The sheer simplicity of clay and at the same time its mystical complexity have seduced me into its drama. On one hand, you just dig it out of the ground, give it some shape and form, and fire it -- earth, water, fire. And yet, on the other hand, there are myriad methods of manipulating the composition of the clay body, endless ways to give it form and substance and decoration, and then more ways to fire it - from low-fire Raku techniques to high-fire reduction processes to temperatures of 2300 F or higher.
Vessel-making as an art form has intrigued me for thirty years. My response to the simplicity of clay is sensual and immediate because it has such a powerful tactile drawing force. On the other hand, my response to the mystical complexities of ceramic art is a much slower, thoughtful ongoing struggle which is only intermittently resolved. For me, the complications of living in a fast-paced, busy lifestyle are balanced by the quiet satisfaction of exploration, discovery, and creation.
Nevertheless working with clay, whether it be fine porcelain or coarse dark sculpture clay, is basically a simple, sensual interaction wherein I can escape into the medium and come out a creator, a vessel-maker.
RAKU HOLDS A SPECIAL PASSION FOR ME. The work is fired outside in my backyard to about 2000 F (you bake a cake a 350F). While the glaze is red-hot and molten, the piece is carefully moved onto a stand with tongs and sprayed with a chemical to get the orange luster effect. Then the final stage is moving the piece into an air-tight chamber of sawdust and letting the smoke give definition to the pattern of crackles which are formed from the thermal shock of going from extreme hot to air temperature. This process is extremely exciting and dangerous and fraught with possibilities for failure- immediate and enticing.
(Please note: We have a constantly changing selection of Shirley's pieces in the gallery. Pieces shown are a sampling of Shirley Clifford's work)