MEDICINE JARS + OTHER USEFUL OBJECTS is an installation of functional terracotta slipware at Vetri Gallery, Seattle, WA. My approach to this genre of functional ceramics is both a response to its ancient history as well as a construction of my own sensibilities. My aim is to make objects that operate on a human scale as beautiful, thoughtful, and appropriate technologies for our living spaces and daily activities.

Clay pots are my canvas – I use their surface to investigate line, form, history, structure and pattern. I hope to land on a balanced object, finding this in the form with its proportions, profile, and mass, together with the surface in its depth, dimension, and composition. The slip work challenges my dexterity and slows me down. Throwing on the wheel, constructing with slabs, or pouring slip are the moments when I celebrate the material, captruring its physicality and fluidity.

In its potential, I think about clay as both a building material and a decorative medium. As I consider the relationship between architecture and ceramics, I look to buildings for formal references and to the architectural process for cues in making. The drawings and models Isamu Noguchi created while designing his “Placescapes” inspired this series of bowls. Their objectness does not rely as much on what you might put in them but, rather, what you might put next to them. I appreciate a perspective which not only focuses on a thing's primary function, but also considers it within the landscape. I attempt the same, seeing my pots as a part within our everyday still life. They decorate and they clutter, filling our rooms with shapes, colors, and patterns.

In my process, design and construction happen simultaneously – working from an initial idea of function, I respond to the material and the formal repetition of throwing multiples and variations on the wheel.  I react to a set or series of slab cut parts to build planes, angles, positive and negative spaces expanding the thrown forms to curious proportions. The way I build in clay has been heavily influenced by how I fabricate with steel. The furniture in this show is considered in a similar way to the pottery – minimal, direct, and complimentary. With enough space to create a still image for the pots to live in, they are designed to support the presence of pots in our everyday surroundings. 

I am proud to work in a haptic art form, finding satisfaction knowing that some of my experiences of making the work are reciprocated by the hands of the person using it. I am interested in the haptic not only in how it refers to the making of an object and the using of an object but also in communication, perception, and navigation. My maternal grandparents were both blind, both with brief childhood memories of sight. Witnessing them navigate the world with their hands left an incredible impression on me. I remember them following the contours of the room with their fingertips, gathering food onto their fork, watching me age, always seeing with their hands. Now, beyond these intimate experiences, I recognize the astounding life they led, leaving home for school, raising a family, and owning/operating multiple small businesses, all in rural North Dakota, all with out sight. From their perseverance and dedication my family learned patience and gratitude. I carry this perspective in my work with a profound appreciation for my ability to work with my hands and to see what I am doing.

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 © Zak Helenske. All Rights Reserved.