This page is a big conglomeration of my artist statements over the last 30 years.

 

Ceramics is more than a medium. It is a set of histories, aesthetics, customs, techniques and yes, materials. Working within the ceramic oeuvre does not necessarily limit ones medium to clay. Ceramics is broader than that.

My work revolves around ceramic philosophy, aesthetic issues and politics encompassing topics such as:
What makes ceramics different than painting?
Why has paint been given the "prestigious" Anglo Saxon surname “Art” while clay is relegated to the Slav “Craft”?
Why fire with wood in 2006? and
What’s so great about the polystyrene cup?

I use clay and make pots but even the most functional of them for me are pots about pots. I see them as tools to educate the public about the value of pots. I don't call myself a potter, but a clayer.

Louis Katz
Ward Island 2007

Combing ones hair is an aesthetic statement as is mowing the lawn. That hair combing lawn mowing suburbanites often prefer to spend vacation time hiking in the woods eating granola bars is difficult for me to understand. I prefer my wife's hair in the morning as she gets out of bed, fresh, frizzy. I prefer her legs unmown and uncut as she prefers or at least understands my preference for a beard. I comb, I cut, I "neaten" but only as a necessary concession to an intolerant society.
Wonder, beauty, fulfillment, and humour seem hard to arrive at through logic, rationality, and easy neat smooth ideas.

Ceramics is not a material or medium but a way of thought, a history, and set of voluntary contraints whose bounds can and should be broken. But its not these either.
When a clayer makes a  painting often it has more to do with clay than it does paint. Teapots, made of many pieces, some of which are physical like spouts, some functional such as containment and release, some aesthtetic (the supremacy of volume over mass in ceramic form),  are one of the main mediums of play for people involved with potting and claying. I am forever trying to visually define what it is I do. In this way I am like all other artists. How far do my roots grow and where does my tree shade at then end of the day. What do people see or think when they look at what I do, how does it effect what I will do. How have I changed?


I feel that my life is in a time of great change, no artist statement seems to be able to contain or mesh with my thoughts.  I am enclosing a few paragraphs from previous statements that still resonate.

Combing ones hair is an aesthetic statement as is mowing the lawn. That hair combing lawn mowing suburbanites often prefer to spend vacation time hiking in the woods eating granola bars is difficult for me to understand. I prefer my wife's hair in the morning as she gets out of bed, fresh, frizzy. I prefer her legs unmown and uncut as she prefers or at least understands my preference for a beard. I comb, I cut, I "neaten" but only as a necessary concession to an intolerant society.
Wonder, beauty, fulfillment, and humor seem hard to arrive at through logic, rationality, and easy neat smooth ideas.


I have ceased to think of clay as a medium, but as a way of working, a history, a set of aesthetics, tied to a material but tied more fundamentally to more abstract ideas. I have grown tired of painters taking credit for things developed by other media ages before they fell into the painters 20th century age of "isms".  What is more minimal than the form of a vase unadorned or more formal than the proper proportion of a handle? What is more expressionist than Iga teaware?


I have long been interested in a simple question, " what is studio ceramics". A part of the question is "what differentiates it from painting." I have explored the question through my work, often pushing the edges trying to find where an object ceases to be "Ceramics" and ventures into other realms. I have painted functional paintings, signs offering ceramic objects for sale. I have painted on textured plaster images of kilns. I have made paintings of kiln safety systems. Although not the first, I have made brick, re-fired under-fired historic brick, and made kilns as ceramic art. I display glaze tests.


The tinker repaired pots with wire and glue.
Now tinkering is part of the clayer oeuvre.
We mess with tools and build kilns,
Isn't that clay too?


It is no surprise to those that know me that I might stack bowls in patterns that remind one of the crystal structure of kaolin or other minerals. Those who know me better, also know I was fascinated by the book The Katz Cradle, and it's references to ICE NINE. Time as a produce pusher in San Francisco taught me how to pack 88 oranges into orange boxes. Quickly filling studios with bowls thrown three per minute has taught me ways to pack pots.
I would like to learn to throw other forms, like jugs and water jars with the same ease as I do my bowls. Often you hear potters say that a form doesn't get good until you've made one hundred. My experience with bowls seems to point to a number closer to three thousand. Who wants the three thousand mediocre water jars or jugs that it will take before they get good? That is fatalism.
Fatalists are never good at sales. Is there a market for thousands of coarsely thrown 3 inch bowls? Is pottery without a user like syrup with no waffles? Could I export them?

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I have ceased to think of clay as a medium, but as a way of working, a history, a set of aesthetics, tied to a material but tied more fundamentally to more abstract ideas. I have grown tired of painters taking credit for things developed by other media ages before they fell into the painters 20th century age of "isms".  What is more minimal than the form of a vase unadorned or more formal than the proper proportion of a handle? What is more expressionist than Iga teaware?

Painting falsely claims preeminence in the history of art. It does so primarily because the history of art is written as the history of painting.  Were it not written this way we would see more discussion of the universal shapes of water storage, of the spread of coil throwing, art majors would learn of the amazing search for purity in whitewares.  None of the great stories of clay are told in these History of Painting Classes. Design courses would study the interior hemispherical picture plain of the Mimbres. It is not just a blind spot but tunnel vision.

It is clear that painting is mostly illusion. I in fact prefer to think of non-illusory painting as flat sculpture. Historically painting was a branch of Ceramics. First ceramic earth pigments in fish oil or another binder and then painted pots. Now we have artificial ceramic pigments in oil and acrylic mediums; Flat Ceramics.
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Those who think my arguments are without holes, unflawed, are fooling themselves. Those who see these arguments as without merit are equally foolish. The world is much more complicated than a linear historical progression to Jackson Pollack and the history of art is far more rich than the history of painting.

------
How tied to function are clayers.
What do they mean by utility?
When they work in paint,
but paint pots or other clay,
is the result painting?
or is it claying?

The tinker repaired pots with wire and glue.
Now tinkering is part of the clayer oeuvre.
We mess with tools and build kilns,
isn't that clay too?

 

 

 

New Grit
Combing ones hair is an aesthetic statement as is mowing the lawn. That hair combing lawn mowing suburbanites often prefer to spend vacation time hiking in the woods eating granola bars is difficult to understand. I prefer hair in the morning, fresh out of bed hair. I prefer legs unmown, uncut; I have a beard. I do when needed comb, cut, and "neaten" but only as a necessary concession to an intolerant society enslaved to order.

My clay, its physical composition, texture, and color, is an integral aspect of my work. The clay influences the forms I make. The forms influence the clays I use. These aspects have merged with the way I fire and now have some of the integration of material, process, and form that folk pottery has. 

The inclusions, bits of copper wire, chunks of granite, sometimes grains or sawdust, determine what I can do with the clay. More importantly they determine what I should do with the clay. Ultimately I want what Ken Ferguson called nonchalance or what the Buddhist Mingei philosopher Yanagi Soetsu might term "thusness".  It is a certain balance with the concept of quiet. In America quiet seems louder than in Japan.

I no longer concern myself with true utility in the modern 2006 kind of way. Utility for my work is more the sense, than the fact. This work is far too porous and has too may surface flaws to be called in a strict way utilitarian. Its archaic pseudo-function appears to have disappeared long ago.

 

 

Louis Katz

 

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A common question is how I came up with the idea for an organ attached to a series 60 gas jets. Given the circumstances the thought had to occur. It was the chance finding of appropriate solenoid valves that brought me to pursue the idea.

My father, a pharmacist, played clarinet, recorder, and dabbled on keyboard instruments. When I was a child he bagan repairing old reed organs in the basemnet as a hobby. Uncle Bernie, a professional pianist, bought a harpsichord kit, quickly discovered that he didn't have the skill or patience to build it. He gave it to my father. This began a series of about 10 keyboard instruments that my father built, mostly from scratch.

My bother Ralph is a klezmer clarinetist, and I grew up with violin lessons and in choirs. Unitl I discovered that I hated group rehearsals I thought I would be a choir director or music teacher. I taught myself to play our WWII vintage portable reed organ (manufactured in the US transported to Europe and then returned to the U.S. ). I soon was practicing ragtime on a piano, playing classical music on harpsichords, and taking piano lessons. By eleventh grade, I had pretty much given up on piano lessons, but they were kitty-corner from the Detroit public library where I would go to check out Ceramics Books.

I have an engineering bend to me. I fix things. I often feel more at home in science museums than art museums.

So about two years ago a colleague from the music program here at the Island University asked if I wanted a pipe organ, and said I could probably have it for free. " A church is getting rid of it and is going to have to pay a lot of money to have it removed" he said. I wasn't sure, but I am a dumpster diver at heart, and a120 year old pipe organ was tempting. I went to see it. on seeing it thought of throwing the organ away became repulsive. I got it not knowing what I would do with it.

A few months later Josh DeWeese, the resident director of the Archie Bray Foundation asked if I could build one of my "kilns as art" for the Bray's fiftieth anniversary Celebration. I had been thinking of moving towards more complex kiln structures with multiple chimneys and the thought of combining it with the organ seemed a natural, one flame for each note on the keyboard. The only feasible way I could come up with was with solenoid valves for gas jets. At a hundred bucks a pop these were out of my price range. A few days later I was looking through a C&H Sales catalog, they sell surplus, and ran into propane solenoids that ran on 12V D.C.. The pipe organ controls ran on 15V D.C. so I thought I should buy them. Rather than gamble that the price would go up or they would disappear I bought 61(five octaves) of them for 11$ and change each.

I have long been interested in a simple question, " what is studio ceramics". A part of the question is "what dfferentiates it from painting." I have explored the question through my work, often pushing the edges trying to find where an object ceases to be "Ceramics" and ventures into other realms. I have painted functional paintings, signs offering ceramic objects for sale. I have painted on textured plaster images of kilns. I have made paintings of kiln safety systems. Although not the first, I have made brick, refired underfired historic brick, and made kilns as ceramic art. I display glaze tests.

Five Octaves, my pipe organ flambe' piece takes a foot and firmly places it outside ceramics. Sure it is tied to ceramic history, fire, and yes, kilns. It also deals with music, and performance. But if I were not performing for ceramists I would simplify the apparatus and use pilots rather than a kiln to ignite my 61 gas jets. It is the audience that most strongly ties the work to the greater clay medium. Audience is the most under appreciated part of the art world.

 

Louis

-----
GRIT
Combing ones hair is an aesthetic statement as is mowing the lawn. That hair combing lawn mowing suburbanites often prefer to spend vacation time hiking in the woods eating granola bars is difficult for me to understand. I prefer my wife's hair in the morning as she gets out of bed, fresh, frizzy. I prefer her legs unmown and uncut as she prefers or at least understands my preference for a beard. I comb, I cut, I "neaten" but only as a necessary concession to an intolerant society.

 

In my clay making I strive to make expressive use of each process. I search for new materials, alter clay recipes while I am mixing them, try new wheels to throw new forms, use different surfaces, and fire in new ways. Through process and gut level decision challenge manifests itself in the product. Conscious decisions become subservient to higher priorities and my issues become apparent in the work.

 

As an artist my rational consciousness is continually humbled by the expression that only reveals itself after 5 pm or when under stress. [IF A then B, A therefore B,] has its place in my life, but is a stumbling block that must always be hurdled before my clay gets a life of its own. Wonder, beauty, fulfillment, and humour seem hard to arrive at through logic, rationality, and easy neat smooth ideas.

 

 

Louis Katz

Nueces County, Texas Shevat 5757 (February 1997)
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------=-

My great-grandfather played Tuba for the Czar. Professionally my father was involved in Pharcacological Arts, at night he became a horn blower. My family has always been involved in the Arts, but mostly at night. During the day most of us were scientists and engineers.
It is no surprise to those that know me that I might stack bowls in patterns that remind one of the crystal structure of kaolin or other minerals. Those who know me better, also know I was fascinated by the book The Katz Cradle, and it's references to ICE NINE. Time as a produce pusher in San Francisco taught me how to pack 88 oranges into orange boxes. Quickly filling studios with bowls thrown three per minute has taught me ways to pack pots.
I would like to learn to throw other forms, like jugs and water jars with the same ease as I do my bowls. Often you hear potters say that a form doesn't get good until you've made one hundred. My experience with bowls seems to point to a number closer to three thousand. Who wants the three thousand mediocre water jars or jugs that it will take before they get good? That is fatalism.
Fatalists are never good at sales. Is there a market for thousands of coarsely thrown 3 inch bowls? Is pottery without a user like syrup with no waffles? Could I export them?
I like gritty feet on pots. That is the problem. They scratch my mother's furniture. She has glued little green felt circles to their bottoms. They would scratch your table too if you let them. My table is made out of old plywood.
So I glaze them together, glossing over their well grogged feet. I upturn them, setting them on their smooth sides and subverting their former function. Now they can be imported into proper homes for what my father would call proper prices.  Do you want to buy some?
I am easily distracted. My work reflects this. I am often told that I should concentrate on one idea. This is like finishing your peas before you eat your rice. I prefer to mix it all together and eat with my eyes closed. Variety is spice. I leave the goal of refinement to others.
The elephant was made for a show illustrating the story of the five blind people and the elephant. Five blind people travel the the forest to the raja's palace so that they might experience an elephant. On the way they are stopped by an encounter in the forest. One says he has run into a wall, another says he was stopped by a spear. Another is afraid of a snake. Another is stopped by a large tree and the fifth by a big wind.
It turns out that they had walked into an elephant. The wall was the elephants side, the spear was a tusk, the snake was the trunk. The tree was the elephants leg and the wind was just the flapping of the elephants ear. After much argument they put all of their pieces together and discovered "The Whole Truth". I hope you enjoy the show.

 

------

Willie Willie
The tinker origianly was the craftsperson who fixed metal pots. The opportunist is someone who takes advantage of opportunity.

 

I am an opportunist. I see materials as opportunity. Old phone books, aluminum cans, glass wine bottles are opportunities that artists have taken advantage of. I went to an auction to buy my son a record player. They had a whole pallet of them for sale. I really only wanted one but they made me buy the whole lot of thirty five.

I needed cases to transport materials for a performance of "Alice", a show about Alice in Wonderland's life. We put the show on with the audience inside inflatible clear plastic teapots the size of mobile homes. I needed case for slide projectors which we used as light sources for the piece.  I took the guts out of three or four record players to use the cases . I saved certain parts that I thought might have use from the record players. Somewhere in this process I thought about the possiblitiy of using all the arms on one machine. I tried it.

The piece was interesting, but hard to listen to. I tried all sorts of records. It sat in my studio for a year or two as a novelty. It wasn't until I heard Willie Nelson's Stardust , side A on it that I found a record that sounded good on the player. A few weeks later deep into preparations for a flame throwing pipe organ performance I was thinking of oran music I was working on and thought that Bach's Tocccatta in D minor Dorian would sound good. It did, just not as good as Stardust. Startudst Side A is the one album that sounds good regardless of where the needles are plac

--------------

The Whole Truth

 

My great-grandfather played Tuba for the Czar   1. Professionally my father was involved in Pharmacological Arts, at night he became a horn blower. My family has always been involved in the Arts, but mostly at night. During the day most of us were scientists and engineers.

It is no surprise to those that know me that I might stack bowls in patterns that remind one of the crystal structure of kaolin or other minerals. Those who know me better, also know I was fascinated by the book The Katz Cradle   2, and it's references to ICE NINE. Time as a produce pusher in San Francisco taught me how to pack 88 oranges into orange boxes   3. Quickly filling studios with bowls thrown three per minute has taught me ways to pack pots.

I would like to learn to throw other forms, like jugs and water jars with the same ease as I do my bowls. Often you hear potters say that a form doesn't get good until you've made one hundred. My experience with bowls seems to point to a number closer to three thousand. Who wants the three thousand mediocre water jars or jugs that it will take before they get good? That is fatalism.

Fatalists are never good at sales. Is there a market for thousands of coarsely thrown 3 inch bowls   4? Is pottery without a user like syrup with no waffles? Could I export them?

I like gritty feet on pots. That is the problem. They scratch my mother's furniture. She has glued little green felt circles to their bottoms. They would scratch your table too if you let them. My table is made out of old plywood. So I glaze them together, glossing over their well grogged   5 feet. I upturn them, setting them on their smooth sides and subverting their former function. Now they can be imported into proper homes for what my father would call proper prices. Do you want to buy   6 some?

I am easily distracted. My work reflects this. I am often told that I should concentrate on one idea. This is like finishing your peas before you eat your rice. I prefer to mix it all together and eat with my eyes closed. Variety is spice. I leave the goal of refinement to others.

The elephant was made for a show   7 illustrating the story of the five blind people and the elephant. Five blind people travel the the forest to the raja's palace so that they might experience an elephant. On the way they are stopped by an encounter in the forest. One says he has run into a wall, another says he was stopped by a spear. Another is afraid of a snake. Another is stopped by a large tree and the fifth by a big wind. It turns out that they had walked into an elephant. The wall was the elephants side, the spear was a tusk, the snake was the trunk. The tree was the elephants leg and the wind was just the flapping of the elephants ear. After much argument they put all of their pieces together and discovered "The Whole Truth". I hope you enjoy the show.

1 Detroit News article on the pianist Bernard "Thumbs" Katz (back)
2 by Kurt Vonnegutt (back)
3 Oranges come sized by how many will fit into a standard size box. 56's, 66's,72's,and 88's are the more common sizes. Call your local produce inspector for more information.  (back)
4 Theoretically that is 1440 bowls per 8 hour day, I have never come close. (back)
5 Grog is coarsely ground fired clay. It is usually added to clay to control shrinkage and reduce cracking. I add it just to be ornery. (back)
6 Prices may vary. (back)
7 Memphis Brooks Museum. Gallery for the visually impaired. 1991. You may touch the elephant. (back)

Grit

Combing ones hair is an aesthetic statement as is mowing the lawn. That hair combing lawn mowing suburbanites often prefer to spend vacation time hiking in the woods eating granola bars is difficult for me to understand. I prefer my wife’s hair in the morning as she gets out of bed, fresh, and frizzy . I prefer her legs unmown and uncut as she prefers or at least understands my preference for a beard. I comb, I cut, I “neaten” but only as a necessary concession to an intolerant society.
 In my clay making I strive to make expressive use of each process. I search for new materials, alter clay recipes while I am mixing them, try new wheels to throw new forms, use different surfaces, and fire in new ways. Conscious decisions hopefully become subservient to less verbal priorities as thought and action become partners.

Louis Katz

Grit (older)

 

Combing ones hair is an aesthetic statement as is mowing the lawn. That hair combing lawn mowing suburbanites often prefer to spend vacation time hiking in the woods eating granola bars is difficult for me to understand. I prefer my wife's hair in the morning as she gets out of bed, fresh, frizzy. I prefer her legs unmown and uncut as she prefers or at least understands my preference for a beard. I comb, I cut, I "neaten" but only as a necessary concession to an intolerant society.

 

In my clay making I strive to make expressive use of each process. I search for new materials, alter clay recipes while I am mixing them, try new wheels to throw new forms, use different surfaces, and fire in new ways. Through process and gut level decision challenge manifests itself in the product. Conscious decisions become subservient to higher priorities and my issues become apparent in the work.

 

As an artist my rational consciousness is continually humbled by the expression that only reveals itself after 5 pm or when under stress. [IF A then B, A therefore B,] has its place in my life, but is a stumbling block that must always be hurdled before my clay gets a life of its own. Wonder, beauty, fulfillment, and humour seem hard to arrive at through logic, rationality, and easy neat smooth ideas.

UNLOADING

by Louis Katz

 

I see my work as primarily educational, particularly the kilns built while a graduate student. It seems to me that all art is educational. This work gives me the opportunity to expose aspects of functional pottery making that are usually only observed by pottery makers. The sense of anticipation potters feel while a kiln is cooling and waiting to be unloaded is missed by the public. Many people don't realize that most kilns are made from clay. They tend not to understand that, like a teabowl, a kiln is a functional object and can have the same kinds of admirable qualities.

 Because of the scale and nature of this work, it was necessary to overcome several practical and technical problems. The largest of these kilns weighed nearly 1000 pounds. Built indoors on wheeled carts, they had to be tough enough to withstand some bumps and rough handling when rolled outside to be fired. Besides being strong, the kiln body had to be able to survive the stress of being hot on the inside and cold on the outside. And perhaps most important, with so much material involved, it had to be inexpensive.

 To meet these requirements, a mixture of floor sweepings from the clay studio, plaster-contaminated clay, scrap glaze, broken softbrick and straw (for tensile strength) was used. Although the body these ingredients produced had a look and feel similar to unrefined clays, most had at one time been refined commercial products.

 At times I find myself looking at glaze recipes and judging their quality solely on the cumulative "integrity" of their constituents. It seems to me that when using relatively unrefined ingredients like Albany slip, one has a greater chance of producing a rich glaze than when mixing pure oxides and trying to imitate nature. During these times when it seems that I believe in macrobiotic pottery, I feel that if a glaze is made out of "respectable" ingredients and I don't enjoy the way it looks, then the fault is within me, not the glaze.

 After applying an insulation layer of wet clay and sawdust to the surface, the kiln was loaded (sometimes packing the pots with straw for stability) and moved outdoors. Firing was with gas, usually to Cone 04, though one salt kiln was taken to Cone 10. When cooled, the insulation layer was removed to reveal the colors of the fired kiln.

 

Ars1 the word from which art is derived means "To put together". I had intended to purchase a record player for my son Sam. The Auctioneer not wanting to have to haul the rest of the 35 record players to the dump made me take them all for the minimum bid of $5. I could also have gotten a pallet of mimeograph machines. Lost opportunity.

What does one do with thirty five record players, You can't play them all at once2.

 I have been called a pessimist3, and an opportunist4. Can you be both?

A few weeks after I picked up the record players I acquired an armful of identical records from the free book rack at Half Price Books, where only the best books go on the free rack. "Makes the mind Wander5."

Several People prior to the show have questioned my choice of records. I leave it to you, choose your own, or if you wish bring your own.

Art: Any artifact of Intelligence6.

Louis Katz 01/21/5759

Big Dictionary the morning of my thesis defense at Montana State University. I needed a broad definition of Art.
1 Unknown individual
2 hmm?
3 See Previous Footnote
4 Owen White in a conversation 1988. See Statement "W"  above
5 http://www.tamucc.edu/~lkatz/ars.html

DIRECTIONS FOR GALLERY GO-ers

 

1. Make sure the record player is plugged in.

 

2. Turn switch to pause

 

3. place the three arms so that the needles are on the track(s) you want to listen to. If you are unaccostumed to three armed players you may want to start with all three needles on the same track.

 

4. place headphones on.

 

5. Turn the player from off to pause to warm up and then to play.

 

6. adjust volume on the headphone control panel. If you cannot hear anything try wiggling the headphone jack. If that doesn't work try another set of headphones.

 

7. If you are the last person to listen. Please turn the player off. When the gallery is closed please unplug it.

 

Sincerely for your listening pleasure,