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100 Lifetimes



I've been working a lot in porcelain over the past few weeks with Steven Charles Johnson of Detroit Dirt Rock. We started collaborating 2 years ago with a piece for the one night only Pursue Detroit omakase experience I created at the Fort Street Galley in downtown Detroit.


A year later, we created a line of tablewares for Pursue Underground which was to be an 8 seat Korean-American sustainable sushi experience in downtown Ann Arbor. This year, we are translating my paintings onto porcelain, and experimenting to create my paintings without pigment.


I've been obsessed with painting black lines for the past decade, and still, I'm obsessed with it. But I'm also growing. And as I explore the color black, I'm finding the contrasting "color" white grabbing more of my attention. It's because Steven has shown me a relief technique where you apply wax to a dry vessel (before firing it's called "greenware") and then wet sand it to erode the material that surrounds the wax. The material underneath the wax stays in tact during this delicate process.



When the vessel is fired, the wax evaporates inside the kiln, and the resulting object has my line work in relief. The color of the wax is gone, and there is no trace of it. So the line work appears to have been carved, but in reality, it was painted on. Painting without pigment is really captivating me.


Taking it a step further, Steven has taught me that when porcelain is thin enough, light can pass through it. So, we are doing some R&D to create paintings with light. This is takes my work to the next level, where black paint represents all the colors of the spectrum, where as white light is all visible colors of the spectrum. When painting with black paint, or painting with white light, I can express the same idea that everything is present, and that we are all connected.


Although it's not easy to decipher this message in the chaos of abstract line work, that's kind of the point. Black and white are so simple, yet so complex.



Black and white are difficult to define, and there is plenty of debate as to whether or not they are or aren't colors. The definition changes when they are paint/pigment, compared to when they are dealing with light. Adobe does a good job of discussing the topic here.


What's really interesting to me is the idea that these paintings I create, that talk about everything and nothing, while using materials that are quite literal expressions of that. "Everything" could be a lifetime (80-100 years) or "everything" could be billions of years.


We see life from our unique lenses. Generally, humans act in a way that serves their best interests for the duration of their life. Some humans consider the next generation of life and make efforts to build a better future as part of their legacy. For most, this continuation of life and desire to improve the quality of life generally only carries for one or two generations.


It's very difficult for us to think about and feel empathy for people who will live in 200-300 years from now. Some can feel empathy for people who lived 200-300 years before us, because there is some written documentation. The same attempt to understand the future is unlikely yet our actions don't affect the past, they only affect the future.


I'm fascinated with porcelain and ceramics, because of its nature. The earliest known Korean ceramics date back to 8,000 BC. Koreans have been making pottery for over 10,000 years (which is crazy) with materials that come from the Earth. Ceramics are affected by all of Earth's essential elements, dirt, air, water, fire.


Through carbon dating, we can trace ceramic back thousands of years ago.


Imagine creating something that could last 100 lifetimes. It's impossible for me to even fathom what that really means. Try to imagine how your future family will live in 10 generations from now. Now imagine 50 generations. Then, 100 generations. It's impossible. The reason I say all this, is that the pottery I'm creating now, are for humans who live now, but the reality is, the work created now will be on this planet for far longer than 100 lifetimes.


It's pretty audacious to think that in 1,000 years, people will still care about my art. Yet, I'm creating something that will not decompose before then. In fact, it could take 1 million years for a piece of pottery I make today to decompose, even though it's made from earthly materials. Most of my ceramic work will probably end up in a landfill, broken into a bunch of pieces, adding to the piles of waste.


Plastic decomposes 1,000 times faster than ceramics.

So, what's more sustainable?


Some day soon, I will explore this idea as an art show called "Porcelain and Plastic" (super creative I know), and add a collection of objects to the world that will remain on this planet for at least 1,000 years.


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