“Ceramics is a very demanding discipline,” explains Bede Clarke, MU Professor of Art. Even after 35 years in the field, he says, “it still takes a lot out of me to do good work.” Clarke’s creative activity focuses on two areas. One involves the use of color and drawing and painting on clay with abstract and figurative imagery, and the other is wheel-thrown pottery fired in a wood kiln to achieve glaze effects.
As the brush glides across the rice-paper, it seems to “actually dance on paper,” according to Leong. The artist is allowed greater manipulation with the Chinese brush because of its pointed and soft bristles, as opposed to the flat, stiff bristles of the Western brush. Energetic black strokes and the strong contrast provided by the black ink are some of the characteristics that distinguish Chinese calligraphy.
“There is great clay right here in Missouri,” says Clarke. In fact, some of the richest deposits are within forty miles of Columbia. But to prepare clay like this, “it is kind of like baking,” he explains, in that you must add a variety of different ingredients—in this case, clays, colorants, and fluxes—to create a clay body. Depending on the ingredients, the clay can be given desired characteristics, for instance filler material like sand or grog can be added to give the clay “tooth and strength.” These materials are combined in different ratios, depending upon how the artist wants the clay to behave: “If you are building a large-scale, thick sculpture, you would choose a very different clay from that used to make very delicate translucent porcelain. An understanding of clay is pretty fundamental."