Cowgirl's Lament Part Two :: UK Sept 2008
a dispatch from abroad
by Jann Haworth
So a Cowgirl in the UK gets up in the morning and bangs her head on the ceiling; groans out of the bunk bed, as the mattress could be called a little challenging; the bed was one of the pieces of furniture for a film-musical made in 1967 [same timing as Sgt. Pepper] starring Tommy Steele. Tommy was Britain's answer, along with Cliff Richards, to the American tidal wave of Rock and Roll, and like Ricky Nelson and Pat Boone, just didn't catch the rock and didn't roll. In 67 he was "over the hill" as it were and trying to lay in the last bit of cash before the last of the stardust became dandruff.
Try this again: waking up at sea level when you are used to the high desert of Utah and 7000 ft up [higher than the highest bump in GB] is troublesome. It's easier to stay asleep, but that has become too hard. You figure a hot shower will sort out the kinks in your personality and tea will change your outlook.
You go to your saddlebags and select the least wrinkled levis - the leggings of choice of more people world-wide than any other garment in history. Your trusty friends - for daily wear and also for the posh banquet ahead at Le Grand Theatre in France. A La Mode. But the gala's not this a.m., not this head-butter morning.
It's green here. Everybody knows that. You can't miss it can you? You're in it. Like at the bottom of a salad bowl. Occasionally tossed by the unmistakable weather. The weather, the weather, yes and you know what color that is. The English and the Welsh and to a lesser extent the Scots [but they are just a naturally perturbed granite people], the English and the Welsh characters are, as I was saying, formed and consumed by the weather. The weather farms these people. It feeds their indecision, nurtures their need to create obstacles, garners their cynicism, slaughters their optimism, and serves them up with high taxation, low wages, and mashed hope.
And yet they are still stoically, heroically vertical.
We cowpokes don't know how lucky we are, with our big blue sky, wilderness, cheap rents, easy to see theatre, art strolls, film festivals, bikes, great cheese and people touched by salt. I like the style of Salt Lake City. The ease of personality. The reach of interests. And the individuality of each quest.
London secured its quest a long, long time ago. The wet stone buildings dark with rain, like Utah's slot canyons, only here surging with flash floods of people, taxis, buses and cars. There's a kind of "Berlin between the wars" rave of decadence and a post apocalyptic rumpled grimace. Money is meaningless, burning a hole in everyone's life. And no one gives a rat's arse.
Salt Lake is on a new journey, backing a new front. That's a great mode.
You can think and draw freely in open silent space.
When you've "arrived" as London did, you start to preserve, not invent. You start to do versions of yourself. Eventually all you do is visit the past. And finally all you have left to do is to sell that past.
The New, though, always arrives unexpected. An unplanned pregnancy. The father seldom known. The birth-place accidental. Just wherever it finds itself when gestation is complete.
If it's real, it's not realized at the time - maybe something just caught occasionally out of the corner of the eye in the peripheral vision. If it's realized, it becomes self-conscious and instantly faux. We are caught in a great network just now.
Make the best art of your life, before the light in the west fades.
When he first stumbled across Dave Doman's work online, Dallas Graham was immediatley struck -- by the monsters, bold lines and organic, breathing letters. "What I wouldn't give to see this guy's sketchbook..." he thought to himself. So earlier this month he called up Doman and asked him to come down and participate in his Daily Documentary series. And, oh, would he mind bringing his sketchbook with him, he asked. Doman is a local boy who went to Seattle to design board faces for Nitro Snowboards. A need for sun has brought him back to the the Wasatch Front, where he now works as a glove designer while also pushing his art. On October 22nd he'll be putting on a show of Halloween-inspired work. Click below to hear a segment of Graham's interview with Doman. For the complete interview and photographs of Doman, visit Montage-Creative.
||Exhibition Spotlight: St. George
Crowned with Thorns and Creatures of the Night
The Ceramic Works of Susan Harris at the Sears Gallery
by Frank McEntire
Someone once said that, “pottery is as old as the human soul.” The need to carry and store the most fundamental items necessary to sustain life has dictated the need for containers. At the outset of human history, the most fundamental containers were pots, as evidenced in the collections of the world’s finest to most humble museums.
Although designs and forms have changed over the millennia, all pots start the same way extracting clay from the earth and water from the clay through the fires of the kiln and the potter’s imagination.
Susan Harris’s imagination is most piqued by ancient Chinese culture, although she is a student of worldwide art. Pottery is her link with humanity and other artists, an affinity that for her spans time and topography.
Harris, an assistant professor of art at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, has spent the past three decades researching and perfecting her craft. Much of her work is based on ancient Chinese bronze ritual vessels and emphasizes form, surface, texture and color and has an almost mystical presence.
It is difficult to distinguish if some pieces are made of clay or metal, a question best resolved by touch. And, when touched, Harris’s work can be forbidding. Some pieces are embedded with thorn-like protrusions that demand a handles-only grasp handles often crowned with small creatures of the night, like frogs and snails. Other vessels are quite literally based on ancient ceremonial food flagons or incorporate appropriated aspects of containers used long ago to store religious items.
Harris’s pots are admired for their beauty as well as their functionality. If they have handles, Harris made sure that they fit precisely into the hand. When one of her pitchers is used for a special occasion, filled with tea or wine, its spout pours perfectly, previously hand-tested by the artist. Even when used for utilitarian purposes, Harris’s work still “maintains a ceremonial sensibility, an impression that has deliberately been cultivated,” she said.
Although Harris borrows liberally from the relics of ancient cultures, she does not emphasize the authoritarian nature of their political and religious systems, or how they were reinforced through artifacts. “When the powerful have conquered the weak, they use their bounty to make ritual vessels and to cast inscriptions to record the deed” (K.C. Chang, Art, Myth, and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China, p. 100).
Harris, unlike conscripted artists in past centuries, has the liberty to disassociate cultural aesthetics from their political or religious contexts and expectations. As an accomplished contemporary artist, she delights in producing attractive and provocative items with simple shapes, decorative embellishments and intricate details with little, if any, political connotation.
Color is an important aspect to Harris’s pots. They range from starkly white to a light-absorbing skin that appears almost black. To obtain such an appearance, Harris said she limits her palette of mineral stains before firing. “Thin washes tend to give subtle variety to the surface. They’re not totally black, but bluish and flashed in color.”
Harris claims that this process allows the textural detail to show, which is “quite naked from a potter’s point of view flaws and defects are right there.” Close examination reveals that her highly developed ceramic technology, craftsmanship and artistic skill have eliminated the cracking defects that traditional glazing techniques simply mask. She typically uses an iron- bearing clay, which she textures with carved and impressed designs, often populated by small animal and insect motifs. The works are then high-fired in the kiln, cooled in reduction, and subsequently treated with multiple luster firings. Additionally, Harris sometimes gives the interiors a rich, glossy lining, especially striking when rendered with a rare, gold-colored luster achieved through a “post-firing technique applied on top of, and fused to, the glaze itself,” she described.
The intersecting geometric circles and triangles of Harris’s works create balance and visual appeal. Another subtlety is accidental, and for years, went unnoticed by Harris, who has a hearing disability. She was told that a deep, pleasant grinding sound is produced when the lids are slowly removed. “I now pay closer attention to the sound vibrations that my works make while being handled,” she said.
This unintentional consequence that complements Harris’s work, along with obvious design elements, suggests an affinity with Zhong bells, the two- to three-thousand-year-old bronze instruments that were discovered throughout China at the turn of the century. These clapperless instruments, when struck at just the right spots, release double-toned sounds. When opened in just the right, twisting manner, Harris’s delicate lidded pots likewise provide their own unique sounds. Although such a connection is likely unintentional, it nonetheless illustrates how intuitive affinities may connect one object, one artist, to another across disciplines and time.
Acousticians are just now coming to understand how [the Zhong bells] work,” explained John H. Lienhard, emeritus professor of mechanical engineering and cultural history at the University of Houston. “It was a remarkable technology and a remarkable art…In the best inventions, elegance masquerades as simplicity” (“The Engines of Our Ingenuity” radio series, No. 175: Ancient Chinese Bells).
It requires some level of archaeological expertise to effectively salvage artifacts from ancient ruins and tombs. Future scientists may find it a challenge to decipher Harris’s work, provided they survive the ravages of time.
It may not be easy to place my pots,” Harris said. “I haven’t put Mickey Mouse on them. So they don’t tell you ‘Cedar City, Utah, 2004.’ But, I know where they come from in my own life. I know by what personal energy I put into them as I make them” itself an intimate ceremonial exercise that continues to produce many strangely wonderful works that attest to the gifts and talents of our time, elegance masquerading as simplicity.