Q & A with Zinc Contemporary / by Jacob Foran

What's the medium?
Ceramic and glaze. The drawings are charcoal on paper.

Can I walk you through the making of a piece?
The sculptures are hollow and made from the ground up using a coil technique. I start with the slab in which is essentially the cross-section shape of whatever I'm about to build (shoulders or neck in this case). I begin stacking and compressing coils of clay that are approximately an inch and a half in diameter. It's a big game of timing. Add too much too soon and it'll sag or collapse. Too little too late and it'll be too dry to work with. I work general to specific. With this series of heads I build up to what looks like a vessel, and then begin to form from the inside out. At this point I am up to what will become the forehead. I push the features into shape from the continuous wall of clay which I've compressed into the thickness of half to three quarters of an inch.  When the time is right, i build up and inward to close off the head.
   I allow them to dry slowly over the course of a couple weeks or so. They are then fired in the kiln to approximately 2100°F. Cone 3 in ceramic terms. The first firing lasts more than 24hours. Now they've changed from Clay to ceramic and I glaze them with 3 coats. The second firing is faster and to a lower temperature of 1945°F (cone 04).   done.

The drawings are made from charcoal on paper. Most of them are taken directly from photographic imagery of the ceramic heads in different lighting. I use my computer to zoom in and find intriguing moments/passages . Cropping and rotating, it's all really basic stuff.  It becomes interesting with shifts in scale so I often play around with the projector or a large TV monitor so that I can experience the image before I commit to re-creating it with a stick of charcoal. From there it's just like drawing a map or topography of value shapes.

What do I like most about this series?
What I like most is that it is so generative.  The work triggers more work. There seems to be an almost infinite creative presence here. I can walk in the studio grab a camera and just play. If my eyes are open, these things are talking back to me and I've got my next idea. So far it's felt like a pretty natural leap back and forth between two and three dimensions. Is the first time I have felt really at home with abstraction. And still there is the figure.

How would I describe this series?
They feel like things that are from really far away place, such as outer space or a strange alternate the universe. But also as things we haven't yet seen.  In the gallery they're both loud and very bold yet stilling and serene.

I described the sculptures as muted. The Clay forms Are like ancient heads from some Buddhist temple . The glaze is black but not black because it reflects the light around it. And I described them as changing with time and space. I describe them as kind of in between objects. someone said "like crystal balls with an inner eye!"

I Describe the head drawings as photo realistic until you get closer. They almost look like something that was digitally modeled but they're not, they're made by hand. Some of the drawings look like satellite imagery from outer space looking at a watery planet or the moon. Some of the drawings look like waves or flames or Sea creatures – – you could almost approach them like Rorschach's.  Others venture towards minimalism and focus more on the void, or the dark passages constructed by the light and reflective properties of surface.

What are you inspired by?

I'm inspired by other artists and simply looking at art. I deeply admire abstract painters as well as potters although i am a figurative ceramic artist and sculptor.  My source imagery is all over the board of art history, ranging from prehistoric figures all the way to modernism, then to contemporary abstract painting.   A few of my favorite artists: Jun Kaneko, Lee Bontecou, Anish Kapoor, Rothko, Brancusi.

Give me an idea of something I struggle with when making the work? How do you approach it, face it, and overcome it?

The challenge for me as I work on the body of work is not so different than any other artist who has a day job. When I make these things I just want to be working with them, And not be pulled away for any extended period of time. We come back into the studio a different place than we were before. It can be challenging to remember where we were at before. In other words it's easy to feel severed off from the emotional and mental state which initially prompted the making of an image or object.  One of the ways that I face it is just like we talked about during our studio visit , the Jeff Mitchell approach: I've learned what I love to make and I know how to make it fast. There's a lot of merit in skill, and part of it is just practical.  Another way I face it is being versatile enough to work a couple different ways so that I can move forward no matter how much time is on the table in a given day or week or month or year. For example, I know it takes 20 hours or so to build the head and I know that clay dries out. So a large portion of my sculpture work happens in the summer when I have three straight months. Drawing on the other hand happens from a static image that I can work on in short duration of time, no problem.  The sculpture is very intuitive and demands an ongoing engagement while the drawing is more planned out and methodical, somehow easier to walk away from and return. In some ways I try to use my schedule to my advantage and enhance what I do rather than the opposite-- i the case of this body of work, i've expanded by adding drawing into my practice.


Works on Paper by Jacob Foran, 2016