Drew Caines - Ceramic Showcase
30th July - 26th October 2019
"Of all the elements, the antlers of the stags are the most difficult and technical to make. On the one hand they must be modelled while the clay is still soft enough to manipulate and join, but at the same time they must be firm enough to prevent them sagging ... this is a bit like the ceramic equivalent of doing the flying trapeze without a net!"
"Over the last 18 months I have been developing a series of animal-headed sculptural figures, collectively called 'An English Dreamtime'. These figures fuse my love of nature, folk, sacred and ethnographic art with more contemporary influences such as Japanese character culture and urban street art. I describe my style as 'Archaic pop' art because it blends the ancient with the modern.
For my showcase here in Leeds I decided to strip things back, simplify the forms and focus on the heads of three iconic British wild animals; the hare, the stag and the fox. I chose these animals because they have a long association with British myths and folklore, but also because they are three of our native animals that have suffered most and continue to suffer from persecution and habitat loss. As such they stand as symbols of the wider ecological disaster that is engulfing our planet. Whilst I have simplified and streamlined my work for this exhibition, I wanted to retain the emotional and spiritual charge of my English Dreamtime pieces. To achieve this I have followed the lead of the prehistoric cave painters who trod a line between naturalism and abstraction to achieve stunning, elegant and emotionally powerful imagery. As well as the curves and folds of the forms I have paid particular attention to the silhouettes of the heads, giving the pieces a strong graphic quality that I hope adds to their appeal and impact."
Techniques and materials
Each piece has been completely hand-modelled using the most basic tools; a potter's knife, a scalpel blade, a small paint brush and a couple of wooden modelling tools, but primarily Drew's fingers. For each head Drew starts with a ball of clay and pinches out a cone shaped form. The exact size, shape and proportion determines the final dimensions of the head and what type of animal it will be. Once the basic form is created he gradually refines the shape and sculpts the details either by adding small pellets of clay or pressing into the form with his fingers and tools.
For most pieces the final stage is to add the ears or, in the case of the stags, the antlers. Although the heads have an economy of form, it takes him many hours repeatedly smoothing, pressing and sculpting the clay to find the exact form that he wants. " I obsessively work on small details and refine curves until they feel just right. This is especially true of the hares' ears. Each pair is unique and this helps create the individual character of the animal. People often say my pieces have a pleasing tactile quality which I believe arises naturally through my simple but obsessive making process. It is literally hands on."
The majority of the pieces in the exhibition are made from a special type of black clay that is self-coloured. Before firing it is a reddish colour but depending on how high you fire it, it becomes darker and eventually a pure black. For these heads he has fired at 1120 degrees centigrade, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing, rich charred colour. Drew uses this relatively low firing temperature because if it were much higher the ears and antlers would actually begin to melt and sag during the firing due to the high oxide content of the clay. The heads are unglazed but before the final firing they are washed with cobalt oxide and iron spangles which gives them a timeless finish with a very subtle blue patina; "Looking at them you wouldn't know if they were created yesterday, a hundred years ago or even a thousand or more."
For variation and contrast Drew has also chosen to work with a terracotta stoneware clay which he washes with copper oxide and manganese dioxide. This gives a rich earthy effect with a slight hint of lustre if Drew is lucky. Finally Drew has chosen a grogged stoneware clay which he coats with porcelain slip and then washes with copper oxide and manganese dioxide. This creates an antique patina reminiscent of bone or marble. Each of these clays is fired to a higher temperature than the black clay (between 1240 and 1280 degrees centigrade) creating simple elegant finishes in keeping with the timelessness of the black clay heads.