In the Spring of this year I was commissioned by Kalpa Art Living to create several large sculptural vessels for one of their art consultancy projects. These vessels, destined for the executive suites of a new luxury hotel in New York City were to be used for Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement).
This commission brought with it a challenging dilemma; how could I adapt my vessels to contain water without compromising the fragmented aesthetic of the work?
I considered making the lower half water tight or adding an inner water chamber to the vessel, but in discussion with kalpa we decided that it would be better to create a small vessel that could be filled with water and be placed inside, thus protecting the main art work from contact with water.
Even though they were going to be predominantly concealed from view it was extremely important to me that these inner vessels should work in harmony with the larger pieces; adding to the visual experience and not jarring or spoiling the look and feel of the piece in any way.
My initial thought was to make vase-shaped vessels that would support the flowers and fit just below the rim but I abandoned this idea as these would be too easily seen and could distract from the main vessel.
I turned to the internet to research Ikebana and found that the majority of images were of arrangements impossibly balanced in shallow containers. Delving deeper I found that this was achieved using kenzan 剣山 (which translated into English means 'sword mountain'), a heavy lead plate with sharp brass spikes that fix the plant stems in place.
With the realisation that I didn't have to make such tall containers, I thought I had the perfect solution; I would create minor, watertight versions of my fragmented vessels that would mirror the larger forms. The idea seemed fool proof but I was still dissatisfied with the result: the inner pieces were too complicated, the over all feel was too fussy.
By now the deadline for the commission was getting uncomfortably close so I decided to try a new approach. My work has always centred around making ceramic vessels as art, but I realised that I needed to completely change my mindset to focus on function rather than aesthetics. What was needed was a container that had as much volume for water as possible while sitting well below the rim of the outer piece.
With this in mind I made a shallow, less complex form that was shaped to fit exactly between the walls and inner structures of the larger piece. To my delight I found that the resulting piece not only worked perfectly within the fragmented vessel but it's asymmetrical shape made it an interesting piece in its own right.
This experience, while being incredibly frustrating at times, has resulted in my finding a new direction to explore. I am currently working with these new forms and am excited with the results. I find these asymmetric pieces simply beautiful, with or without flowers. But what I find surprisingly pleasing is the way the oxides inside are enhanced when seen through water. It adds an unexpected level to the visual experience of the piece.