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Thinking visually: an interview with Scott Bennett. (clay corner).

Scott Bennett describes himself as a practicing artist--a product of contemporary abstract art and traditional craft. He combines the routine of a craftsman with the eccentricity of an assemblage artist, merging tradition with change, practice with spontaneity. Scott maintains a studio in an old factory warehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Additionally, he has designed nearly 2,000 pieces for Bath and Body Works and also develops hybrid daylilies in his one-acre garden.

In this interview, Scott shares his history and evolution as an artist, his inspirations, and the techniques and procedures used to create his pieces.

H.G. Has art always been part of your life?

S.B. Judging by all my early report cards (which I still have) that all say, "Scott would rather draw than pay attention in class," I guess I began thinking visually at an early age. I remember my older brother Gary and I would fill up the edges of the pages of our phone book with drawings. We both were influenced by our father--a talented "jack of all trades" who exposed us to all of his creative endeavors.

During public school, I loved art and took every class available--even when they were electives. In middle school, I also took wood shop and eventually became obsessed with the wood lathe. My parents even purchased a small wood lathe so I could work on it in the basement at home. I became very proficient, spending all of my free time in school and at home on the lathe.

Then I saw my art teacher throw a vessel out of clay on the potter's wheel. I immediately made the connection between what I had been doing and what he was doing. I envied how the material was so malleable compared to wood and that one could get so close to it. I had to use tools to form; he used his bare hands. That was 22 years ago and since that time I earned an MFA in ceramics and have done over 10 years of postgraduate studio work in clay.

H.G. How has your art evolved and have you evolved as an artist?

S.B. My initial attraction to clay--the plasticity, fluidity and the movement that can be expressed by both clay and glaze--is one of the primary driving forces behind the work I have completed in both this medium and in others. From the melted appearance of pots fired in a wood or salt kiln (not to mention the interior and kiln furniture, as well!), to heating and forming steel over a forge, I am always trying to capture the fluidity or some suggestion of movement at one time in all materials I explore. I combine this path of craftsmanship with a desire to challenge the viewer and myself by the work I create.

H.G. What inspires the work you are doing now?

S.B. In the past, the majority of my pieces were nonobjective, abstract and organic in nature, and they often seemed to display a quirky kind of elegance and awkwardness. More recently, I have started to combine nonobjective forms with recognizable elements or, should I say, recognizable ideas. I have combined pottery forms with less obvious forms--maybe in an attempt to create a tension between what we know or recognize and what we don't. It has been argued that pots are abstract forms that do not exist in nature, but I see them as recognizable and objective subject matter much like the figure. I think sometimes my pieces teeter between a known and unknown entity.

I'm also exploring jewelry as a recognizable subject. Jewelry is also an abstract idea, but we recognize the elements and symbolism of it in our culture. I'm experimenting with the juxtaposition of recognizable and unrecognizable elements of this genre, using form, surface treatment and scale--possibly to raise questions I have concerning our fascination with adornment, rarity and status of objects in society as well as to challenge the viewer with a rich and perplexing piece.

H.G. Tell us how you create your pieces.

S.B. My work usually starts by drawing. I always have a sketchbook handy, and I do many thumbnail sketches of ideas. I have found these drawings very helpful in thinking three dimensionally. A new body of work usually starts with 10 to 20 drawings, which I pare down to five to 10 pieces. For whatever reason, I seem to work on five to 10 pieces at a time.

At the same time, I am sketching out ideas for future work. It's not uncommon to have sketches for a month or two before I make a piece based on it. So in a way, I am working on many pieces at the same time. There are works in progress from drawings I have previously completed, as well as ideas in process in the form of sketches for potential pieces in the future. The beauty of this situation is that, inevitably, each action influences the other, churning the evolution of the work.

H.G. You then take the sketched ideas and translate them into clay?

S.B. Once I decide to make a piece in clay, I've probably worked out the procedure needed during the drawing stage. If I feel a particular piece requires a difficult step to complete, I will make notes of procedural possibilities next to the sketch, My work is often a kind of assemblage, so I start by making the individual parts of the piece. Some of these parts are made on the wheel, as well as handbuilt. I view the wheel as a machine that enables me to form objects that I can use in my work, rather than just a "potter's wheel" to make pots.

H.G. Explain what you mean by assemblage.

S.B. After I have produced all of the parts needed for a piece, I basically assemble them together. Once a piece is assembled, I will tightly cover the piece and keep it covered for many weeks in order for the parts and slip used to assemble them to acclimate. This acclimation period helps ensure the work's success by preventing unwanted cracking sometimes caused by attaching parts that are in different stages of drying.

H.G. Tell us how you decorate your pieces.

S.B. Once a piece is bone dry, I clean off any bumps or unwanted lumps on the piece before the next step. I currently use terra-cotta clay, which I cover with a white engobe and bisque fire. I have been experimenting with a group of liquid matt commercial glazes, and I find that they melt very nicely over terra-cotta, but the iron in the clay dulls the color. So, the engobe basically saves the color. This process seems to give the appearance of an object that might be coated with rubber or feel like the surface of a weathered stone. I've continued to explore this direction because this surface treatment fits the organic forms I create.

In glazing, I start by brushing my base coats of glaze over the form and then begin splattering and spraying other colored glazes over the base to add depth to the surface. I then brush wax resist over some of the glazed areas and let the wax dry. Wax is most commonly used in ceramics to form a resist where one does not want glaze. I use wax to then apply a gloss glaze over an area in a different manner. Based on the logic that wax (oil) and water don't mix, I spray glaze over the waxed areas until that glaze builds up and beads over the waxed surface. I let the beaded glaze dry and then glaze fire the piece.

In the glaze firing, the wax burns out and the remaining glaze eventually melts, pitting the matt glazes underneath like drops of some type of acid melting through a surface. This process works best over a horizontal surface because once the wax burns out, the beads are not adhered to the glaze below. I am currently exploring ways to achieve this effect on vertical surfaces, as well. The resulting surface is both visual and tactile.

H.G. Tell us about your commercial design work.

S.B. In 1996, I was approached by Bath and Body Works to work with their design team to produce ceramic prototypes for potential production. One of the designers worked with a steel sculptor friend of mine who often used a cup I had made. He wanted to meet me, and I have been working with them ever since. During this time, I have experienced many approaches to a project. There are times when they give me objects of "inspiration," and we discuss the types of pieces to be made. Then there are times they give me specific drawings from which I produce three-dimensional prototypes.

From functional dinnerware and candleholders to tiles and cartoon scenes, I have designed between 1,500 and 2,000 pieces. Because of tight time constraints, I have become very acquainted with low-fire commercial glazes and have mixed and matched all kinds of combinations to achieve desired effects. It is true, especially in glazing that this experience has had a direct effect on my current work.

H.G. You have another great passion besides art, don't you?

S.B. While I was in graduate school, I became obsessed with perennials and perennial gardening. When I left school, I began designing and installing perennial gardens for a living, along with making art. More specifically, I began hybridizing daylilies on my one-acre lot here in Columbus. I continue to do that today, blooming between 4,000 and 5,000 plants a year. I suspect the ongoing examination of many flowers of my own, as well as others in the field, has been an important influence on my work.

At times, my garden has been a full-time job, but now I pretty much concentrate only on the daylilies. Even this is getting more difficult as my art requires more and more time. However, experiencing a seedling bloom for the first time is like opening the door of a much anticipated kiln firing--except it takes two years to bloom daylilies in Ohio. Like a successful firing, the process is habit forming. I am currently working on my seventh generation of daylily hybridizing.

H.G. What thoughts about art would you like to share with our readers?

S.B. In an era of mass production, mass-reproduction, re-reproduction and retro-reproduction; in a time when the outdoors is on TV and people take vacations to the mall, I hope fine art can still reflect the uniqueness and individuality of one's ideas and pursuits.

At a time when students are being tested to see how alike we all should be, art instructors have a responsibility to help students try to recognize and appreciate their own unique approach to creating and to encourage them to explore these characteristics in their work. I worry that in this era, unique approaches to creativity often get lost in the mainstream, but the beauty for the artist today is the ever-changing palette created by it.

Note: Scott Bennett creates his ceramic pieces using Brent Model C and CXC Wheels and decorates with AMACO[R] Matt Glazes.--H. G.

RELATED ARTICLE: A glazing project.

Have the students glaze an object as they normally would. I sometimes use liquid matt glazes and sometimes use gloss glazes. Matt glaze over matt glaze remains raised and pebbled over the base after being fired. Gloss glaze over matt glaze fluxes with the base glaze making a divot of sorts.

I would encourage experimentation with other combinations as well, as part of the beauty of glazing is the ongoing discovery of different effects from slight alterations in procedure. Have students make notes of their glaze combinations while they are applying them so they will remember the process, if a unique effect occurs.--S.B.

1. Brush three or four coats of one or more of the AMACO[R] Liquid Matt glazes over the clay piece.

2. Mist or spray some of the other liquid matt glazes over areas of the base glaze like adding blushes of color.

3. Once the raw glaze is bone-dry, wax the top or horizontal surface of the piece.

4. Let the wax dry overnight.

5. The next day, glaze over the waxed areas by misting or brushing until the glaze beads up on it.

6. Let the beaded areas dry and then fire the pieces between 1960 F to 1975 F.

Harriet Gamble is a free-lance writer from Plainfield, Indiana.
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Author:Gamble, Harriet
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Previous Article:Chalkboard artists. (Children's art diary).
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