Jennifer McCurdy is a ceramic artist who I have long admired for her intricate porcelain works which are inspired by the nature which surrounds her at home on Martha’s Vineyard in the USA.
Please note all images are shared with the direct and very kind permission of the artist.
Mrs McCurdy has worked with porcelain for over 30 years and is continuing to experiment with just how thin her chosen material can be fired or how much can be cut away before it collapses. Initially the work is started on the potters wheel before it is dried until as hard as leather and at that point the carving begins – the patterns created add life and energy and contrast. After the porcelain is fired Mrs McCurdy often adds gilding to the interior of the piece which, as she states on her website, creates new patterns and shadows.
I found myself thinking of the intricate shell-like and flower-inspired structures as I have worked on developing a sample for assignment 4 – I find the forms created fascinating as they almost seem to be moving despite their static and solid nature. I grew up partly on the south coast of England before moving for the middle part of my childhood to the east coast so understand how Mrs McCurdy is so inspired by the nature of her home and particular in the shells she finds on the beaches and maybe it is the Plymouth girl within me that still calls out to my creativity – the inner child wanting to create something familiar that goes further back that my memory.
There are some pieces on Mrs McCurdy’s website that are titled ‘ribbon’ vessels and these literally ribbon line in structure and again have a real sense of movement with a delicacy that makes it hard to believe they are porcelain. Looking through the gallery of works it seems that many of the shapes are at their heart very similar which maybe due to the confines of the potters wheel or simply that from a basic shape the variety of forms can emerge each with their own linear quality. There is also a repetitive nature in the patterns within each creation – when you break them down they are one singular pattern repeated in swirls or lines which come together to create the finished result.
Although I like working with colour I find the simplicity of the white porcelain means that colour is not needed to create the shadows which further add to the patterns and forms of the piece – there is a real play of light throughout the individual pieces that would look completely different depending on the location in which they were displayed and this makes me think about Project 5 Context.
I do feel that this is an artist who will influence my work, not just now, but in the future – the shell structures in particular are of great interest in particular.
FOOTNOTE: Checking through my blogs prior to assessment I came across an article on a Martha’s Vineyard website by Gwyn McAllister which is concerning her visit to Jennifer McCurdy’s studio. This article gives me a direct insight into Mrs McCurdy’s working methods and in particular how she combines apparently very complex mathematics, science and of course art and design.
It came as no surprise due to the porcelain vessels that Mrs McCurdy creates to read of two influences – 1. the study of fractals as she shows the author a book by John Briggs called Fractals. Fractals apparently are naturally occurring phenomenon which have a repeating pattern that stays the same even if the scale itself changes – these phenomenon can be classed as mathematical sets and it seems Mrs McCurdy is very knowledgeable about advanced mathematics. The other influence is book is by a 19th century biologist/naturalist and artist – Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckl. Mr Haeckl’s work appears to be that of a botanical artist in its detailed studies of creatures that range from the microscopic to larger creatures and I confess that I have just added both this book and a second to my own ‘wish list’ on Amazon for purchase within the next few weeks such are the colours, shapes and textures recorded of each individual organism.
It is now clear that the similarity in shapes of the vessels has been due to the artist discovering what works for her and what works with the porcelain to create the desired designs and effects and according to the author of the article when you look through Mrs McCurdy’s portfolio of work you can see its evolution – the term ‘evolution’ is also appropriate due to the natural forms which inspire the work having evolved themselves over many millennia.
Regarding working methodology the author describes how each piece goes through an extensive throwing process which involves much pulling, shaping and smoothing of the porcelain which has been mixed to the perfect consistency in a pug mill. The porcelain absorbs more water than other clays during the throwing process and this is something Mrs McCurdy has learnt to work with over many years and this is where part of the science comes in – despite this absorption during the throwing process the porcelain becomes non-porous and hard as it dries. Once each piece is thrown and shaped Mrs McCurdy then proceeds to add curves which, as nature itself has demonstrated, adds additional strength to each vessel – the final process then begins which is the cutting out of the final design which has first began with pencil marks. The vessels are not glazed in order to maintain a monochromatic appearance although some are gilded by Tom McCurdy, (Mrs McCurdy’s husband), who is a former sign writer.
I think what I now find fascinating is the combination of mathematics and science in an artistic format – the science comes through the understanding of the properties of the porcelain as mentioned above and the way it changes as it is worked and dries. I can relate this use of mathematics to the Fibonacci quilts of Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry – fractals and Fibonacci patterns are very similar apparently due to the fact they both repeat and never change and there are no doubt more complex reasons that are at this point beyond me due to the complex mathematics involved. However fractals in nature does fascinate me and appeal to me so this is something that now needs further study and consideration as to whether it is something I can integrate into my own work.
McAllister, G. (date unknown). A Studio Visit with Jennifer McCurdy [online]. [Date accessed: 12 September 2017]. Available from: http://www.mvartsandideas.com/2015/06/a-studio-visit-with-jennifer-mccurdy/
McCurdy, J. (date unknown). Jennifer McCurdy Wheel Thrown Porcelain [online]. [Date accessed: 12 September 2017]. Available from: http://jennifermccurdy.com/