I respond to the challenge that comes from making utilitarian work that will become an intimate part of the daily lives of others. My work is rooted in functional pottery, but I also understand the contemplative role a pot can play in people’s daily lives, viewing the work in much same way that one might view a painting or a sculpture. My work is not highly decorated or ornate, but my forms and surfaces are very intentional. Driven by traditional pottery forms, my primary concern is the complex relationships between the form of the pot, the surfaces, and the firing. I am very interested in the subtle differences that make two very similar pots very different. I believe in making work that is well made, but not precise so that no two pieces are ever the same.
My primary inspirations are the Japanese concepts of wabi and sabi that view imperfection and irregularity as forms of beauty. Shiho Kanzaki, in the History of Shigiraki Pottery, defines wabi and sabi as “the fulfillment of sensibility beyond the incompleteness of material things.” Wabi may be defined with words like: asymmetry, simplicity, wizened austerity, naturalness, profound subtly, and unconditional freedom. Sabi may be defined with words like: restrained refinement and luster.
My work is inspired by the irregular beauty of the natural world. It is easy to find geological analogies in my work: rock fissures, lichen, moss, eroding wood, and dry lake beds to name a few. Much of what happens in nature evolves slowly over time, as does my making process. My pottery begins as wheel thrown and hand-built forms that are altered in various ways allowing the natural development of gesture and asymmetry. While I may have a preconceived notion of the form, I give myself the freedom to stop and reflect along the way, often times stopping before creating what I conceived, discovering the form during the making process. It is this process that preserves the natural, inherent, plastic quality of the clay without it being over worked. I embrace the craft skills and procedures every potter needs to control and manipulate wet clay, while allowing myself the freedom to keep each piece fresh and different. It is through an understanding of form, function, and the vocabulary of pottery that the vessels created can be viewed as abstract sculptural objects while retaining their function.
I attempt to make pots that reward examination and reflection. The wood firing process adds another dimension to the composition, producing surfaces that are rich with complexities. This firing method creates a varied palette of colors and textures not achievable in any other way. The work is loaded in the kiln either unglazed or with a simple glaze that is receptive to ash and flame. Similar to geologic actions, heat and pressure is exerted on the work. During the course of the firings, the draft created by the chimney pulls wood ash and alkaline vapors released by the heat of the fire through the kiln. The ash is deposited on the ware in the path of the flame, and records the thoughts and process of the maker and the kiln’s fire. I feel that wood fired pots have the ability to bring us closer to earth and to nature while creating a direct dialog between the user and the maker.
I value the thought that much of my work is used and enjoyed daily and I hope the user finds them both intricate and compelling while remaining quiet and contemplative. As someone arranges food on a handmade plate, cradles a tea bowl in their hands, or creates a flower arrangement in a vase with a natural ash surface, I like to think that I touch them in some way.
— Seth Charles