Innovative, Avant-Garde, Experimental Artist or just another hair-brain ideas?

There is a lot of myths and quicksand around these terms, particularly in the arts.

Maybe my fumblings here will trigger your own insights?

Back in 2000, in her book Paperclay and other clay additives Anne Lightwood stated

It is hard to describe the work that he makes.  It is totally original, fitting into no known category and not seeming to come from any recognisable ceramic tradition, but rather to derive from the way in which animal structures are built.  It includes elements which appear to be taken from partly eroded anthills, or coral reefs, or papery wasps' nests chewed from old wood, which look delicate but are actually very strong.
To a northern Scot such as I am, his work seems to epitomise the land from which it comes: an alien continent in a different hemisphere, full of heat and light, space and sudden flashes of intense colour.  (emphasis added) Lightwood 2000

These comments still surprised me many years later, after all I had studied ceramics at high school, three years at college (plus living across the road from and having an after-hours key), then a decade of recreational classes,  then four more years majoring in it at two universities.

Now, over a decade and half after this, I have some theories about this.

The first is that by using a "new" type of clay, I felt less constrained by the conventions of pottery.  I felt free, so I tried and did things I had never done before with clay.  This is a theme often also mentioned by others at symposia and conferences.

The second was that I had to make my own paper clay, and because I was working with slip, rather than soft clay(and not slip casting), things started to happen.  For example: being inpatient, I became tired of waiting for the liquid paper clay to turn into plastic paper clay on the plaster slabs.  So I began to slop it over dry works, paper towels, dipping wool yarn, foam rubber and all sorts of other things to dry it, or just for fun.  Or I mistimed the drying, and had to pull dry slabs off the plaster slab, which I then experimented with.

The third theory, which is still a work in progress, is the fact that I was constantly having to explain how paper clay is different to conventional clay, encouraged me to seek out even more unconventional ways to use the former.  Virtually from the beginning I was invited to explain/teach others my techniques.  The encouragement of workshop participants meant that I often first tried out some new hair-brain idea at my workshops. The evolution of the whole food paper clay story is a classic example of this...

Lightwood, (2000) A, Paperclay and other clay additives, Crowood Press, UK, p.76


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