Author Archives: Louis Katz

About Painters

It doesn’t but I do.

About painters, at least young ones that I knew when I was young, or at least younger.

Frequently I had people from other media wonder/ask how the uncertainty of firing could be dealt with. I always found this question baffling. I could not always put it into words.

The uncertainty can be excitement. You can have certainty if that is what you want, or at least close to it. Test and measure until you are certain. Its not what I want from clay, but someone can. Life is uncertain, you are always balancing variables in everything, is the pan hot enough for the eggs not to stick or is the butter going to burn?

But all of this is prefaced on the idea that painters can visualize, fully comprehend, fully plan, fully understand, what their work will look like, how it will impact people, themselves, how it will stand. They work in a similar manner, and really have no idea until it is finished. They too have surprise. The too are orchestrating process.

Really though, the work is not finished until we are gone, and well after that. When someone uses your coffee cup or mug, or looks at your work anew, each time the work changes. It is not some fixed static entity when it comes from the kiln.

The classic example of this post firing manipulation of work is Old Teabowls, with records kept of who drank what and when, with stains, cracks, repairs, Kintsugi, thoughts, writings poetry. But it really is not different for any other object. Price is part of the work, What Rick Newby thinks about it becomes part of it, who bought it, what gallery, a thrift store?

There is nothing that does not add to the work, even if it seems to detract. I am not sure it is over if it is buried. Although if its been subducted, melted and extruded as new igneous material the relationship is getting a bit thin,

ส้มตำมะละกอSom Tum Malakoh

  • 3-4 cups papaya Julienned fineมะละกอดิบสับขิ้นฝอยๆ
  • 1/2 cup ground dried shrimp (coarse)ก้งแห้งป่น
  • 8-10 cloves garlicกลีบกระเทียม
  • 4-5 small chillies pequinsพริกขี้หนูสด
  • 4-5 black peppercorns or green if availableผริกไทย
  • 1-2 dried chilliพริกแห้ง
  • 2T Fish sauce, jaggery lime juice and tamarind pod water if available.น้ำตาลปีบ น้ำปลา น้ำมะขามเปียก
  • 1t Shrimp pasteกะปิ
  • 2T fresh roasted peanutsถั่วลิสงเผา
  • 2-6 cherry tomatosมะเขือเทศเล็กเล็ก

This recipe is about balance. If something is too powerful add something else.
Julienne the peeled papaya with a sharp knife and a coarse vegetable peeler.
In a Danwkean Mortar pound the peppers garlic, shrimp paste  adding the peanuts last and pound the peanuts  lightly. You can also use mortars from Ubon and Nongkhai.
Add papaya and pound each small batch until partially translucent.

StudioBalletDualismTheErumpancyScale

Often my memories seem tied to ideas. I remember the ideas and  then the facts flex to fit the thesis or concept. So I remember Victor Babu with his feet together slightly on his tiptoes hands open and arms outstretched above his head saying, “blossoming” in reference to a pot form. My memory is that despite his huge shoulders and small hips this dance, this pose had a grace, perhaps equivalent to the suggested grace in the  to the phrase of  Cardew, “The Majesty of Form”.
He, Victor, a fantastic human, was describing a condition of a pot, a kind of breath. This word, breath, is not one I hear defined directly in “A potter’s Workbook” but Clary Illian talks the concept. She talks about the interaction between the surface or wall of a pot and the column or volume of air on the inside. I describe a relation between the skin, the absolute-skin-surface of a pot and the volume – the air inside is surely a better description for some. Breath, as a word, is tied to Buddhist ideals but these ideals or ideas, are not really that removed from the fullness, balance, and active stillness (active or anticipatory stasis) suggested by the breath in pots. Back then while I was in school either we did not use this word “breath” or my ears had a special filter to keep it out.
Patty Driscol, Gail Busch and I were sitting around one  evening (Kathy Ervin) could have been over, looking through the dictionary for some reason and thinking of this dance of Victor, his word, “blossoming”, or at least the idea of it and I came across the word erumpant.  Erumpant is ready to burst, ready to pop. A pregnant woman, a ripe fruit, and as I have a certain taste for the tasteless, a zit ready to pop. I think we had been playing scrabble.
There is really only one sort of ripeness, one fullness, described by “erumpent” but I think it is one sort with stages. It is a useful word but rather one dimensional. We really have many different varieties of fullness in the field of ceramics. Having thought about it for years I now have more categories, a bud, a blossom opening, opened, even wilting, there is growth like a shoot of bamboo, thickening of the trunk like a tree or a kapok tree, the beer belly, as well as the various perceptions of erumpancy. There is  beginning to bulge, quickly beginning, a hint of readiness or ripeness, ready to burst, actually bursting , burst and a sort of flacid loss of muscle or skin tone. Each have their place, and grace, and all can have breath if done well. Some are harder to pull off than others.
The words themselves have little meaning when it comes to pots until we categorize ideas, visual ideas and assign them to the words. Some words collect these ideas better than others. These words contain action, emotion, and layers of expectations. If they do not have these layers of meaning then using them adds nothing to the already obvious characteristics of the pot as in,”that is a smooth pot”. So it is not really the use of words, but what we put into them. ya ya  ya.

Recently I went to a ceramics conference in Kansas City. I got to see Victor for a few short minutes. I don’t think that I can  trydescribe talking with Victor in any way that truly captures it. There were scores of people waiting to talk ad I had only a few minutes. It was delightful.

Shape, a separate essay but attached to the original version will appear in a different post.

intendedness vs effortlessness, consideration

It is clear to me that as a media we are making progress at least in some ways. Sure there is more technical know how and horsepower than there was 40 years ago. There is more knowledge and more people doing glaze calculation and substantive kiln innovation. But even the pots themselves are getting better. This can be demonstrated pretty well by looking at handle attachments. I have joked about looking at upper handle attachments pictured in CM from the first issue forward using the criteria of intendedness(1). But I am not so interested in quantitative research in the field. I just want to generate thought. Still it seems that progress here can be demonstrated.

In this regard I have been looking at Simon Levin’s handles on cups. Really the whole cups are wonderous but it is the handles I am most in to. The mimicry of the smooth upper attachment is so well done at the bottom that the effort that goes in is not apparent. There are no signs of any effort. The bottom attachment looks as is it was accomplished the same way the top attachment was, no muss, no fuss. But it wasn’t. Simon has apparently developed the skill  and technique to make the bottom attachments look the same and a lot of effort went into this.

The lack of unresolved details in the bottom attachment meet my definition of intendedness. Every part of the attachment looks like it was considered. The details look like they were all intended. The clean lack of struggle, the lack of unintended marks, makes these lower attachments look effortless and I wonder if the terms “apparent consideration”, “intendedness” and “apparent effortlessness” are not in some ways relating to pots, synonymous.

(1) Intendedness: This is the appearance of intent, rather than intent itself. Something can look like it has intent but if it is actually accidental, or a controlled accident it still has intendedness. The Bauhaus  designers used to say that every aspect of a design needs to be considered. This is an important principle, but in my opinion poorly stated. I say that every aspect of a design needs to look considered or intended. They do not need to be intended. How well something conforms to this ideal, this look of intention or consideration is its intendedness.

Once something looks intentional it is possible or easy and almost automatic to either think you know why something was chosen the way it was or to wonder why. Either of these is a gateway to meaning.

 

แกงป่า Jungle Curry

Working on  Jungle Curry แกงป่า

  • http://www.food.com/recipe/jungle-curry-81294
  • deleted recipe nestle food who I refuse to have anything to do with.
  • http://www.mummyicancook.com/2011/07/ultimate-guide-to-thai-curries-and-i.html
  • http://www.hairybikers.com/recipes/view/thai-jungle-curry#j007oqgt0r1YgLoH.97

Tom Yum Kung ต้มยำกุ้ง

This is the Thai national dish. When you say something is Tom Yum Kung, you are saying that it is authentically Thai.  Its like saying that something is “as American as apple pie”. The Asian Monetary Crisis of 1997 which seemed to start in Thailand is often referred to as “Tom Yum Kung”.

This is the start of a post on a recipe for Tom Yum Kung. My sources are memory, Jennifer Brennan’s (Hot Pink) Original Thai Cookbook and Hot Thai Kitchens youtube video http://hot-thai-kitchen.com/tom-yum-goong/ and Thai Food Master http://www.thaifoodmaster.com/thai_food_recipes/thai_soup_recipes/320
My memories are scattered but as always include Umdang Ceramics and a certain little whole in the wall place in Korat that kept upping the peppers every time we went there.

This page says to add 4 shallots http://www.thaifoodmaster.com/thai_food_recipes/thai_soup_recipes/320 This page also says to fry prawn brains in oil until golden. They add them late in the process to the soup and it adds an orange color. I will probably get headless shrimp so no prawn brains.
I have had shallots in Tom Yum but have never included them in my recipe. I am gonna try some this time.
I really like the oil that has had shrimp shells fried in it so  I am going to use that part of the Hot Pink cook book.

2T vege oil I like the way it looks if it goes red.
8 cups quality chicken stock using skin and feet if possible
1.5t salt
1″ of galangal fresh from my garden sliced in rounds.
3 stalks lemon grass 1″ length. from my garden, bruise before cutting.
Kaffir Lime leaf 4 slivered from my garden
1 t kaffir zest but other limes OK from my garden, maybe fresh
2 green chili, serrano, or one polano slivered (bruise first). I will  throw in a few pequins.
4 shallots
2 pounds shrimp peel de-vein and reserve the shells.
1 slivered red chili slivered (bruise first)
2 limes juiced.
1T Fish Sauce. Louis uses a tad of shrimp paste.
2 T coriander leaves chopped coarse
3 green onions chopped coarse from my garden
mushrooms, I am going shitake this time I think.
a small amount of vegetable matter but this soup traditionally has little to none. I am not sure what, but maybe a few bits of slivered root veges.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXaaZiMgvgI Hot Thai Kitchen says maybe to add some Nam Prik Phao it adds some nice color. I may put in some powdered dry  ancho chili early with the shrimp shells.

Fry shells in oil , add stock, galangal, leaf and rind of kaffir.  green chilli shallots. simmer the stock.
Bring to a boil add veges, mushrooms first, then shrimp. Slightly undercook the shrimp. Remove from heat add lime juice fish sauce sugar coriander and green onion. Check for salt, sugar, pepper, fish sauce.  serve. Guests that are late get it cold. Do not bring this back to a boil.

 

น้ำบูดูและข้าวยำปักษ์ใต้ Nam Bu Du and Kao Yam (Rice Salad and Southern Fish Sauce)

I am working on making KaoYam with Nam Bu Du น้ำบูดู a dish from the south of Thailand, really from Malaysia. I am going to at least start with the recipe on this page.
She Simmers Thai Cooking KaoYam
I have been told by an old friend HS9DEK with a glorious voice and welcoming warm personality that I should use Thai Bu Du sauce. I have not spoken with him for most of a year. Catching him online was great.
A friend gave me a small amount of homemade Bu Du….

WoodKilnCoffee

Wood kiln brew recipe

First off if you don’t drink coffee or don’t fire with wood, don’t read this ceramic recipe if you don’t want to.

Wood kiln coffee cannot be wimpy. Drink water if thats what you need, but drink COFFEE when its what you need. Good coffee needs to be stiffly mixed. You need a thick unctuous brew. If you are going to do some sort of drip stuff, you need more grounds than water. If you are doing French Press you need too grind too fine and then press too hard. With French Press for wood kilns you need a large proportion of the grounds to blow by the filter

Cowboy coffee is fine. You can even do the thing with the egg shells if you don’t know how to filter with your teeth. It is especially fine if you grind the coffee fine. But good wood kiln coffee is done Eastern Mediterainian , ArabeoIsraeliTurkishGreekSerbiaCroationSorryIfILeftYouOutCoffee, thick, sweet, stand up and chew, coffee.

Here is my recipe.

Take a “six” pot, if you fire a large anagama with more than four side stokes use 12 and double the recipe, pots for this have numbers. If you don’t have a six pot it is OK to use a can from pork and beans. Eat the beans first. Rinse the can but do not wash it.. You can fashion a handle out of the lid if you don’t cut it all the way off, but it is too short and hard to use, you will burn your fingers and you need them tonight. I use small vice grips.

For wood kilns you want African Cardamom if you use cardamom. Its smoke dried. One pod is enough for several pots. I grind it with the coffee. Asian stores often have good deals on African Cardamom.

Grind the coffee as fine as you can get it. You can do this in a ceramic mortar with a wooden pestle or you can use your Turkish Grinder or even a Krups. Fine, 80 mesh is not quite fine enough. Don’t use a sieve.

Fill the pot up to just under the narrowest part of the neck with water. It can be hard water, it can be soft, and it can be rain water. Add 1 to 2 TABLESPOONS of sugar. Honey is OK, corn syrup will work. Don’t use any molasses unless you feel way way south of the Mason Dixon line and want to show it.
Heat the water to near boiling in one of the air passages of your kiln or over a side stoking port. Don’t pull coals out of your kiln for this, you won’t get enough woodash in your coffee this way. Don’t fake it by mixing woodash in, are you crazy? Woodash contains lye.

Take the pot off the heat. Add 3 T of coffee powder. Stir it in or not depending on your style. Do not get picky about it, you are firing a wood kiln. Set the pot in the heat again. When it boils up near the rim take it off and let it cool about 30 seconds. I am a barbarian so I do this boil up three times for wood firings.

If this were some fancy setting I would knock the side of the pot with a spoon a few times and let it settle. Its not that kind of setting, I just pour the ambrosia. If you are looking for caravan style add some yak butter. If you don’t have any yak butter a little salt and a little cow butter will do. It is one place where “sweet cream” butter is not wanted.

Don’t forget to stoke the kiln. Drink it. The grounds go into the stoking port.

Descrete Tea

In most aspects of my life I rebel at the idea of analogue or digital values; the idea that things are good or bad, that blue is distinct from green or red; I rebel against the idea  that any delineation has reality.

So, sitting in the bath, I find it odd that it seems I have discrete areas of acceptable teaware, that I have an integer scale of acceptable attitudes in the sense of teaware. That there is somehow some set of emotive or apparent intent that is acceptable, good, powerful and that the in-between pots fall flat. Rather than in-between two ideas, they seen to have mixed messages. Beyond surprise there is a level of revulsion I seem to have attached to the acceptance of dualist or descreteist values. It is not just putting things in a box or on a scale but giving them near numeric symbols. They violate ideas I hold dear. The ideas are of course self denying. They too are dualistic, digital, on/off, idealistic.

Tomorrow I will start trying to figure out if these values exist at desecrate levels or if this is like all others an analogue scale. Tonight it looks like integers. I know that ideas like this grow legs so I am putting them to paper unfinished unrefined raw and probably embarrassing.

There is the Victor Babu tightness of pots,,so clean that the wind going by does not feel them, they are aerodynamic, effortless to move.

There is a looseness that is not yet loose, it imbibes power and security, a fullness that comes from energy and surety. Maybe Cardew is the modern potter that carries this idea. The forms are clean but not fretted over. Folk pots thrown again and again often get this power.

There is the looseness that comes from acceptance, not like jazz or improvisation, not from over-rehearsal, but from treating every performance like something new, knowing that to tie it down too tight is to deny the ability to take advantage of the emotion of the moment. It is not the attainment of perfection that is the product but the looking for it.

There is the looseness that comes from knowing that the real art may lie in the viewing, that the shelf does not spin, that we really do not think in three dimensions well and that perhaps the mild undulation adds interest, expresses humility (as only G-d can be perfect) that the attempt at perfection is vain.

Then there is the first big step, where even the casual viewer will see the asymmetry, where they may view a coarse, rough hewn, perhaps unfinished seeming, appearance. None of the attributes must look contrived, they must appear as if they just happen and were accepted. The acceptance must be apparent, acceptance like other parts of an object must have intendedness.

The next step is hard to understand. Even the lack of contrivedness looks attempted, it is clear that there was intent, yet every aspect of the pot has this appearance. It wants to be seen as if it just happened but the hand is apparent, It requires skill, clearness of mind and intent to show the failed attempt to hide this. It is hard to explain. To me it seems to be Goro Suzuki’s gift. There needs to be a wildness to the attempt. It is the clear intent to fail at making it look uncontrived that makes it succeed.

There are a few other works or qualities of them that seem not quite to sit on the scale. One, perhaps the most important, is the visual manifestation of intuition rather than planning. All great pots of this type at least look connected to intuition, not plodding analytic processes.

Another is energy. It is perhaps manifest in the intuitive, but is also manifest in surety in the lack of self doubt. It is the trust in intuition that allowed Voulkos the ability to punch holes and tear away sections of his pieces….. trust, a security in the process more than fearlessness.

Cello

I walk to work frequently. I talk with local and Thai friends over ham radio on the walk into work. On the walk home I usually try to talk with my brother.

A few years ago, “Michael, you’ll never guess what I just found.” It was a cello in a soft case, about as fragile as a baby in a onesie. I checked the case for ID, there was none. I picked it up and started carrying it in to work. You cannot just leave a cello on the side of the road.

I work in the same building as the music department and I figure they would be able to figure out whose it was. By the time I got to campus my brain had started to work and I wondered if carrying what might be stolen property to work was dumbest thing I ever did. I stopped at the guard booth on the way into campus.” Can I use your phone to call the police?”. They said “no”. “O.K. , says I, “can you call em for me?”. Shirt stuffing says, “no”. Louis, a bit miffed says, “What kind of guard booth is this? Do you just stand there and get paid for it?”. He says, “OK you can use the phone.” I call the campus cops, and they send some one over. “We can’t take possession of it, it was not found on campus”. I say, “OK, I am just letting you know I have it so you don’t think I stole it. I am going to take it to the music department to try and find out whose it is.” Just as I finish this I hear my ham radio call letters on my handi talkie. Its a local ham who is also a police lieutenant. He heard my earlier conversation. “Louis we found the owner of the cello. It was stolen this morning. Can I send my officer over to pick it up?” The officer and I missed each other and the pickup took way too much time. I saw the lieutenant the next month and apologized for wasting the officer’s time. The lieutenant said, “Anytime we can return stolen property with half a day from when it was stolen, don’t quibble about wasting a few minutes”.