In a recent post on some of my ongoing work I briefly described a project I’d begun that drew inspiration from, among other sources, ancient stone sculpture from Yemen and south Arabia (pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2019/01/22/embarking-on-a-new-ceramic-sculptural-project-influenced-by-the-human-face-in-ancient-south-arabian-art/) This photo shows just a small part of a rapidly growing community of ceramic faces, some to be mounted on pedestals, others wall mounted. I’ll be posting more as this develops.
Over the past week I’ve begun work on two major ceramic projects that I don’t expect to have completed for another two months or so (fingers crossed). A recent article in this blog hinted at what one of these would involve – https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2019/01/22/embarking-on-a-new-ceramic-sculptural-project-influenced-by-the-human-face-in-ancient-south-arabian-art/. I felt the need to begin this project not with the ceramic work itself but with a series of prints on paper that would complement the ceramics. An example of this series is shown below.
I’ve also been focused on making some new enamel pendants, with an emphasis on using small slices of millefiori glass. A couple of examples, one with only a single millefiori slice and another with a cluster of ten slices melted into the enamel background, are illustrated here, with links –
Millefiori is a particularly stunning technique that involves bundling together rods of different colored glass to make a central design, heating them until they fuse and drawing out the glass into a long cane. This can then be sliced into thin sections, rather like a slice through a tootsie roll, revealing the central design. These slices may then be reused by applying to glass vessels, bundling together to create glass beads, or even packing them tightly together over a slump mold to create an all-over design for a bowl or other vessel.
The technique has a long history, having first been widely used in the late Hellenistic period and early Roman Imperial ages, roughly 2nd Century BC through 2nd Century AD. Venetian glass makers began studying these ancient pieces in the 16th Century and recreating the techniques. Millefiori has been popular ever since. It experienced another revival in the mid-20th Century, in new forms and designs. It is still much sought after by tourists visiting the Venetian glass workshops today.
I’ll be producing more millefiori and enamel pieces in the coming months, and I’m hoping to begin fusing millefiori slices to form small glass vessels. Of course, I’ll be posting updates here. As always, thank you for reading.
I’ve recently begun work on a major ceramic sculptural project, one that I expect will take at least a couple of months to complete. It is loosely based on representations of the human face in ancient South Arabian art, particularly that of the Himyarite, Sabaean and, further north, Nabataean civilizations. While I won’t present images of my finished work here until the project is complete, I’d like to explore briefly the imagery that motivated me to undertake this task.
Today when the Arabian Peninsula is mentioned, images of oil rich kingdoms, conservative Islamic regimes and the ongoing tragic war in Yemen are probably the first to come to mind. But in the distant past, even before the 7th Century AD advent of Islam, the Sabaean and somewhat later Himyarite Kingdoms thrived in the southwestern corner of what is now Saudi Arabia and much of what is now Yemen. Further north, in what is now the northwestern corner of Saudi Arabia and much of Jordan, the Nabataean Kingdom extended its influence over a wide area before being annexed by Rome in the early 2nd Century AD. All of these cultures grew wealthy acting as middlemen in the transfer of exotic goods between major civilizations.
While I needn’t provide a detailed examination of these cultures here, what is relevant is the manner in which all of them depicted the human face. Using a rather flat sculptural approach, and most often ignoring the rest of the human body, they used an absolute minimum of detail while still conveying strong emotional content. The images below should illustrate this trend in stone sculpture.
This same strong but simple style of representation continued in Nabataean art. While the Nabataeans were strongly influenced by Hellenistic and Roman culture, their coinage — this example depicts King Aretas IV and Queen Shuqailait — still favors the strong angular lines and wide, staring eyes of South Arabian art.
These haunting images are still powerful today and, like many forms of ancient art, have served as inspiration for many modern painters, sculptors and other artists.
While not influencing Cubism — the ancient art discussed here was not revealed to the outside world until the mid-20th Century — despite appearing “flat” at first, in some respects it resembles Cubism, which disassembled forms, including the human face, and reassembled them in an abstract manner. The famed British sculptor Henry Moore is known to have been influenced by Toltec sculptures from Mesoamerica and may well have seen examples of Sabaean sculpture when these were first revealed. See the example below, made around 1950 and now in the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield.
Mid-20th Century Brutalist painting and sculpture, such as the example below, carry this “reduction” theme still further, eliminating the face entirely and rendering the human form as a kind of monolith.
My own work will be revealed here in a future post, perhaps two months from now. Until then, perhaps my readers will look at the art surrounding them, in public places, museums, galleries, etc., and consider the ancient influences that assert themselves in more modern work.
Other than working in ceramics, my favorite medium of artistic expression is enamel. While enamel may be used to decorate copper, silver, gold and even glass, my experience has so far been limited to copper. I focus on making enameled copper jewelry and small portable objects. The depth and richness of color I can achieve with enamel is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. And the somewhat unpredictable outcomes, as an object is withdrawn from the enameling kiln and allowed to cool, has much in common with both ceramic glazing and working in hot glass.
I sometimes draw upon my art history background for ideas about how to apply the transparent or opaque enamels on the small “canvas” that is a prepared piece of pure copper. The composition sometimes is inspired by the shape I’ve cut out from a larger copper sheet but sometimes I wish to convey an impression of a favorite time, place, style or movement in art history.
Such was the case with a large pendant I recently completed featuring a bold design in Prussian Blue and Orange on one side and a more muted speckled gray and deep blue on the other. The inspiration was the lush silk textiles produced in the Byzantine Empire. Byzantium had inherited the secrets of silk production from its immediate predecessor, the late Roman Empire, which in turn had acquired this knowledge from China. Byzantine silks survive in a few cases, especially those sent as diplomatic gifts to western Europe and ending up in church treasuries. Many more are depicted in Byzantine paintings, mosaics and enameled panels of gold or silver that were attached to icons, book covers and liturgical objects.
The following examples may provide some idea of the lush nature of the textiles that inspired this piece.
Manuscript illumination of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorous III, flanked by a saint and an archangel. Late 11th Century.
Detail from a large piece of silk decorated with eagles. Made in Constantinople around the year 1000, sent to Europe and used in liturgical ceremonies. Now in the Church of St. Eusebius in Auxerre, France.
There have been many cultures, especially in the West, that excelled at the enamel arts: Celtic Iron Age Europe, The Roman Empire, Byzantium and Medieval France, to name a few. The last of these served as inspiration for the enamel pendant shown below.
From reliquaries to fine jewelry, the enamel artists of Medieval France excelled at their craft. The close contacts between France and England also helped the enameling arts to flourish on the other side of the Channel, in spite of such interruptions as The Hundred Years War. Blue had been a color closely associated with French royalty – and later with French identity – since the time of Charlemagne, and rich hues of blue abound in medieval French enameling.
Small box (not a reliquary) made in France between 1250 and 1300. Champleve’ enamel on copper. Now in the Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
Detail from a 14th Century French portable tabernacle depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ. Enamel on silver gilt. Now in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, Italy.
Although obviously not enamel, the remarkable ceiling from the 13th Century chapel of Sainte-Chapel in Paris was in the back of my mind when creating the enamel pendant depicted a few images above. Here is a detail from one small section of that ceiling.
Not all my sources of inspiration come from the distant past. The paintings of the late Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko have continued to astonish me since I saw my first example at the UC Berkeley Art Museum when I was in the 7th Grade. Rothko was and remains, in my opinion, the greatest painter of the Post War period and the greatest American painter of any period. In my enamels I sometimes try to convey the sense of timelessness his paintings inspire; almost an out-of-body experience. Here is one example.
And here is a particularly vibrant Rothko painting: “Violet, Green and Red, 1951 No 6”
I’ll have many more enameling adventures in the new year and hope to share some of them with you in future posts.
About 16 months ago I wrote an article for this Blog examining the history of enamel art, including the work of some modern enamel artists ( https://wordpress.com/view/pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com ). My own work in enamels, jewelry and small portable objects, has been limited for the past year but I’ve begun working in that medium again. With this post I’d like to share some recently discovered ancient enamel works, as well as some of my own recent pieces.
The United Kingdom’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records and publishes ancient, Medieval and more recent historic objects found during formal excavations and by metal detectorists and the general public. Both during the British Iron Age and the Roman period that followed it, enamel was widely used as a decorative technique on metalwork. Small enameled objects tend to survive in large numbers, and are often found by the public using metal detectors. Below are images of some Roman enamel objects found over just the past year, accompanied by links to them on the PAS website (links open in a new tab or window).
Enameled copper alloy Roman brooch: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/913247
Enameled copper alloy Roman brooch: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/917777
Uncertain Roman copper alloy enameled object: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/910009
The art of enameling enjoyed a renewal during the Medieval period in Britain, France and elsewhere in Europe. Small enameled objects of this phase of British history are also often found, such as this recently found 13th-14th Century heraldic mount: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/920415
My own enamel work draws upon many periods of art history, including the ancient Near East, ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, early Islamic art, Modernism and Abstract Expressionism. The influence of these last two is, hopefully, obvious, in the recently completed pendant below. This pendant is opaque enamels on copper suspended on a hemp cord. It my be found in my Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/655552135/triangular-enamel-on-copper-pendant?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1541096137000&utm_term=so.slt
The ancient and Medieval preference for confining differing colors of enamel in compartments of metal (not true cloisonne technique), as in the ancient and Medieval examples pictured above, served as the inspiration for my enamel pendant below. In this example, I’ve soldered a copper ring to the piece but allowed the red enamel to overflow the confines of the ring and onto the deep blue enamel background. This example is in my Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/652862817/large-enamel-on-copper-pendant-blue?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1541092482000&utm_term=so.slt
Small ancient Roman enamel objects also served as the inspiration for the surface decoration of the piece below. Here I used a stencil to impose neat dots of red over the deep green enamel background. The copper pendant itself was, in this case, just as time consuming to create as the enameling process.
More recent art movements served as the inspiration for the final example below, specifically Abstract Expressionist painting. Here I used a jeweler’s saw to cut out a spoon shaped piece of copper sheet before using a press to create the bowl. Over the blue enamel background, I melted very thin rods of colored glass and a glass bead to create a simple but colorful composition. This may be found in my Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/639020372/spoon-shaped-copper-pendant-with-blue?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1541092920000&utm_term=so.slt
I’ll be making more enamel jewelry, as well as sculptural small enamel objects, over the next couple of months and hope to share some of them here in a future post. As always, thank you for reading and looking.
One doesn’t often think of ceramics in association with jewelry; copper, silver or gold most often come to mind. But jewelry formed of clay has a very long history, going back as far as prehistory. While the use of clay in making jewelry has been continuous, in the last twenty years or so jewelry designers and ceramic artists have been rediscovering the versatility of ceramic (stoneware, porcelain and paper clay) as a vehicle for creating objects to adorn the body.
As both an artist and an antiquities dealer, I can appreciate the earliest recognizable jewelry made from clay. The image below is of a string of beads, painted grey, formed of low fired clay (pottery) dating to Egypt’s Naqada I Period, about 4,000-3,000 BC, thereby making these beads between 5,000 and 6,000 years old. This is the Predynastic phase, shortly before the establishment of a unified Egyptian state. Well preserved in a burial and by Egypt’s dry climate, these beads would not be out of place in a posh shop today. They reside in the collections of the Petrie Museum of Egyptology at University College, London.
The rather pleasing little pendant pictured below, with its simple linear decoration and two holes for suspension from a fiber cord, is also formed of a low fired clay. It comes from ancient Mesopotamia (primarily, modern Iraq) and dates to the 3rd Millennium BC, a time that included the Akkadian Dynasty and the Third Dynasty of Ur. Cleaned up a bit or perhaps glazed or remade in porcelain, this pendant would again easily fit into an upscale modern jewelry repertoire.
My own ceramic jewelry — mainly in stoneware or terracotta, sometimes in porcelain, usually hand built but also sometimes slip cast — draws on a wide range of influences. Of course, among these is the art of the ancient Mediterranean world and Near East. But I also draw inspiration from much more recent art, especially 20th Century abstract expressionism and surrealism, as well as from the natural environment.
The piece below is rather obviously inspired by ancient Egyptian pectoral collars that were most often made of faience, a self-glazing material related to both ceramic and glass. I’ve added a hand made (flame worked) glass bead for a bit more color, and strung it on a hemp cord. It is available in my Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/560929509/ceramic-bib-necklace-pectoral-necklace?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1539267306000&utm_term=so.slt
Sometimes simple is best. The piece below is formed of a lovely deep brown terracotta that I glazed with a speckled earthy glaze and added a few simple wood beads and a hemp cord. The glaze was inspired by moss and lichens growing on rocks and rotting logs in the woods on a visit to Ohio. This piece is available in my Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/482590916/glazed-terracotta-pendant-with-wooden?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1539267548000&utm_term=so.slt
This next piece is also formed of brown terracotta and decorated with underglazes that have vitrified during firing. The decoration was loosely inspired by Zulu shields of the late 19th Century. I’ve enhanced the colors and the overall effect of the piece with a vintage Venetian glass bead and strung it all on a hemp cord. This may be found on my Etsy site here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/530312331/glazed-terracotta-pendant-with-vintage?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1539267304000&utm_term=so.slt
Mid-century Modernism was the inspiration for this simple stoneware pendant with vitrified underglazes, strung on hemp cord. In my Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/501006125/ceramic-geometric-pendant-with-colored?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1539267315000&utm_term=so.slt
Only in the last several months have I begun to use porcelain or porcelain slip in my jewelry. In this final piece, the large bead is hand formed of porcelain clay while the two disc shaped beads are slip cast porcelain. Commercially available glazes cover all the components. Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/606967670/handmade-glazed-ceramic-bead-necklace?utm_medium=SellerListingTools&utm_campaign=Share&utm_source=Raw&share_time=1539267377000&utm_term=so.slt
Here is a link to the ceramic jewelry section of my Etsy shop. https://www.etsy.com/shop/PastPresentArtCraft/items?section_id=20561665 There are currently 34 items listed in that section (154 in my shop overall). Perhaps you’ll find something of interest or some source of inspiration there, and consider making your own ceramic jewelry. As always, thanks for reading.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, I’m still here in Wilmington, NC, more or less in one piece. Many others in Southeastern North Carolina and beyond were not as fortunate. Below are a couple of images from the aftermath of the storm.
I’m back in the studio and making new work in ceramics and other media. Here are a few images of new work completed while the hurricane recovery process is still underway.
I’m still planning on showing at several art fairs and festivals this fall, so check back here for more details. Please note that online orders may be a couple of days slower to ship than normal due to damage to many local post offices. Thanks for your support!