After months of deliberation and planning one morning in March 2015, I took the plunge and entered the world of ceramic. As I walked on the plush grounds of Sanskriti Kala Kendra I had no idea what this new world had in store for me. I met my teacher (now friend), Aniruddh, an incredible artist from Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, who had joined Sanskriti’s Pottery Center as an instructor. The first task he gave me was to wedge a handful of clay and then to make whatever I wished with it. As I shaped and coiled and made slabs of my clay, I was reminded of the childhood days when we played with play-dough. It was a good experience indeed, but only when I sat at the wheel and put that lump of clay on the centre did I realize the world of clay that awaited me. The first feel of clay in my hands on a speeding wheel, me trying to tame it, pulling it and then centering it—all this is etched in my memory for it gave me an insight into a potter’s life. “Ye mat samjho ki tum clay ko centre kar rahi ho, balki dhyan rakho ki ye clay tumko centre kar rahi hai (Don’t think you are centering the clay. In fact, it is the clay that is centering you.)”, said Aniruddh as he helped me. So true this is, for the clay to be centred, the body, the mind, the breath, the entire focus has to be aligned with each other. This was the first and the most important of the several lessons I learnt.
The world of ceramic is very different from the world of painting. I have been painting for many years now. Most of my works generally take shape in my thoughts and then ideas get formed and firmed sometimes in a sketchbook and sometimes straight on a canvas. Layers upon layers and several iterations later, the work finally gets ready. I do not consider it complete until I feel satisfied, and until such time, it stays on the easel. Should an idea come up while the work is in progress, the entire work is capable of being altered. Whenever my students feel afraid to try something new I tell them, “go ahead, try it, it’s just a painting, not life. If you don’t like it, paint over it and start afresh.” However, there is no such luck in any ceramic work. This was the second lesson I learnt.
While centering the clay or throwing* our pots and plates on a wheel is a challenge, it can still be mastered. It is a skill that needs to be acquired, practised and then mastered. Daily throwing and then destroying all that we made was how the first few days on the wheel went. The real challenge is not even ideating what to make or glazing it after it has been bisque** fired. The real challenge is much deeper and much harder. It is to let go of all attachment, all ego and disappointment.
|Sculptures by Shubhra Chaturvedi|
Contrast this with the world of painting where the desired outcome can be controlled and or worked around in case things do not go the planned way. In the realm of the clay world, if something goes wrong, it needs to be destroyed and abandoned and fresh work needs to be done. Not only this, once a painting is finished, it can be packed and stored or hung on a wall. A work in ceramic or stoneware as it is also called, needs to be handled with utmost care all its life, while storing, while exhibiting, while transporting and even when it is bought/sold, with the new owner.
So if there is so much risk, pain, uncertainty in working with clay, why do we work in clay? Why are there so many ceramic artists, why are the potters in the village churning out earthenware like matkas, kulhads, surahi, gamla (crock, ewer, cups, planters)etc? I don’t have the answer for all, but for myself and a few I know, working with clay means being connected with the earth. Moulding the clay, shaping the clay to me means shaping a part of me and my world. Looking at the cracks in pots and plates enables me to accept the fragility of art and of life. It also gives me confidence that I can do it again. To break the work if it has got spoilt is the most devastating and yet the most grounding experience an artist, especially a beginner, can go through. On the other hand, the surprise that the kiln offers each time is the biggest joy. To hold in hand a work that sometime back was shaped on a wheel or by hand gives a high that no other intoxication can replace.
Working in clay always reminds me of Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s lines in his poem Shaper and Shaped …
|Bowls by Shubhra Chaturvedi|
In days gone by I used to be
A potter who would feel
His fingers mould the yielding clay
To patterns on his wheel;
But now, through wisdom lately-won,
That pride has died away:
I have ceased to be the potter
And have learned to be the clay.
Inspired by these words and my own experiences in my studios, my aim is, to cease to be the painter/potter and learn to be the paint/clay...
#12, September 10, 2020
* Throwing: The process when the clay on the wheel is given shape into the desired form
** Bisque firining: A low temperature firing is done prior to final firing to harden the work and enable glazing
#MyThursdayThing will be published every Thursday, on my blog https://shubhrathoughts.blogspot.com/ and shared on my social media handles.