Phyllis Pacin

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Artist’s Statement
Although I have been painting for a number of years, until recently I have referred to myself as a ceramic artist because my canvas consists of textured flat ceramic tiles. My lifelong love of both two-dimensional design and clay has manifested itself in my creating a new way to look at both ceramic art and painting. The result is fully realized paintings (that happen to be) fired in a raku kiln. Adding to this mix, I play with the space within the picture plane and create spatial illusions, bringing another element to my work as important as the composition of my subject matter. The result is a unique interplay of two and three dimensions.

I design my work, arrangements of hand-rolled and textured raku fired tiles mounted on acrylic or wood, as free hanging pieces. While some are composed of square tiles, more often I work with parallelogram-shaped tiles, which I arrange into architectural compositions that have a trompe l’oeil illusion of three-dimensional form. Some pieces go one step further in tricking the eye by my “folding” the forms visually so that they look like actual three-dimensional objects existing in real space.

As I examine the creative process, it never ceases to amaze me how subject matter keeps presenting itself. After years of creating primarily non-objective designs, I have segued into abstract and fictitious landscapes as well as abstracted flora. My discovery of the work of the turn-of-the-twentieth century macro-photographer, Karl Blossfeldt, opened my eyes to an exciting new way of looking at plant forms. I have continued exploring them even as the human figure has entered my repertoire.

My recent figurative work came about when I saw a woman emerge from an abstract composition I was drawing. After turning the paper ninety degrees, she was standing in a dramatic pose. I was intrigued enough that I began another figurative piece without so much as a sketch, my usual starting point. Instead, I lightly guided the pencil over the bisque-fired tiles, allowing it to skip and careen across the textured clay with a minimum of supervision. The result was a composition of a few oddly shaped and out of proportion lyrical “dancers” whose freshness delighted me to no end.  While the human form as subject still intrigues me, and I continue working with it, I also continue exploring in the non-objective realm.

A synopsis of my tile making and firing processes: After I roll out large slabs of clay, I texture them with found objects. Then, when I cut the slabs into tiles, no two have the same textural designs. After the tiles are bisque fired, I lay them out for glazing in the piece’s ultimate geometric shape, and I redraw my previously sketched design onto the tiles with pencil. The impressions in the tiles create a rich underlay for the glaze design.

After I apply the glazes, either by sponging or brushing, I fire the tiles in a small raku kiln, four tiles per batch, until the glazes melt. Then with tongs, I transfer the red-hot tiles into a lidded metal container. Before closing the lid, I strew the tiles with pine needles to start the smoking process. The smoldering pine needles create a reduction atmosphere that pulls oxygen out of the tiles, resulting in vibrant lustres, crackled glazes and velvety, smoke-blackened clay. For me, part of the magic of viewing my finished work is watching how the colors and lustre glazes catch the light, causing each piece to change as the light shifts.