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The Language of Ceramics

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

The group of potters and ceramist that gather around the kiln in 2022
Joy’s Tribe

It is commonly believed that what comes out of the kiln of a ceramist is not subject to the guessing game of the subconscious. It is what it is, or it was what it was. That is until recently when I started taking a closer look at the work of Joy Brown and listening to those who know about the subject. Where I saw a vase, Michael Ward saw a constellation of signs, minus details and nuances. Michael has been, on and off, my host in Kent during my frequent visits to Joy's kiln. Although I assume full responsibility for my ignorance, one must recognize that contemporary ceramics have often been relegated and not given the same attention as it is dispensed to its most ancient predecessors. As far as I could tell, this is mostly a western problem. In Asia, potters, mainly artisans working on clay, are seen with more significant consideration. Before getting deeper into the art of Joy Brown, I shared with other neophytes the idea that pottery happens when one gets divorced, the children go away, or when you have failed at painting and woodcarving. Immersing myself in Joy Brown's world has -once again- proved me wrong. "If we pay attention and listen carefully," Michael would say, ceramics speak to us in a language we can understand. I have been listening ever since.

Some creations I have seen while hanging around Joy's kiln in Kent stand alone for their sensuality. Bonnie Levine's vases have a unique quality that distinguishes them from the work of others members of the community inspired by Joy. The vases she makes seem to attract each other. They come close and hardly ever touch. These vases, as siamese lovers, are bound by a minimal negative space. Bonnie is among many bringing their works to the kiln when it gets fired. The conclave takes place at least once a year. It is a significant event in which nearly fifteen artisans join. They contribute to the effort, chop wood, mend the surface of the 30-foot-long anagama kiln built by Joy thirty years ago, and bring along their own work to feed the dragon. I thought of the distinctive nature of Bonnie Levins' work. Still, every artifact from the kiln is unique and mirrors the artist's personality. Christine's pottery is enigmatic and witty, while Sanah Petersen's seems cosmopolitan, sensual, and universal. I was beginning to understand what Michael was trying to say. Ceramic talks.

By the time I discovered Joy's murals outside her home in Kent, I was ready to listen. I'm thinking of the one placed outside next to the back door everyone uses to commute from the kiln to the kitchen and back. It is vital to notice that the kitchen holds the same holy status as the kiln at Joy's place. The mural portrays Joy and her siblings carrying the casket of her late mother.

Joy Brown is a highly complex artist; a tsunami runs through her veins. Ceramics can speak to us in ways that words cannot, and Joy Brown's work is a testament to the power of emotion and creativity.

To be continued, or not...

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