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Article for Ceramics Ireland 2010

I was a ”potter“- once. The potter is still there, in the subconscious, with key concepts like “opening”, “faceting-fluting”, remaining there in abstraction; but “centering”, centrifugal movement of the wheel, and lifting and thinning of walls are all gone: now I myself am revolving around a block of clay and around the object being formed.

This quest started more than 10 years ago, after fifteen years of making vessels on the wheel: I felt a need to break  out from  the strictures of classical wheelwork and throwing conventions, I needed to explore my interaction with a piece of clay anew. The centered piece of clay turned  into a square block, and I researched a different way of using my hands and body, as well as turning to alternative tools. First the block was still worked on the wheel, opened conventionally from inside, without touching the outer surface. This demanded often great physical force, fighting the mass of the block. An insight came at this point: why do I still insist on holding on to the wheel? Am I allowed to leave this love I had hopelessly fallen for and to which I was so exclusively faithful for so long? The block of clay left the wheel, the search for ways that would allow me to open and stretch the clay into new forms and extremes was begun. I let myself be creative in finding solutions: Why working only with conventional ceramic tools, why not spatulas, hammers-  wooden ones, plastic-headed ones-  anything that allows me to achieve the shapes I want?  With this new approach I found how to create lines on the outside of the object and how to stretch the clay with its imparted lines far beyond its former possibilities, and manipulate it  in different directions. It gave me greater freedom for what I now was looking for: expressive sculptural abstract vessels, dynamic, wild, moving, arching, made in controlled spontaneity in one sweep. Still like on the wheel, the pieces are formed in one go, not built in steps, also usually without clay added in the process: the flow of the making has to be felt in the resulting piece. The finished piece has to reflect something of a primal forming process, like rocks in nature being impacted over millennia by wind and water, caught in mid-transformation between past and future possibilities. The piece should seem devoid of author, the mechanics should be hidden.


Sari Paran , the curator of my show “Un-Ruhe” (“Un-Rest”) at her Gallery Periscope in Tel-Aviv last year, wrote: “E.B.’s artistic search focuses on the interim state, on the object in the process of becoming, as it swings uneasily like a pendulum between primal rawness and development, between fixed and fluid, between soft and rigid, between static and dynamic, between rest and unrest.”   


Had I looked to imitate nature? Absolutely not, it was never my intention, it was the process proper that guided me; but something in even in this process mimics much bigger forces, working over the earth in a similar way. I went with it and accepted the resulting aesthetic, learning to use it and perfecting this embodiment of spontaneity, seeking only to achieve an aesthetically sound sculptural piece. Process dictates outcome. It is true that I always was sensitive to the beauty of rocks, the lines and shapes in their unlimited variations; but I have started looking at them differently after I started working in this way: I suddenly saw in my pieces miniature landscapes of what is out there, in the Negev desert for instance; I saw them as I would see Chinese “scholar’s stones” that adorn traditionally so many reflective spaces in China, Japan, Korea, and for which I carry a special love.


As a potter, especially one drawn irresistibly to Japanese ceramics, glazes were for many years as important to me as dynamic shapes; I used often glaze-on-glaze to create deep fake reduction surface effects in my, alas, limiting electric kiln. Working in these new forms, I at first did not want to enhance a nature-like earthy texture, thus glazing during the first few years the big sculptural pieces in a soft bluish celadon glaze, looking for a softening of the heavy pieces and giving them an ethereal feel with associations to ancient Chinese court ceramics.

Slowly, in my research, I ventured further from this residue of the world of pottery, daring slowly to leave the clay exposed and use the beauty of its different hues as the element of imparting colour: this led me first to Anagama- fire my pieces in a friend’s kiln and enhance thus dramatically the lines of the pieces. Next I started exploring marbled pieces which allowed me to find solutions within my studio conditions with my kiln: explorations of interactions of different coloured clays, off-white, grey, black, ochre stonewares, white porcelain, and changes in the ratio towards for-and background  colour in order to achieve different effects. First the marbelling was solidly through the piece, Grey and off-white; the outer skin was not touched, while the inside was emptied out to reveal the marbelling, thus creating different patterns inside and outside.


In the pieces in my latest series, “Black Turmoil”, I use the beauty of the black rough stoneware body with slight porcelain and/or grey and brown stoneware inclusions, like trappings in a rock. The coloured inclusions have become very subdued and marginal, only to enhance the drama in the piece and how the eye is guided around and inside it, little surprises only. The outer lines and rims have also become rougher, edgier, more expressive, the objects are more dramatic, while maintaining a cohesiveness, elegance, restraint and sobriety at once.  

As my work moved in the direction of the exposed clay, I finally had to acknowledge the deep change that took place in me over the 33 years I have been living in Israel, and the influence of the local landscape. Not any more did I look to express an aesthetic brought from my native Europe, not any more was I the same person. A big emotional change had happened, I shed from me the need to be “well-behaved”, proper, restrained in my work, I opened up new possibilities more in keeping with  who I had become. This included the change in my freer way of working, and the change in my inner pictures, the local landscape of dramatic desert hills with its different hues having slowly superimposed itself on the dark green forests of Germany. It is astounding how through our lives we can travel many inner places and how clay is the malleable form best suited to take us through this journey, both of inner and of artistic exploration.

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