Q&A: Kat Evans
Updated: May 11, 2019
‘The work is constant. Malleable clay transformed to ceramic. The leaves, reeds and ferns, carefully collected during dusk’s opportunity, are turned to ashes. But the smoke is caught, absorbed in the smooth surface, capturing the drama of the firing processes.'
Kat Evans is a ceramicist and sculptor whose asymmetrical clay forms speak of the processes that made them: pinching, coiling and paddling. Hours of careful and deliberate burnishing create a perfectly smooth canvas for a dramatic, but intentional, smoke firing.
The title of our exhibition 'On The Edge Of The Light' could have been made for Kat's work: the strong lines of her sculptures encase organic, smokey surfaces creating geometric clouds of darkness; and, as the light changes around them, their shadows define and fall into their surroundings.
Interested to know more about Kat's relationship with clay and the path that has taken her to such a distinctive form, we sent her the following questions and were captivated by her poetic replies:
What were you doing before you discovered ceramics? What led you to start working with clay?
K: Ten years ago I signed up for ceramics classes at the Universidad Popular in Gijón, Asturias, (Spain). Finding my way on the bus to La Calzada neighbourhood, I walked through the park to a bright and brilliantly equipped studio consisting of three rooms dedicated to the different ceramic stages: the sociable making room, with large solid tables and shelves of work shrouded in plastic; the sorcery of the glazing room with spray booth, stacked buckets of Toni Soriano’s amazing glazes and two deep sinks; the firing room, filled with drying work, anticipation and two large kilns.
After the sessions, someone brought out a still warm tortilla. A bottle of wine appeared.
I was freelancing. I had been in Spain for a few months. I had some friends, but they were mainly borrowed. Sometimes I felt lonely.
I think I paid 70€ for a term. The students were all different, with different reasons for going to classes. We got to know each other whilst rolling coils, wiping down tables and stirring buckets of glaze.
It was 2009. Post-crash, Spain was “in crisis”, but I was told Asturias had been in crisis for years. Since the mines closed. Unemployment was high. People were struggling. But the libraries, museums and galleries were still open. The “People’s University” still ran classes led by highly qualified teachers with stable salaries and solid pensions.
When did you first discover smoke-firing as a process?
K: Toni Soriano shared his enthusiasm for contemporary interpretations of raku but also the traditional cerámica negra Asturiana, still practiced in the village of Llamas del Mouro in Cangas del Narcea. We carefully burnished pieces and applied silky terra sigillata to surfaces, aspiring for perfection.
At the end of the term, we had a full day of firing in the park. More tortilla, cider and empanada. The burner roared and the pieces shone as Toni took them out of the kiln. We all threw sawdust, exhilarated by the flames and smoke. If ceramic processes encourage cooperation, these alternative firings demand a high level of collaboration. During the most successful firings, you can feel an intuitive choreography-in-action.
Two pots cracked when plunged into water, thermal shock exposing the weaknesses in my making process. I still loved them. One piece survived. It may be the most beautiful thing I have. The protagonism of the smoke provides a distance. It feels as though someone else has made the piece.
The burner roared and the pieces shone as Toni took them out of the kiln. We all threw sawdust, exhilarated by the flames and smoke. If ceramic processes encourage cooperation, these alternative firings demand a high level of collaboration. During the most successful firings, you can feel an intuitive choreography-in-action.
Has it always been the more sculptural side of ceramics that you have been drawn to?
K: In the process of making a series of vases, I was holding and turning a piece in my hand, deciding where to place the opening.
I suddenly felt that it was enough.
It didn’t need to be a vessel; it didn’t need to have a purpose; it didn’t need to be used.
This opened new paths for the object as form. The pieces have no right way up or down, they can be handled, placed and rearranged. In groups, the individual objects take on a new significance with the space between holding its own meaning.
These are paths that I enjoy following!
There must be such a connection with each piece in the amount that you handle them as you make them, do you find it hard to let these pieces go?
K: Each step of the making process has a different connection with the body.
Initially, I cup a ball of clay in my hand. I push the opposite thumb into the middle of the clay. I gently begin to pinch the clay, turning the ball slightly after each action, feeling the thickness of the wall with my fingertips.
Fitting the two halves together, I use my thumb to smooth the join.
I wedge my elbow into my hip and hold the hollow form in front of me. Using the paddle to gradually discover the planes and edges, I turn the piece in my hand to feel it from different angles. The studio is silent save for the tapping of wood against clay, the sound changing as the clay dries.
Clay has a memory. To keep the planes curved, I rest the piece in my lap.
It can be hard to let the pieces go.
Occasionally, people send me photographs of sculptures in their new homes across the world. They describe how they have chosen the location, how the light picks out the features, and the relationships with other objects.
These new sites, and new understandings, make me very happy.