Skip to main content

come close, very close

At first glance, I thought this picture was of something I knew very well… I read in the article that it is a 1/4" macro of a Tom Thompson oil painting, photographed by Jon Sasaki. When this tiny fragment of the painting is blown up to become a new picture of 16 x 24 inches, it seems to look like a surface I am much more familiar with - the soft, shiny, dry, smooth, rough, cracked - etc etc - deeply nuanced surface of a glazed ceramic work.

Jon Sasaki: macro photographic image of a quarter inch square of a Tom Thompson oil painting. 2013. 

Close-up photography has offered a very different perspective on the oil painting surface, revealing how different media, and our different tools - brush, knife, finger - can be so different in process, or appear so alike, simply by offering a different scale of seeing, to appreciate what is there.

Temperature and the pressure of the brush or tool affected how the oil paint originally flowed and levelled, its shape frozen as it dried out. Though carefully stored at room temperature, the paint has aged over time, it has cracked, and will continue to change, slowly; there is a physical, on-going temperature-time relationship in the material. The same is true of the firing of ceramic glazes, where vastly accelerated mineral transformations are caused by extreme temperatures in the kiln—it is literally hot enough to make crushed rocks melt! 

Flanders Fields - detail. Ceramic glaze materials on stoneware clay, raw fired to 1160C.
Christine Pedersen. 2011.

As the ceramic cools, the new chemical compounds in the glaze mixture freeze into surface, colour, and shape; some residual tension perhaps unwinding into ‘music’ from the kiln - the dreaded, but beautiful, ping and tinkle of cracking glazes (that’s something for another post). And it doesn’t always stop there - ceramic pieces may take decades to develop surface cracks in the glaze - just like oil paint.

The medium conveys a message. It seems that time, and different ways of seeing, can add to or change our understanding. In oil paint, as in ceramics, there is also the role of time’s arrow (1. see physicist Sean Carroll’s excellent short talk). Ironic that a finished work of art increases the entropy—the disorder—of the universe, even though locally we have lowered it, by creating one unique arrangement of materials. Entropy, in our large-scale, or more poetically, ‘coarse-grained’ version of the physical world takes on the finished work, slowly mutating the arrangement of materials created by the artist. And eventually will reclaim it all.

1. Physicist Sean Carroll with a concise and excellent discussion of the ‘arrow of time’


Popular posts from this blog

#GroundsForDiscovery - a series of unlikely events, and how science and art work together beautifully

This begins about 110 million years ago with the death of an 18-foot long armour-plated ‘lizard’, some time after it had enjoyed a large salad. Six years ago the fossilized animal re-surfaced at Alberta’s Suncor Millennium Mine, as an excavator dug down to recover the bituminous remains of prehistoric plants and animals in the tar-sands layer. The Royal Tyrrell Museum and National Geographic hail the dinosaur fossil as the finest specimen of its kind in the world—it is the best preserved, with armoured plates and even some skin tone visible. It is also the oldest dinosaur ever found in Alberta. As yet un-named nodosaur fossil. Photo: Kristi Van Kalleveen. #GroundsForDiscovery See the nodosaur fossil up close in this beautifully photographed essay from National Geographic , published in the June 2017 edition. All of the Grounds For Discovery exhibit fossils were accidentally discovered during mining and excavation work in Alberta. As the Tyrrell specimen fact sheet
“Open Vessel”, 14” long, Southern Ice porcelain. Survived the bisque firing—phew—now ready for a high temp firing to mature the clay. Everything takes time…make, dry, fire, fire again. And there’s a lot of sampling. Some pieces will unfortunately fail, but they all provide information. All this process tries to make next time go better, to feel more informed. But these are raw materials and their character changes, even with refined minerals, making ceramics a pretty harsh teacher. It's a journey, and to quote Tony Nadal, tennis legend Rafa Nadal’s uncle/coach: “Stay humble, stay hungry”. The sample: “Skiff”, un-glazed sculptural porcelain vessel, cone 10 fired, and ready to go out in the world. Skiff—deep in the kiln, in amongst endless glaze tests, on the bottom shelf of the last glaze-firing. That orange sample in the centre is incredible, going to be seeing a lot more of that colour…  
Over Christmas 2021, I had a little moment and bought myself a gift: —a new web-site . I’ve been watching this project evolve for quite a while, and was thrilled to see that .art was offering an easy to use pop-up artist site builder ; I finished writing all the descriptions and up-loading my images yesterday. And so today I can relax, just a little, write a blog post… OK, back to work! All the not-actually-making-new-art-jobs truly take a huge amount of time. There's shooting photography and video  - then editing the photos and video (including new #shorts on Youtube), maintaining the written statements and documentation, and making social media posts...and if I’m lucky to write some show applications and send work out into the world, I might even have a rare chance to scrub up for an afternoon and share a glass of something nice with you in a gallery!   And I’m not complaining about any of it (even when I want to drop-kick my computer off a bridge after I