Throughout my career as a ceramic artist, I’ve always been intrigued by the effects of fire on my work. Whether employing pit–firing, saggar, or raku firing techniques, the unpredictable, uncontrolled nature of the fire produces work that possesses a uniqueness and individuality of its own. There is something very exciting about uncovering the pit after a firing, marveling at the richness of colors, fire markings, and sometimes spectacular results of this process.
I’ve also been attracted to the “Vessel” as a universal container form and feminine symbol. Besides its functionality, the vessel has also been associated with religious contemplation (begging bowls of monks and mystics), death (an empty urn representing the soul fled from the body), and spiritual transformation.
Many years ago, while spending time in the Southwest, I became intrigued with burnished (polished) vessels of the Native American Pueblos. The surfaces of their work seemed much warmer, softer and sensual, than traditional glazed pottery. On returning to California, I began to focus on this technique and pretty much stopped using glazes. I also began at this time to employ different firing techniques, such as sawdust, smoke-fire, saggar, and pit firing.
Over the years, I became aware of the sound created by tapping on the burnished low–fired vessel. It resonates much more than glazed high–fired ware. Through research, I discovered that many cultures throughout history have created percussion instruments out of clay that don’t employ the use of skins. One such instrument is the “Udu” drum from Nigeria, Africa which has two openings; one on the shoulder of the vessel, the other at the top. By hitting one hole, air is sent out the second hole creating the sound. Some of my work is based on this drum, and is sculptural.
Since I’m involved in performing Afro–Cuban music which relies heavily on percussion, it seems natural for my claywork to evolve in this direction. I hope you enjoy the work, its unique qualities, and that it provides you with sense of beauty and inspiration!
Joel Bennett has been a ceramic artist for over 35 years. He is currently on the faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College and has been active in the community as an artist–in-residence, art educator, and workshop instructor. His interest in traveling started at an early age, and over the past 18 years he’s been involved with ceramic and sculpture projects in Hungary, France, Vietnam, El Salvador, Argentina, and Cuba. He has participated in five International “Encuentros” in Cuba, and has written articles about ceramics on the Island that have appeared in Ceramics Monthly, and the Studio Potter Magazine. He has also hosted residencies of Cuban, Colombian, Hungarian, and Vietnamese Artists here in California that have included exhibitions and workshops.
An award–winning ceramist, Bennett’s work has been exhibited internationally and represented by galleries throughout California, the Southwest and Midwest.