JEFF NIMEH

Carbon Monoxide Found Guilty of Stealing Oxygen

I am finally posting images from exhibition Saxifrage that recently concluded at H20 Gallery in Kyoto, Japan. I had the opportunity to display wheel thrown porcelain, with variations on classic forms, and a new glaze color palette. This show featured four different reduction glazes I began testing eight months prior at the kiln of Kyoto potter and friend, Lawrence Barrow. For those curious as to what a reduction glaze is, I will do my best to briefly explain. I finally came to a rudimentary understanding after 20 years in the ceramic field. Basically, you can achieve a very unique glaze color response due to the presence of carbon monoxide in the kiln. It goes something like this: I typically fire all my work in an electric kiln where little to no carbon monoxide is being generated (nothing is really being burned). This ‘clean’ kiln atmosphere has been great for producing the white, unglazed porcelain pieces I have made for some time now.

In a reduction firing, you are either burning gas, oil, or wood to create heat and carbon monoxide inside the kiln. In the case of the reduction firing for this show, I used propane gas. This is where it gets interesting.

When carbon monoxide is present, due to incomplete combustion, it naturally wants to become carbon dioxide. In order to accomplish this, it needs to steal an oxygen atom from somewhere. In reduction ceramic terms, it steals an oxygen atom from a metal compound in the glaze or clay. For the work in this exhibit, the oxygen was taken from iron oxide or copper oxide in the glaze. This process allowed for the colors you see below to form. Without the presence of carbon monoxide and its oxygen theft (reduction), all the glazes would have drastically different color results. For instance, in an electric kiln (non-reduction) the copper-red glaze you see below would result in something akin to a pale unimpressive green, and the iron-celadon blue glaze would result in a washed out yellow/brown. Historically speaking, the Chinese discovered these types of glazes as early as the 10th century (Tang Dynasty) and perfected, specifically their red glazes, as late as the 19th century (Qing Dynasty).  Discovery of these glazes was probably due to accident through the use of wood burning kilns. This combustion of wood might have produced a reduction atmosphere in the kiln potentially rich in carbon monoxide, and similar glaze effects to those in this exhibit. I am simply participating in a very long tradition.

In short, I came to this understanding during the firing process for this show. There are certainly minor scientific errors in my explanation, so if there is a chemist in the house or properly trained ceramic glaze technician, please comment back with corrections. That said, I am pretty sure this puts down a basic process that takes place in a reduction firing, and a benevolent use of carbon monoxide.

 

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From Hibernation to Exhibition

This marks my first blog post in some time.  I just emerged from a sort of ceramic hibernation state.  That said, there will be some interesting work to present over the coming days.  Exhibition 'Saxifrage - 雪の下' opens in Kyoto, Japan, at H20 Gallery, on Tuesday, March 17th, and runs through Sunday, March 29th. (H20 Gallery contact and location http://www.eaudesign.com/h2o/) For the floral uninformed, saxifrage is an alpine flower in most of the world.  The theme of this show draws parallel between beautiful things growing within seemingly harsh conditions.  For the saxifrage, this includes being one of few flowers to thrive at altitudes as high as 13,000 feet.  For the ceramic pot, this demonstrates the potential for beauty born from temperature at 2350 degrees fahrenheit.  Perhaps neither condition, for the saxifrage or ceramic pot, is hostile really, and it's just my perception.  Either way, I like the symbolism!

Consequently, in Japan, the saxifrage is known as 雪の下( yuki no shita), or 'beneath the snow'.  Here, this flower is not an alpine variety, thus I scrabbled to develop a secondary symbolism for the exhibition.  For the past few years, the mainstay of my work has been white porcelain.  In the case of the wheel thrown porcelain for this exhibit, after a thaw, color is revealed.  Images from the exhibition to come...

 

Porcelain Puzzle

The following images show what is beneath the surface of a porcelain vessel from recent blog post, http://jeffnimeh.com/blog/?p=1461.  It was an interesting challenge attempting to make these vessels nest perfectly while maintaining strength in the individual forms, and the form of the combined components (for example image #2 and #5).  This project forced me to push beyond what I thought might be technically possible in a potter's studio, and I hope to apply some of the lessons learned from this project to future ones.

For the potters out there, the round bottom of the vessel posed some interesting challenges in firing as it will not stand independently. Looking for a means to support the form during firing and a material with an extremely high firing temperature,  I first attempted to fire the piece in a bed of alumina hydrate powder, but there was some much volatility from the release of chemically bound water molecules it made the piece fall over during the firing.  Next, I tried firing it in a bed of alumina oxide powder, but it left a thin (non removable) yellowish coating on the porcelain.  Last, to great success, I fired in a bed of silicon dioxide powder (silica).  The powder brushed off the piece after firing and there was no discoloration due to the inert nature of the substance.  I should have tried this in the first place I suppose.  Note, the exterior of the bottom piece is unglazed.  Clearly this would not work without sticking in the presence of glaze.  I also made six pieces in total; two survived the final firing after all the experimentation.

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The Rings of a Holiday Tree

This is a porcelain tree stump that stands about five inches tall with gold and cobalt-blue porcelain inlay rings. It appears this douglas fir was only five years old.  Peace, Love, and Kindness on this holiday and into the coming year...

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PYX

This multi-component porcelain vessel is the result of a recent collaboration I shared with New York City architect, designer, and artist, Salvatore V. LaRossa.  Mr. LaRossa is a founding partner of B Five Studio, an architecture and design firm in New York City.  Examples of his work from buildings, interiors, to meticulously crafted objects can be viewed from this B Five Studio website link at (http://bfivestudio.com/partner_sl.html).

Our collaboration spanned numerous weeks exchanging design concepts between Kyoto and New York, and yielded this final piece in wheel-thrown porcelain.  The work embodies form, function, and religious symbolism to a cultural and historical context.  This porcelain construction combines the pyx with a wine drinking vessel and a wine pouring receptacle.  Mr. LaRossa is presently constructing a tabernacle made of 'thassos' stone from Greece that will house this porcelain pyx assembly. The 'Pyx Tabernacle' will become a part of a series of tabernacles he has been creating; the series can be viewed at (http://twelvetabernacles.com).  This particular 'Pyx tabernacle' will be included in a book Mr. LaRossa is due to complete in the Spring of 2014.

The porcelain form below unfolds into four components: a pouring wine vessel, a wine cup, and a container with lid (pyx).  The disassembly of the porcelain vessel will be illustrated over the coming weeks.  The working sketch hints as to how the components nest and unfold.

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Another Revolution of the Wheel

This is one of my favorite pots.  It stands a commanding 28 inches tall and has near perfect proportions.  This being said, its making process was nothing short of painful.  Working large in porcelain has so many technical pitfalls you have to trick yourself into thinking the final outcome will be successful before you begin. This piece is a reminder to me that hope and action can yield beautiful results. Sometimes.

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Human as Machine

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of production.  I have been making black porcelain lamps that differ from my typical work, as the dimensions must be exact to accommodate specific lamp shade dimensions and lamp hardware.  I feel more machine than craftsman while making these.  Although I try to create equal size and proportion in the lamps, I rarely get it just right.  The positive outcome being each lamp has its own personality.  Presently, these lamps are made of Japanese porcelain, Chinese-made lamp hardware purchased in America and shipped to Japan, and the lamps are being shipping back to America for a custom order.  Who said potters are in touch with the Earth and carbon footprints.  I better do a better job or at least figure out a way to introduce these to the Japanese marketplace.

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BUOY

At times I give newly made work a name.  My process is simple; I look at the piece and it usually speaks to me.  In this case the word 'buoy' was the pot's choice.  Perhaps, it's a buoy floating in the Mediterranean Sea at night under moonlight.  Either way it's a designer buoy, comprised of black and white porcelain, black porcelain inlay, and gold.

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Time Capsule

For the next 3 weeks I will be spending time on the other side of the planet. Luckily I chose a relatively peaceful region known as New York State. Below is a porcelain work that made the 6,900 mile journey from Japan in its own seat on China Air.  People gave me very strange looks as I carefully buckled the piece in. Inside this lidded form was a supposed antidote for jet lag.  I took some, but it proves to be ineffective as I still can't sleep past 4 AM, three days after arriving.  Maybe I should up the dose. To post or not to post, that is the question.  I will be making blog posts from afar, inspiration pending...

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future • present • past

One of the reasons certain Japanese art works are contained within paulownia wood boxes is for protection. This could be protection from flood, earthquake, or light.  This caused me to reflect on the lifespan of a work of art; and after recently viewing a great exhibition of glass at the Miho Museum (http://www.miho.or.jp/english/ ) in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, I began to consider that some of the work I make could be around for 1000 years or more under proper conditions. One of my favorite works from the exhibit, The Sargon Vase, was excavated from what is now northern Iraq, and the work is dated 8th Century B.C. It struck me that someone made this piece some 2800 years in the past, just as I do today, but a mere 3 millennia ago. Of course we can reflect on the lifespan of every object we come into contact with, but most do not have the staying power of glass, metal, or ceramic works. For me, it often takes viewing a certain work of art to encourage this type of thinking.  Considering my first sold pieces in Japan might be around for a while, I figured I better get the composition of the box correct the first time. This post shows some of my purchased works paired with Yamamoto-san's amazing handmade paulownia wood boxes (see also http://jeffnimeh.com/blog/?p=1319). The box lids are stamped with my name in the katakana alphabet with a vermillion based ink, and then brush signed and labeled in sumi ink. As is tradition with these boxes, the works are wrapped in yellow cotton cloth before they are placed within the containers. Images #1 through #9 demonstrate this. Image #10 is The Sargon Vase.

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These are the Hands that Build

Upon completion of my exhibition in Kyoto this March, the pieces sold were measured, and the dimensions were forwarded to a Kyoto box maker.  It is tradition in Japan for ceramics to be presented to the buyer in a paulownia wood box ('kiribako' in Japanese). An introduction to this Japanese custom allowed me access to part of the Kyoto craft world that an expatriate would not typically have. Two generations of box makers, Yamamoto-san (Mr. Yamamoto) carries on the legacy of making hand-crafted wooden boxes from paulownia, cedar, and pine wood. Yamamoto-san took over the family box making business from his father, and has made work for some of Japan's most famous ceramic artists, including Kawai Kanjiro (1890-1966), one of Kyoto's most revered potters. His boxes are typically used to house and protect ceramics, textiles, paper, and metal tools. At 79 years of age, Yamamoto-san is a master and a living example of one of the many things that make Kyoto a special place. He is a significant component in Japan's ongoing effort to preserve its cultural heritage.  I believe Japan is second to no other country in this regard.

Image #1 shows Yamamoto-san holding one of his hand-crafted wooden nails. Image #2 shows Yamamoto-san demonstrating the use of his Japanese hand saw.  Image #3 shows my wife and translator, Justine, viewing a recently completed cedar wood box for containing textiles.  Image #4 shows Yamamoto-san's hand-built contraption for making wooden nails.  Image #5 shows the box studio and some of Yamamoto-san's hand-built planing tools.  Image #6 captures a pile of gorgeous paulownia wood shavings.  Image #7 and #8 show some of the finished paulownia wood boxes Yamamoto-san made to fit my porcelain work. Next week's post will illustrate additional paulownia boxes signed and stamped alongside the works they now hold.

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Cylinder Simplicity

Most of the forms I make in porcelain originate from a cylindrical shape on the potter's wheel.  This applies to basically every vessel be it round or slender.  The images in this week's post show two lidded containers (each about 6 inches in height), one a true cylinder, the other a slight manipulation of one.  I find the process of creating a slender shaped vessel most difficult as there is little room to manipulate the form from its original cylindrical starting point.  I believe the images below illustrate a couple positive examples of strong form resulting from a simple cylinder.

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The Yellow Brick Road

This post takes a detailed look at the shoulder of a recently completed Kyushu porcelain vase.  The details show black porcelain inlay flanking a thick line of 24K gold.  I was a bit concerned that precious metal surface treatment would have negative effect on the overall piece.  Used in moderation though, I like the results.  Sometimes it takes me a month of viewing something to decide if I like it or not. As always, changes in my work are subtle and take time; perhaps this road will lead to some surprising results as experimentation continues this spring.

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A Flower from Space Landed in this Vase

When making something in porcelain, the final function of the object is something I rarely consider.  That said, I was pleasantly surprised to find these vessels quite useful.  These otherworldly flowers seem to be quite at home in these classical vase forms.  After observing ikebana arrangements in Kyoto, I have come to believe flowers look best when there is a foil in the relation between the container and the flower(s).  By this, I mean a super rustic vase paired with perfect flowers; or in the case of the images below, perfect vases paired with strange blossoms.

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TOKONOMA

The Japanese tokonoma is an alcove within a traditional Japanese room where art is displayed and appreciated. It has a long history in Japan, but for fear of posting inaccurate information I will describe my personal encounters only. During my year-long tea ceremony class in Kyoto, observing the ikebana flower arrangement and hanging scroll at the front of the tokonoma, was the first thing done at the onset of each lesson. The scroll and flower arrangement often reflect seasonal sensibilities and aesthetics, and are changed throughout the year. This weekly ritual of observance was a way for me to put aside issues from the normal day and focus on the tea lesson (the tea lesson is much more than mixing tea and drinking it, it is learning a choreographed performance of movements that when mastered is done with grace, reminiscent of a dance performance.)   As I write this post, my wife and I are staring at our empty tokonoma in our 'machiya' house, and realize something needs to be done about this. Perhaps we could use the images below as a model. Image #1 shows the traditional display room at gallery H20 where I just concluded an exhibition. The hanging scroll is the work of the gallery owner Tsutomu Ohmukai. Image #2 is an overhead shot, and gives a better sense of how the tokonoma is situated in the context of the entire room.

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Shutter Speeds Deafening

I received some professional photographs from exhibition 'Land' (concluded last week) which demonstrate what a camera can achieve. I am the primary image taker for the blog, but this Japanese photographer's creations show a manipulation of focus and clarity I don't even consider attaining when shooting my objects. Perhaps some of these visual nuances will make their way into future posts as I hone my technique.

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Fruit from the Tree

The plum and cherry blossoms of Kyoto are a spectacle in Japan, and a true signal for the arrival of Spring. The plum blossoms bloom in early February, with temperatures descending as low as freezing, sometimes accompanied by snowfall. The cherry trees begin to flower in late March, taking over for the plums, as their flowers die off. For someone working in craft this progression can be a means for inspiration, or a bleak reminder that one can not compete with the beauty nature creates. My interpretation varies by the day. Image #1 shows a golden flower cast off from one of two porcelain trees. Image #2 shows the same flower with its iridescent platinum sibling. Image #3 shows cream plum blossoms at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in February. Image #4 shows blush pink cherry blossoms on the Kamogawa (river) this week. The Spring of 2013 is especially welcome.

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Clearance for Landing

Exhibition ‘LAND’ in Kyoto is more than half complete.  Aside from introducing my work to Japan, the exhibition has provided a great opportunity to practice my Japanese. Like my ceramics, it is a work in progress. Kyoto is a city steeped in craft tradition and ceramics are taken seriously.  This reality placed added pressure in preparing for ‘LAND’. I am pleased to say the work has been well received.  The images below show small, lidded porcelains that are exhibited individually along the perimeter of the main gallery space (see last week’s post http://jeffnimeh.com/blog/?p=1101). This should give you a better sense of what they are all about. Tools from the Japanese tea ceremony inspired these works, and their forms provided a perfect canvas to explore new surface treatments, including blue and black porcelain inlay, along with gold and platinum.

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Turn on the Bright Lights

LAND opened at H2O Gallery in Kyoto yesterday. The two images below show the adjoining exhibition rooms, both modern and traditional, a beautiful play on one another.  Image #1 illustrates 36 hand-held sized works on the perimeter of the main gallery space, each decorated uniquely, with blue and black porcelain inlay, gold, and platinum. The central grouping represents the classical forms I have been working with for some time, hopefully demonstrating mature form and balance. The view image #2 represents is flat-out beautiful. A Japanese tatami tea room such as this will make anything look good.  It should be a fun two weeks in Kyoto. The show runs through March 31st. (I will be posting work from the show in more detail over the next couple of weeks.)

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The Show Must Go On

As I work through the emotions of losing my dog Barney this week, I am still preparing for my exhibition in Kyoto that opens this coming Tuesday.  The title of the show is LAND.  For me, LAND signifies the ground from which my objects are made, but also the specific spot where I focus my intention.  I have realized the result of such intention is entirely in my control, even when it seems it is not.  Everything 'I' do affects the finished work, and magic and chance are not really at play (at least I don't think).  The post before last showed two large pieces in waiting for firing.  Thus far, one of the two is finished. I am glad to say it survived the kiln and will be a highlight of the show.  Actually, my vision for the show relied on that piece being successful.  One of the areas of display in the exhibition is a beautiful, small, tatami tea room.  The room will be dedicated to this tall porcelain piece only.  All are invited to the show in Kyoto.  It opens March 19th and runs through March 31st.  If you land in Kyoto and get lost, dial this cell number and I'll guide you there (090-8129-6918).

ジェフ・ニーマ展-訂正