I definitely love to make stuff. For twenty years I made handbuilt pieces adding images, layers and some movable parts. I was greedy for complicated textures, drawers that worked and multiple stamped layers. With my abiding interests in unusual surfaces and ritual ethnic objects, I made altars, sculptural teapots and multi-layered mosaics. Currently I am interested in patterns of color on functional ware. I paint three layers of different colored slip on soft slabs, sgraffito through the layers and use a rolling pin to flatten the surface and spread the colors. Sometimes I carve out bits, turn them upside-down and inlay them like fossils. These painterly slabs are used to make plates, bowls, cups, vases and teapots. Sometimes I do glorious simple black and white. Previous phases in my four decades of clay work have included reduction gas firing for thrown functional stoneware, metallic salts on porcelain, saggar firing utilizing eggshells and kelp, electric fired lichen like surfaces, and glaze testing that produced unusual ceramic colors that were toxic, non-functional and undependable but, thank goodness, very interesting. My current work is functional, plus microwave and dishwasher safe. Is this what happens when you become a grandmother?
I make utilitarian vessels that address the visual and narrative power of pattern and the dialogue between surface, form, and containment. I am interested in the way pattern and surface influence our perceptions of exterior form and interior space. Every container represents an aesthetic and utilitarian statement defining a relationship between the exterior and the contained space. I explore a range of vessel forms incorporating influences from architecture and industry and/or reinterpreting traditional vessel types. Of particular interest are common utilitarian vessels in clay, tin, and copper made before and during the Industrial Revolution. The simple expectations and parameters of utility have always informed vessel aesthetics, and I find beauty in commonplace forms such as gas cans, oil dispensers, water cans, and waste receptacles. My work is slab- or coil-built with a stoneware claybody containing fine sand. Pattern, texture, and imagery are either laminated onto the surface with colored clay patterns or impressed with bisque-fired clay stamps and rollers that I design and carve by hand. I apply a variety of slips, engobes, oxide patinas and glazes, and soda-fire my work to cone 6 (2220 degrees Fahrenheit) in a 20 cubic-foot cross-draft gas kiln. After the glaze firing, I often add found or formed metal parts and/or wood handles.
My functional pottery incorporates narrative imagery, pattern and form to amuse and delight the user, imparting a sense of play. In practice and product, my work reflects an approach to make-believe through discovery. I incorporate bouncing lines, candy colors, low relief and hand-drawn elements into my ceramic service ware, encouraging exploration and use. The determined characters featured in my work dwell within forms inspired by landscapes of leisure. These illustrations employ exaggeration, humor and metaphor to facilitate the viewer’s ability to capture the narrative and apply it to his or her own life. Patterns found within nature, such as tree bark, water waves, or flower petals are abstracted and simplified, ricocheting across surfaces. My salt and pepper landscapes, treat servers, jars, plates, cups and bowls become playscapes where pattern and character frolic, inviting human fingers to also roam the topography, seeking out their own morsels of delight. Only through using the piece: holding it and exploring it, can the whole image or pattern be seen. When someone laughs at a character I’ve drawn, spills their drink because they were investigating the bottom of a cup, or finds joy in discovering a plump spoon nestled inside a pocket, I know the pots are successful. Feelings of delight and amusement tickle the imagination and spark light-hearted behavior, resulting in an enriched life.
Over the last forty years, it has become apparent to me that clay has become my medium to best describe my inner feelings — my viseral vocabulary. My ideas and selective choice of medium have become inseparable. My work is about clay and how I process the marks I make on the surface of the wet slab, whether I am printing clay monoprints or making colored clay vessels.
About Clay Monotypes
Since 1968 Mitch has been pioneering his image making from a slab of clay. First a slab of stoneware clay is rolled out about 1/4″ thick. After allowing the slab to dry to a “leather hard” consistency, colored slips are made using China clay and permanent pigments. These colored slips are brushed on, dried and rolled into the clay slab, one color over another, building the design with images, colors and textures on the “matrix”. Once the slab is rolled flat, a moistened piece of paper/canvass is placed over the slab. Pressure is applied using a rolling pin to transfer the clay slips onto the substrate. Because China clay is inert and pigments used are permanent and stable, the clays remain intact and will give pleasure for many years.
I want my pots to be happy and playful, yet have an understated elegance and formal quality about them.
I appreciate food, celebration, and setting a beautiful table. In this “age of communication,” where most communicating is done electronically, and food is eaten out of paper, plastic or Styrofoam, my hope is to communicate through my pots, by bringing some creative life into eating and drinking. A handmade pot contains the soul and energy of the maker, and when used, a human connection is made. These basic connections between people keep our souls alive.