By the time finish making a pot, I’ve put quite a bit of time into the process and had a variety of thoughts while building, painting, and firing it. Sometimes I work in silence. Sometimes I like to listen to books on my phone. The words and the process of creation merge and everything else disappears. At the same time, and not in contradiction, everything is present, solid, right, true, and peaceful.
While working on this group of pots over the past several months, I listened a few more times to one of my favorite books, The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz.. The book speaks of the agreements that we make with each other and with ourselves. We agree to stories about our culture and our spirituality and our sense of self and our sense of others. The ideas and stories to which we agree, sometimes without questioning, become part of our belief system and part of our story. I’m the main character in my story and you are the center of your story. I am responsible for what I say and you are responsible for what you understand. The two may not always be the same.
I think about the relationship and the agreements between myself as a potter and you as the viewer of my pots. The variety of thoughts and associations that I link to a particular pot are part of my story: why am I pleased with a particular curve in the pot’s foot, the shape of the pot’s belly, or the finish of the mouth or the color combinations on the surface? What you see might overlap with my story and intentions, or you may create a different mini-story for yourself.
Over the past few years, I’ve been shifting agreements with myself to favor joy over fear-based emotions. When I’m in my studio, I can effortlessly honor these new agreements, allowing positive emotions to flow. I’m happy when I’m making pots. I home my joy and peacefulness come through and fill my pots. In my story, that hope is realized every now and then.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
My pottery is hand-built from coils of earthenware. The process is slow, but rewarding. Once I’ve formed the curve foot of the pot and created a bowl-shaped form, I attach coils of clay. An inch or two at a time, the pot grows. Keeping the top-most edge of the pot’s clay wet enough to easily attach the next coil while letting the bottom part dry enough to support the weight near the top is a careful balance. I carefully scrape the pot’s surface to keep it smooth. I use a paddle to cajole the pot’s profile into something that seems to make sense. (It is a million visions and revisions, Prufrock might say.) Once the pot’s form is complete and leather-hard, I scrape the surface to remove a millimeter here and there. Then, I paint on layers of clay slip containing various minerals and stains to color the pot’s surface. (Some of the most beautiful oranges come from a slip made from a lump of clay that I found washed up on the beach in Ocean Isle, NC!) I made each of these clay slips, or terra sigillata, by mixing clay and pigments with lots of water, letting the slip settle for a day or so, and then siphoning off the top-most layer, with the smallest clay particles. The small clay particles of the terra sigillata, when painted onto the pot, settle into tiny pits on the surface of the clay and create a uniform shiny surface even before firing. (Usually roughly translated as ‘sealed earth’, the meaning of ‘terra sigillata’ is ‘clay bearing little images’ (Latin sigilla)).
Once the pots have been dried and fired in a kiln to a bisque temperature, the pyromaniac in me gets to take over. To achieve the smoky gray and black swirls and patterns, I pack the pots into a container and surround them with leaves, grass, paper, yarn and whatever other interesting dry materials I can find. I ignite the top of the pile and as the flames and smoke make their way down to the bottom, they leave their smoky trace in the porous surface of the pots. While still almost too hot to handle, I add a thin layer of wax to the outer surface to seal everything in place and to add just a bit more shine. Lately, I’ve been adding smidgens of opalescent color to some of the final waxy coating.
As a computer science major at NCSU in the early 1980s, I needed a break from the tall stacks of keypunch cards and binary numbers and hexadecimal mathematics. To relieve some of the stress, I signed up for a pottery class at the NCSU Craft Center. Who knew what a life-changing act that would be? Half way through the semester, I stopped attending most of my classes and started spending most of the days making pots in the Craft Center studio and poring over back issues of Ceramics Monthly in the library. Those early days working in the studio and pit-firing with an enthusiastic group of potters were cathartic. I learned that the focus of a life could be centered on art. I learned, also, that I had to change the direction of my college education. Less than a year later, I transferred to East Carolina University and it is there that I ultimately earned my degree in Studio Art.
ABOUT JIM LUX
While in college, I began what proved to be a valuable tenure at Cedar Creek Pottery with Sid and Pat Oakley. I apprenticed with the Oakleys, finished up my BFA, and continued at Cedar Creek Pottery and Gallery for years. Except for a few years working on a graduate degree in art history, my hands have never been far away from clay. Even as my daytime job has shifted toward grants and financial management at Duke University, I’ve always had access to a studio and have kept my hands dirty in clay or paint.
North Carolina Artists Exhibition, 1984, NC Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Ceramics: The Oriental Influence, 1985, The Arts Council, Wilson, NC
A Clay Expose, 1985, Craven Arts Council & Gallery, New Bern, NC
Wood Fired Pottery: Two Approaches, 1985, Cedar Creek Gallery, Creedmoor, NC
Juried Exhibition of North Carolina Crafts, 1986, NC Museum of History, Raleigh, NC
North Carolina Clay, 1992, NC State University Gallery, Raleigh, NC
Raleigh Fine Arts Society Artists Exhibition, 1999, Gaddy-Hamrich Gallery, Raleigh, NC
New Work: Jim Lux and Paul Hrusovsky, 1999, Craven Allen Gallery, Durham, NC
Seventh Annual Juried Artists Exhibition, 2001, Page-Walker Arts Center, Cary, NC
Jim Lux: POTS, 2001, Craven Allen Gallery, Durham, NC
The Triangle’s Best Art, 2004, Lee Hansley Gallery, Raleigh, NC
The Body Show, 2004, Craven Allen Gallery, Durham, NC
Out of the Fire: New Pots by Jim Lux, November, 2004, Craven Allen Gallery, Durham, NC
Jim Lux, May, 2006, Durham Craven Allen ArtGuild, Durham, NC
Sid Oakley – Artist, Mentor, Friend, August 2006, NCSU Gallery of Art and Design, Raleigh, NC
Achieve, September, 2006, NCSU Craft Center, Raleigh, NC
Paul Hrusovsky and Jim Lux, November 2006, Craven Allen Gallery, Durham, NC
National Teapot Show VII, June, 2008, Cedar Creek Gallery, Creedmoor, NC
CHAVI Artists Show, September, 2008, Millenium, Durham, NC
Jim Lux: New Pots and Paul Hrusovsky: New Paintings, November 2008, Craven Allen Gallery,Durham NC
Winter Show, November, 2008, Green Hill Center, Greensboro, NC
Durham Art Guild Members Juried Show, 2009,Durham, NC