Evolution of a MFA Show

My thesis show Gather Round went up late last week. It is the culmination of three years of study at the University of Florida. As I installed and documented the show I realized that the finished product is a series of baby steps. Every step is equally important but the decisions weren't that monumental at the time.

This all started a year ago when I proposed my thesis topic. I started with this statement

"Over the next year I will develop a thesis body of work that centers on the southern dinner table. I will make functional pottery that serves food as it commemorates the southern dining experience. I will focus on functional serving trays, pouring pots, tumblers/mugs, as well as symbolic southern forms like jugs, crocks, cake plates, and butter churns."

Through out the year I worked to refine my concept. I let go of many preconceptions, the largest being what "Southern" means. I have lived most of my life in the South but I am no authority.  I found its just as easy to stereotype my own experience as it is to stereotype someone else's. To have a genuine read on the topic I had to draw the focus onto my home state of Virginia. I distilled the larger concept of southern dining into Sunday brunch. Southern forms became forms decorated by botanicals that are abundant through the spring in Virginia. By narrowing my focus to flowers that I have directly experienced my drawings became fresh. Its always hard to make marks that describe something I have never seen, touched or smelt in person. There is no replacement for direct observation and experience.

As the sgraffito drawings became the emphasis I altered the forms to show off the drawings. Some of the forms I have been making for awhile (i.e. pitchers, teapots, mugs). Some of them I made for the first time in the last six months( i.e. square plates, cake plates, five lobed platters, salt and pepper shakers). I find it interesting that my success rate was unpredictable based on how long I have been making a form. Some of the strongest drawings are on the forms I haven't made for long. It might be that I was meeting the form with fresh eyes and therefore paying more attention to the form/surface relationship.A few of the forms took 2 or more revisions to get the right one for the show. The plates however I got the first time around. I thought they would be the hardest because of cracking, composition, etc. 

As I collected pieces that I thought were show worthy I started planning the best way to display the work. Should it go on free standing pedestals? wall pedestals? a table? The table was important because I was making tableware that gained value from the context of use. I wasn't just designing for arts sake, I was designed for a specific type of meal. I decided to complement the table with wall pedestals that reference sideboards or buffet tables. All the work is mounted right at 40 inches even if its on the wall. This is lower than the standard for a gallery but it encourages people to pick up the work. It increases approachability to have it closer to table height than painting display height.

I built the pedestals and table top out of AC plywood. I choose to milk paint it to expose the wood grain. It came out really nice but the AC grain started to separate from the moisture of the milk paint. If you haven't used milk paint its a great way to give a soft slightly lustrous finish. Check this out for more info
I learned how to bend wood by cutting Kerfs. They are small gaps that are cut every 1/8th inch or so. They work best if you cut down 4/5 of the way into the piece of wood. They allow the wood to bend without building too much tension. In the end I created two small 24 inch ovals and one large 6ft oval. 

The gallery space that I received was typically cold, grey and drab. To slide it towards the domestic I covered the windows with curtains and painted the walls off white. The color scheme of all the displays is neutral but varied between creams, slightly mauve greys, and light khaki. I posted pictures below of the transformation the gallery went through. It made a significant difference in the work. The pots really pop and the environment is inviting. 

Ill post pictures of the work soon.

1 comment:

  1. hey ben, this looks great from the pictures, wish i could see them up close! congratulations!