guardian Jar with Fragments” and my favorite “Shot and a Beer” gave me big smiles. How clever! This coming from an artist that limits his titles to a dead description, i.e. “Green Carved Teapot”.
10) I was also surprised that many artists were very specific when dating each piece. Many had the exact date the piece was made, i.e. 5/22/2013. Wow, I always thought giving just the year was all that was needed.
11) Sadly, some very fine pieces had to be nixed to make the final cut. To the 10 or 15 artists who were oh so close I feel bad for you. You will never know how close you came or
how much I admired your work. To all; keep working, keep experimenting and keep trying.

Well here are my choices. I hope you enjoy this year’s exhibition.
“May your hands always be busy” Bob Dylan

Post script: I want to thank Jean Lehman for asking me to jury the 21st Strictly Functional Pottery National exhibition. One of the last duties Jean performed before she retired this past year, before turning over her SFPN baby to Amy Burk and Kevin Lehman, was to ask me to be this year’s juror. I have gotten to know Jean over the years and have a deep respect for the dedicated work she has performed directing the SFPN exhibition. I entered the first SFPN twenty years ago and have entered every year since. I loved the concept of the show and the recognition it brought to functional pottery. For the last 10-­‐12 years Jean and I have had a nice little chat at each NCECA conference about whether or not I was juried into that year’s SFPN exhibition. I have had the honor and luck of being accepted into every SFPN exhibition except one and I suspect Jean might have felt a bit obligated to ask me to be this year’s juror. Either that or she just wants me to stop applying! Whatever the reason, I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart for this honor and I wish to acknowledge her for all the hard work she has done to make this show possible and successful for all these many years. Jean, you’ve done a great job. I applaud you.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

That's too bad - it's a gorgeous looking piece. Oh well, onwards and upwards! Hope you do some more collaborations, it must be a really fun process.