Brad Johnson: Full Circle

Mar 2nd - Apr 15th, 2018

Two years ago when The Clay Studio invited me to have a solo exhibition in The Clay Studio Gallery we agreed that March and April would be a good time to show work, pairing my visual vocabulary of carved leaves and flowers with the long awaited arrival of spring.  I started working with the goal of making a collection of “larger” scale pieces. Having been a maker of pots for nearly thirty years I felt confident in my abilities, my understanding of the process and form is well practiced. I thought making my familiar pieces, but on a larger scale would be quite natural. On the contrary, this increase in scale introduced a whole new set of variables. I had to re-examine, and sometime re-learn how to made my work.  Experimentation led to loss and aggravation, but eventually also the satisfaction of greater knowledge and skill. I started trying “new” techniques, reading books and articles, taking risks on anything I thought yield exciting results.  Persistence paid off and eventually I developed a system that was delivering more successful and consistent outcomes on a larger scale while honoring my aesthetic sensibility and commitment to strong form.

Larger pieces offered the benefit of a broader surface and more freedom to develop my surface designs.  I enjoy seeing crocuses and daffodils pushing up through the thaw. My studio is surrounded by the tangle of organic symmetry as plants twist and turn over one another and groups of trees work as one to maximize the sun’s life giving rays.  There is a balance and a rhythm in these things that I find inspirational and humbly try to capture in my carvings.   Sometimes these images are bold and clearly visible, while other times I will bury these carvings deep within the surface. As the curious viewer gravitates towards a particular form, the pattern reveals itself, like the hidden depths of a tidepool.

Relentlessly pushing the limits of my clays, glazes and even my kiln, I aspire to capture something that goes beyond my own abilities. Preparing for this exhibition, along with the culmination of my experience, has given me a renewed respect, curiosity, and excitement for the firing process. A multitude of dramatic surface effects are possible to achieve while exploring the nuances of the firing.   I am perpetually searching for something I haven’t ever seen before, meticulously taking notes so results can be repeated if desired.  Recently I have started intentionally maintaining the kiln at extreme temperatures (2200 degrees F) for 3-5 hours while introducing 40-50 pounds of a soda mixture.  This process really gets the glazes moving while melting the stiff slips and the clay until there is a build up of rich, lush and fluid surface that flows down the piece accentuating the form while being pulled around or rerouted by the edge of a line or the shift of a plain.  Some of the pieces appear smokey or dark and those pieces have been cooled in a reduction atmosphere.  Reduction is a process where the amount of Oxygen inside the kiln is dramatically reduced by pushing in raw gas without the aid of excess air for ignition.  Although seemingly dark, at closer inspection you may see a light or a sparkly line in the pattern of a leaf or flower that illuminates as if it were sewn into the glaze with aquamarine thread. 

With each combination of clay body, glaze, and color I explore there is an indefinable quality I seek. I have created pieces throughout my career that seem to have more “life” than other pieces.  This notion is not physically or scientifically possible, but I believe that some pieces give off more energy than they possess.

 It is with great humility and thankfulness that I am able to live my life exploring learning and creating as an artist and father.  Both of these aspects of my life are  deeply woven into fabric of who I am.  I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my partner, my muse, my moral compass, the most patient, fair and giving person I have ever been fortunate to have known and love, my wife.  Thank you Kristin Hoefling Johnson.

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