Meaning evolves as I work on a piece. It comes from my inner dialogue and the physical act of working with the clay. Similar to a dream, the finished piece has layers of the literal, surreal and personal. It creates a feeling that lingers. My desire is to reflect the pleasures and struggles of being human.
What a fortunate calling it is to be an artist, to participate in the creative flow. As I coax the birth of a new piece, I am so often filled with surprise and wonder at how a lump of clay has become so expressive of exactly what I didn't realize I was trying to convey.
-Coille McLaughlin Hooven 2013
Falling In Love
In 1960, at the University of Illinois, I was taking classes in art history, sculpture, painting, weaving, jewelry, and drawing. One day I received a telegram from my father that read, “Strongly suggest more Latin.” But it was too late. I had discovered the ceramics studio. Clay had captured me: that mound of wet earth, so seemingly malleable but hard to conquer.
My teacher, David Shaner, was young and energetic, fresh from Alfred University and on the cutting edge in the field of ceramics. As the first and only person enrolled in the new ceramics major, I benefited from the tutorial nature of our relationship. Ceramics became my focus for the next 45 years.
During the first years I worked with stoneware. Fired to cone nine in a reduction atmosphere, this lack of oxygen causes the impurities of the clay body to commingle with the glaze which achieved delicious surface color. It was the time of Peter Voulkos and abstract expressionism. One could easily make huge pieces from this strong clay. Stoneware was king for about forty years. On the West Coast in the late sixtes, the funk movement of Bob Arneson was born and the ceramic avant garde switched to low fire white clay. Because it was fired at only 1700 degrees, one could use very bright, almost garish color; reds, yellows, fuchsias had lustrous surfaces. I used this too for a few years. Moving to Berkeley 1970 and sharing a studio, I tried a new direction using porcelain clay.
Working with porcelain, one has a tempestuous partner. One must not get it too wet or it will collapse. Get it too thick and it will crack. Temperamental, it is affected by weather and its own degree of malleability or plasticity. Even in a well sealed plastic bag porcelain stiffens up over time. This clay has a willful mind of its own. It took me years to become its partner, to hear its tune. I learned to say, “What are we ready for today?” Porcelain is known as the most difficult of clay bodies. It shrinks 20% from wet to final glaze which complicates the drying and firing process. But as the saying goes “No pain, no gain,” for porcelain is the also Queen of all clays. The strength and exceptional plasticity of these small flat molecules can capture gesture and movement exquisitely. I can create attenuating or loop-de-loop handles.
Porcelain is the highest fired of all clays, to 2400 degrees- white hot. It then becomes translucent where thin and exceptionally strong. As I make a piece, I flow with the rhythm of making, focus on controlling the shape as it appears until it feels finished. Whether I am making teapots or fantastical shoes, the feel of the clay is alive and I am part of the process. What a fortunate calling it is, to be an artist, a passionate affair.
-Coille Hooven 2011