By Jayne E. Shatz, PhD
www.jayneshatzpottery.com--FREE Ceramic History presentations and GALLERY of artwork.
Environmental ceramics is art that is produced in conjunction with the architecture of a building or a landscape. Environmental art’s main purpose is to embellish human spaces and enrich our surroundings. Ceramic works have decorated buildings for centuries; clay tiles have adorned exterior facades, interior walls, city streets and murals. We enjoy ceramics in our homes with our tables, floorings, sculptural wall art, fountains, walking stones, benches and fireplaces.
I was featured along with The Potters Guild of Annapolis in an exhibit entitled “Art in Living Spaces”, at the Kent Island Federation of Art in Stevensville, Maryland in September 2008. The exhibit was very exciting and displayed sixteen artists displaying Environmental Ceramic Art.
To better appreciate this exhibit and environmental ceramics, I will present some background on the subject in this article. For a more thorough discussion of the subject, go to my website, www.jayneshatzpottery.com and click on the "Moments in Ceramic History" lectures and read the Environmental Ceramics article with beautiful images. Navigate to my Gallery on the website and you can see some examples of wall sculptures and environmental ceramics that I have produced.
The development of a design is usually accomplished through the collaboration between architect and artist. Great historic buildings such as the “Dome of the Rock” in Jerusalem used clay tiles as a decorative element to the exterior of the building. This building was first constructed in 692, and then completed with its decorated façade of beautiful tiles in the 16th century.
Not only has clay been used in architecture, but also in a sculptural context, implemented to adorn internal environments, such as intimate church niches in the majestic Italian Cathedrals. The Renaissance family, the della Robbias, 1400's, produced sculptural wall plaques in the form of majolica tondos, which are circular reliefs in tin glazed earthenware. As Luca della Robbia switched from the expensive marble and bronze to clay, so have many of our own contemporary sculptors. Many luxurious interiors in 18th and 19th century Europe were ornately decorated with ceramic tiles. Sometimes entire rooms, including floors, walls and ceilings were totally produced in tile.
Clay sculpture has also been displayed in front of buildings, in the same manner as the marble sculptures of Greece, Rome and Renaissance Italy. One beautiful example is Juan Miro’s “Wall”, installed in front of the Paris UNESCO headquarters, 1958.
Due to the high costs of producing bronze sculpture, many modern day artists have re-discovered the techniques of large ceramic constructions for architectural and environmental purposes. However, ceramics for the environment can be much more than tile work. Clay can be hung, draped, and mounted on wood, metal, and plastic. Embedding other materials into the surface of the clay in a multimedia context provides enormous avenues of expression. Ceramic art for the wall can be displayed like a painting, making it portable and transferable. This art form can “float” off a wall or appear grounded as traditional tile work. Ceramics for the wall can be viewed as either sculptures or three-dimensional paintings, and endless possibilities can be fabricated.
I have been producing ceramic sculpture for the walls since the 1970’s, creating work that can be hung like a painting. Most recently I have been producing environmental work for the garden and home such as tables, fountains and birdbaths. A tiled table is a style of ceramic art that is presented in the environment as a utilitarian idiom. While functional in scope, tiled tables are mostly produced as an aesthetic form. Tables can be produced to conform to a specific size and shape of a room or setting in order to relate to an environmental plan or a specific architectural concept.
What ceramic artists need to understand is that environmental art such as wall pieces or tiled facades can be made in any size kiln because they are produced in segments. This allows a small studio potter to produce large-scale ceramic installations. The same basic techniques are used for a large-scale architectural construction as is for an intimate interior display.
Today, ceramic sculpture is viewed as an important art form. The spontaneity and aliveness of clay enables an artist to work in an excitingly liberating manner. Working with ceramics in the environment allows a ceramist to be a designer, technician and artist and is one of the most exciting ways to work in contemporary art.