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Clay

Knowledge by

Paloma Jones

Our general visualisation of pottery idly drifts between its two prominent states: an organic segment of wet clay, patiently awaiting instruction or its final, more immediately practical, object condition.

Perhaps moments after the earliest cave illustrations, humanity’s yearning for self-expression was ignited, illuminating the path for further exploration into fresh innovations - one which resulted in the binding of earthy materials and resourceful creativity.

What may have originated as a search for a versatile medium for practical uses, soon after flourished into an artistic pursuit within its own league.

Pottery & Art

The malleable nature of clay as a medium, accompanied by its receptiveness to varying textures and forms, expanded its use from practicality to forms of amusement and even comfort.

Picasso

Famed and admired for his avant-garde aesthetics and innovative contribution in pioneering the cubism movement, Picasso also focused his imaginative aptitude on ceramics.

During his residency in Vallauris (1946-55), Picasso met Madoura potters Georges and Suzanne Ramie, receiving the opportunity to create his ceramics collection at the Madoura pottery studio.

Perhaps it was the exquisite delicacy of the surrounding Mediterranean landscape that inspired his works, with many of the subject matters reflecting classical motifs and mythology, paired closely with a natural infusion.

He created as many as 9,000 works, with the final collection exceeding 3,000 fired pieces. Each piece demonstrates his talent and obsessive devotion - within a less familiar three-dimensional space.

Terracotta Army

In 1972, farmers digging a well in Mount Li, a region known for its underground springs and intimate proximity to China’s first emperor (Qin Shi Huang’s burial site) uncovered what stands as the largest collection of pottery figures; the terracotta army.

The astonishing work comprises an army of 8,000 life-sized soldiers (around 175cm), 130 chariots with 520 horses, 150 cavalry horses, as well as various other nonmilitary ranking characters such as acrobats and musicians.

If that has yet to leave an impression, each figure was painted and have been identified to have unique facial features, hairstyles and armour depending on their ranking.

The reassuring purpose behind this grandiose display was to keep watch and protect the emperor in his afterlife.

Historical

Pottery has since been actively bridging the historical link to our ancestors, crystalizing ancient civilizations for our consideration and in essence, strengthening our understanding of ourselves and our defiance of limitations as a species.

Archaeological discoveries have unearthed clay-based relics from almost every civilization, with the oldest dating back 24,000 years. Each discovery of these rare artefacts offers us further insight into societal structures of the past through storytelling in design and the use of pigments.

In an exceptional circumstance, remnants of dietary elements such as meats, vegetation, and cheese have been found.

Defining Clay

While the categorization between pottery and ceramics is a little bewildering and arguably the terms are interchangeable, with one existing within another.

Some defining characteristics pertain to each and uniquely segregate them from their counterpart.

Pottery
To commence the disentangle of terminology, pottery is considered the oldest form of ceramics and ceramics are for the most part composed of pottery elements.

Since the introduction of the wheel (between 6,000 and 4,000 BC), pottery belonging to the more contemporary end of this development has had its form manipulated using the spinning mechanism.

Predominantly utilised for purposeful objects such as drinking vessels and cooking instruments, the final finish is typically coarse with a grainy texture.

Ceramics
Although much like pottery, the clay work is composed in combination with glazes and other minerals such as cobalt and silica. After chemical treatment and a high temperature firing in a kiln, the finished works exude a smooth glassy finish.

This change in chemical composition makes the versatility of ceramics go beyond merely decorative.

Family of Ceramics

Porcelain
Porcelain is constructed of a fine particle clay that when burnt at a high firing temperature results in exceptional durability and is a non-porous ceramic alternative.

This also allows for a more refined and delicately composed body, giving it an almost translucent appearance, as well as the incorporation of curved features into the body's design.

This material comes in a misted pearl tint, although an alternative in a completely contrasting hue, black porcelain clay has been recently introduced.

Bone China
Bone China derives its name from its unique manner of production and is formed from a combination of highly refined porcelain clay and animal bone ash.

The firing is performed at a lower temperature than porcelain, transforming the material into a fragile and light finish with a translucent and powdered ivory tint.

Bone china defies its polished and dainty appearance and is in fact the most durable variety of porcelain.

Earthenware
Rustic and relaxed, the attractive, earthy terracotta complexion of Earthenware looks at home in a Tuscan backdrop, content among the vined foliage and warm afternoon settings.

Composed of a porous material, it works cohesively with glazes and is often adorned with intricate designs and motifs.

However, despite this robust facade, temperature shifts as well as liquid absorption prove threatening and determine earthenware as the least durable of all ceramics.

Stoneware
Intended in a pastoral country style, Stoneware retains a distinct and namesake quality: a stone-like texture that starkly contrasts porcelain’s refinement and intricate delicacy.

Burnt at between 2150- and 2330-degrees Fahrenheit, it is considered a form of baked ceramic due to the fusion of high temperature and the addition of vitreous glass materials.

Stoneware has a denser, more opaque structure than porcelain and China, and it can be treated with a variety of glaze textures including gloss, satin, and matte.

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