John Davidson lives and works in the province of Quebec. He is the 2nd Canadian ceramic artist that I’m profiling. John’s work and more about his background can be found on his website.
JW: You have a well-crafted artistic statement. You discuss 3 areas of focus: (1) form, (2) surface treatment, and (3) color. Will you tell me more about your initial focus on form?
JD: I make molds of the forms I wish to reproduce. There is nothing specific I am looking for, more a shape or combination of shapes that I find pleasing to the eye. It could be the angle of a bowl, the form of a bottle or the uniqueness of any object I come across.
A few years ago when in Venice, I saw several interesting pieces of Murano Glass. I photographed them and then proceeded to create molds that modelled these forms. Once I created a form using a small football and then carved to the rest in the plaster. It no longer looked like a football, but I liked the volume that was created using the ball.
Often I visit thrift shops looking for pieces I can make molds of, alone or in combination with other shapes. It really is just as simple as finding, or creating forms that I find pleasing.
JW: You break your raku into 3 sub-groups: raku, horse-hair raku, and naked raku. What is naked raku?
JD: A few years ago I took a two week workshop at La Meridiana, a ceramics centre in Italy.
The workshop was given by Will and Kate Jacobson who were involved in creating the technique of Naked Raku over 30 years ago. Any colour on a piece is added before the bisque. Afterwards a very thin layer of slip is added to act as a resist for a glaze that is added last. The piece is pulled from the kiln after reaching about 1500F and then placed in a reduction container filled with sawdust or other combustibles and closed off.
The change in temperature causes the glaze to crack and the smoke in the reduction chamber causes the dark lines on the piece. When the piece is removed from reduction it is sprayed with water and the glaze falls off, thus Naked Raku. Many do give me a sideways glance when I mention “Naked Raku” and I have to assure them that the clothes stay on.
JW: That’s comforting to know. You’ve done woodworking, stained glass and ceramics. What attracted you to ceramics? Are there similarities between these art forms that attract you?
JD: When I retired I went back to university to complete my Fine Arts Degree with a major in Sculpture. We had to take a number of courses in another discipline and after doing one course in ceramics, I enjoyed it so much I completed all the courses in both sculpture and ceramics. It seemed to me that what one could do with clay was limitless.
JW: Can you give me a sense of how your ceramic work has developed over the 10 years you’ve been working in this medium?
JD: Very early on I became fascinated with Raku. I think it was that although you push a finish in a certain direction, there was always an element of randomness and surprise that is out of your control. This led me to pursue other alternative firing techniques, pit and barrel firing, Naked Raku and working with ferric chloride and Horsehair Raku. They all have the element that produce results that are at least partly out of your control. For the most part, happy surprises but not always. Such is the nature of these techniques.
JW: Recently you’ve started working with colored porcelain similar to the Japanese techniques of Nerikomi and Neriagi. Will you tell me about that? What inspired this evolution? Where do you want to take it?
JD: Given the cold and snowy winters here in Quebec, doing these alternative techniques outside is not possible so rather than just doing prep work all winter for the firings in spring, I was looking for something I could complete in the winter. I took an online course with Curtis Benzle which got me started on the Nerikomi and Neriagi techniques. Depending on how you approach them, they are techniques that can be manipulated in a manner that again produce somewhat random outcomes. I guess I really like being surprised. I will continue working with the coloured porcelain in different ways to hopefully come up with new and exciting results.
JW: Will you tell me a little about the ceramic art scene in Quebec?
JD: Quebec has a huge art scene. Lots of galleries, lots of crafts. In the Eastern Townships where my studio is there seems to be art and craft everywhere. I am in my 3rd year on the Tour des Arts which has been going on for 32 years. About 40 artists open up their studios for 10 days in the summer and receive over 20,000 visits. There are several similar tours around Quebec. Check out www.tourdesarts.com
JW: Is there anything about you or your work that you would like to tell people?
JD: When I was younger I always said that I like to make things. As I have gotten older I realize to be happy, I have to make things. To quote Montessori “The product is the process”