“Jus de céramique”- glazing secrets

14 September 2018 – 3 January 2019

Keramiekcentrum Tiendschuur Tegelen presents a shining exhibition, “Jus de céramique”, about glazed ceramics. 

Glazing is an craft in its own right. It is possible to buy glazes ready-made in the shop, as painters often do nowadays with paint. Most ceramic artists, however, choose to develop and compose their glazes themselves. This takes a lot of research, a lot of chemical work and even more tests and patience. The results are more than worth the effort: beautiful layers, ranges of colour and different degrees of shine and transparency. Offering a complete overview of the field of glazes is impossible. This exhibition, however, does show an interesting selection of ‘glazing’ artists. Discover the secrets, the complications, the versatility and the beauty of glazes used by renowned artists from all over Europe.

Keramiekcentrum Tiendschuur Tegelen hosts many different ceramic works of art, many ceramic techniques have already been explained in thematic exhibitions. Glazing as a theme and technique in itself has not been on show yet. It is a complex and very diverse phenomenon: quite a tall order to clarify this aspect of the ceramic craft. The ceramics museum has taken up this challenge. The result is an exhibition that reveals the secrets of glazing in an accessible way, illustrating it with work from the most prominent glaze experts ánd artists of the moment.

The ingredients including the raw materials in a glaze not only react to one another but also to the clay they have been applied to and to the conditions in the kiln. Each raw material has a different melting point and the combination of the substances, in turn, can influence this. Furthermore, the type of kiln has an effect: electric, gas or fired; each atmosphere is different, with different firing results. For instance, is it possible to regulate the oxygen supply? Firing with oxygen is an oxidising technique, making a raw material verdigris; cutting back the oxygen supply creates a reducing atmosphere, making it copper red. A copper roof reacts in the same way. Anyone who bakes an apple pie at home now and then, knows that it always takes a lot of experimenting with an unfamiliar oven until the desired result is achieved. Firing ceramics is no different.

Many glazing effects to be seen in this exhibition are actually ‘flaws’.  For instance, a glaze that cracks: from a functional point of view, the layer is not good anymore. The glaze no longer provides a waterproof layer, which is very important when it comes to services. In themselves, however, cracks  can give a very beautiful decorative pattern, the so-called craquelé effect. In functional ware, it is important for glazes to be smooth. Irregularities in the glaze show ‘chunks’, stains and  bubbles.  They are all ‘flaws’ that ceramicists in this exhibition have renamed ‘beauty’. They deliberately  ‘create the flaw’ to provide their work with beautiful skins.

Karin Ostberg (S) and Marc Uzan (F), for instance, are fascinated by the adherence of the glazes to the surface. They apply several layers of glazes on top of each other that don’t stick to each other very well and, in particular, have different shrinkages. Due to this, the upper layer shrinks faster than the one underneath and cracks. The colour contrast between the two layers and the irregular structure of the cracks together produce an amazing result.

Marc Uzan is a true glazing expert, who has mastered many other techniques in addition to this glazing effect.

The work by Claude Champy (F) and Eddie Curtis (GB) also shows cracks, which are also the result of more layers put on top of each other. It looks as if in their work they throw caution to the winds, providing their work with luxuriant and baroque surfaces of cracks and colours.

When a glaze is fired, it starts to melt due to certain ingredients. If it melts too fast, the glaze as it were runs down the ceramic object and may create ‘drips’. Here, we see a flaw again that in industrial functional ceramics would have been rejected immediately, but a number of ceramicists in this exhibition cannot get enough of it. They just love letting everything go or even throw many layers on top of each other. The above mentioned Claude Champy and Eddie Curtis are among those applying this method. And so does Austrian Thomas Bohle, who applies this effect to his beautiful shapes in a very modest way.

Another artist who is definitely not averse to drips is Morten Løbner Espersen (DK). He adds even more effects: bubbles. These are created by causing the glaze to boil. Technically speaking, of course, this is totally wrong again, yet, at the same time, these beautiful natural skins remind one of solidified lava or other kinds of rock. The work from Paul Wearing (GB) displays this natural appearance in a beautiful way.

Matthew Blakely (GB) and Joop Crompvoets (NL) both fire wood kilns. Here, all sorts of factors affect the qualities of the glazes, such as the position in the kiln, atmosphere, ash and salts from the wood landing on and melting into the glaze,  and last but not least  ‘the kiss of the fire’. This kiss gives a warmth to the clay and softens the glazes. These variations can’t be entirely controlled, which gives an unpredictability and element of surprise when unpacking the kiln.”

Certain phenomena in nature can be particularly beautiful, think, for instance, of ice flowers or of the iridescent shine of grease or oil. These phenomena can also be applied in glazing. Mathieu Robert (F) is an expert on various types of glazes; particularly beautiful is his ‘oil spot’ glaze. He applies it to very simple shapes so as to do maximum justice to the glaze. Hein Severijns (NL), too, applies his glazes to modest shapes. He has translated the other natural phenomenon into glaze: the ice flowers, or crystal glaze.  His  matt crystal glazes are world-famous and unique.

In addition to these matt crystals, shining crystals by the Scottish ceramicist Maggie Zerafa are on show. Her asymmetrical shapes with natural tones remind one of cut agates.

Finally, there is work by the Dutch ceramicist Wil Van Blokland. Her career is a big quest for glaze effects. She particularly strives for the ‘halo’ effect, which is a combination of several glazes on top of each other, which creates a kind of halo or aura around a glaze spot. She combines glazes in a beautiful way, creating exciting abstract colour areas that shimmer, radiate and suck.  Her works remind one of the monumental work by the painter Marc Rothko.

In addition to the end results, the visitor can also see lots of notebooks, raw materials, tests, pictures and tryouts, in other words: all the things involved in developing glazes. This makes it clear what problems the artists in this exhibition saddle themselves with by choosing to develop glazes themselves instead of buying a few ready-made jars in the hobby shop.

The exhibition opens at 16:00 on Friday 14 September and will be introduced by conservator Sacha Odenhoven.

The participating artists are:

Matthew Blakely (GB); Wil van Blokland (NL); Thomas Bohle (D); Claude Champy (F); Joop Crompvoets (NL); Eddie Curtis (GB), Morten Løbner Espersen (DK); Hein Severijns (NL); Karin Ostberg (S); Matthieu Robert (F); Marc Uzan (F); Paul Wearing (GB); Maggie Zerafa (GB).

Artists will be present in person on the dates below: 

  • 15 September: Wil van Blokland: About the ‘halo’ effect in glazes and inspiration from China, 14:00.
  • 23 September: Hein Severijns:  “Crystalline glazes and other glaze mysteries”, 14:00.
  • 21 October: Joop Crompvoets: “Beautiful salty tears’’: everything about salt glazes, 14:00.
  • 4 November: Rob Muylaert: Unravels glazing secrets such as oxblood, hare hair and oil spot, 14:00.
  • 16 December: Emanuel  Boos: About the role of glazes in contemporary ceramic art, 14:00.