I've been doing a fair amount of reading lately and such wonderful books (non-fiction) that I have been filling the pages in my commonplace book at a pretty rapid clip. Today, I'd like to share some of the inspiration I got from reading and seeing the work of Edmund de Waal, a British artist and author that you may have heard of by now. Some years ago he wrote a memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
photo courtesy of Hazlitt.net
I was anxious to read his new book, The White Road, which focuses on a search for the history of porcelain. De Waal is a beautiful writer and speaks of himself as a potter who writes, rather than a writer who makes pots, but I find both his writing and his work breathtaking. While I was glued to The White Road, I began reading the monograph on Edmund de Waal and his work, both of which kept me reaching for my commonplace book to make notes. Rather than making simple individual pots, the works are transformative installations of multiples, often by the hundreds. If I have a chance to see his work in this country, I will certainly make a concerted effort to do it.
De Waal's writing speaks to me, to my own artistic practice and his work, well...it fills me with longing, which I've come to realize is the highest complement I can give. I think the deepest reaches of our being are beyond language and when I see work or read language that strikes that chord of deep longing, I know I am in love.
Here are just a couple of passages I've noted in my commonplace book from the monograph, Edmund de Waal:
I make porcelain. I make objects out of porcelain. I sit at my wheel It is low and I am tall. I hunch. There is a ziggurat of balls of porcelain clay to my left, a waiting pile of ware boards to my right, a small bucket of water, a sponge, a knife, and a bamboo rib shaped like a hand axe in front of me. I have a cloth in my lap to wipe my hands. There is music. I pick up a ball and throw it into the centre of the wheel. Today, like yesterday and like tomorrow, I am making nothing grander than a cylinder. Barely a vessel, more a sketch of a pot, an inside and a straight profile, the merest impression of my hand and then my impressed seal. All those iterative movements of art, wrist and hand, time after time after time. I am making a series of volumes, contained spaces: each vessel is a breath, and I am counting time.
I turn, and there are my boards of porcelain vessels, still damp. They gleam softly. And then I ask myself, which story shall I tell? What is tellable and what is untellable. What do I pick up and where do I put it down?
....and a few pages later....
...Why not start with objects and make a room in which to hold them, a space where the light comes through porcelain, hold them in the air like thoughts or clouds? A shelf is an open line, just as a vitrine is a kind of page. A shelf can act as a pair of brackets, objects can sit like the 'five stanzas stalled in brackets', to borrow Anne Carson's phrase of a poem of Paul Celan's.
Where shall I put this jar? Above you in the attic where your most treasured and problematic objects are consigned? Below you in a vitrine sunk into the ground, so that it is chanced upon? It matters, because where you find things in the world, how near you are to them, if you can touch them or not, is as much a part of the language of objects as their colour, their use.
If you've not seen the poetic ceramic installations of Edmund de Waal, nor read any of his writing, I urge you to seek him out. You will be lifted up...and out...and returned to yourself richer for the experience.