Vessel Abstracts  James Lawton



Some years ago I decided to start from a different shaping premise for my work, one that I called the “vowel and consonant project”.  I’ve long had a fascination with penmanship, particularly found in personal letters, handwritten documents (think the Declaration of Independence)- and the power of self that comes not only through the word’s meaning but in the force and nature of the script itself.   I look at my own writing, how it exists on the page & moves across it.  I am fascinated by the possibility of challenging the static nature traditionally granted the pot- wanting them to move, or have the implication of movement or unsettledness.   This dis-interest in stability has informed my work since the 1980’s with painted imagery on the work of falling objects, pots, garments, and furniture.


Therefore script, at times coalescing into word, has been an organizing theme both on the surface and the form which the vessel takes.  This has spurred new principals in the way I approach constructing the vessel.   Just as the letter/word has periodically “fallen off” the side of the pot & become form itself (“Is” 2006,) so have the methods these letter-pots been made become more solitary & direct.  At one time my work was made up from multiple formed parts brought together in a fluid gesture- many parts aspiring to be whole.  


The manner which I make vessels continues the use a variety of garment techniques, moving toward more complex shapes (Cantilever Vase 2009) cut out of a single cylindrical form.  I am recalling a show of Issey Miyake, the Japanese fashion designer at ACE Gallery NY in 1999.  One piece had particular resonance, “A-POC (A Piece of Cloth),” a machine-knitted tube of stretchable cotton polyester fabric he displayed that the wearer tailors to her desired shape with scissors.   This sort of reductive volumetric approach appealed to my interest in the geometry of the figure- how to side step the table up architectonic method of vessel-making.  


The pots’ utilitarian archetypes: the pitcher – bowl – cup , for example, come to what we think is their conventional shape through millennia of reductive cutting & nipping so as to correspond to the peculiar verities of functional choreography- embodying the act of pitching fluid, the circular motion of mixing, or tipping tea into one’s mouth. This said, pottery has enjoyed a long history of quite idiosyncratic formal directions, and this has been the gist of my teapot, vase & pitcher explorations while keeping to the basis of utility.   I once said, many years ago, that the most radical challenge I could present myself was to make the interior of my pots relevant, meaning that the enterprise of pot-making is not merely a formal activity, but is linked to our relationship to food, the delivery & presentation of human sustenance.


The approach I take in making pots is to configure enclosures- to contain as well as to reveal within their walls the eccentric shape of human life. It is my view that meaning is held on both sides of these fabrics: an inner life of use and the outer one of appearance.    It is not incongruent to me that clay and carnal bodies share certain elemental connections: pottery possessing the ability to describe the human condition while simultaneously being a part of it.