Commencing with Clay

When the course, Research through Artistic Practice started, I was not sure what will I be getting out of it. In the first few classes, we discussed our earlier works with each other and Rakhi, the faculty that was heading the course.

After our experimentation with cloth, we had decided to try working with a new material: clay. At first, there was almost a childlike excitement in me. I could already picture myself making shapes and modeling with it, as I did in childhood with dough. The first day we got clay, we saw a film that used claymation, before getting our hands dirty.

I was not sure what I wanted to make when I started working. Looking at others, it seemed as if they had some form already thought out. Someone was doing pots, someone else was doing faces, some replicating natural forms. I kept molding and kneading the clay, hoping for an idea to hit me.

I made a few things – a coin, dice, a toy castle. But none seem to be too interesting to be taken forward. Then in the middle of kneading some clay, I tried making marks on it. It seemed sort of like fish-bone marks on a flat rough surface. I showed to another classmate, saying “Hey look! I found a fossil”

Given the reaction (a few laughs and couple of praises), I was suddenly very interested in making this more finesse.  In the end I made it look like an excavated piece of rock with a fossilized element.

I took a lump of clay, flattened it and went into garden. I had an idea in my mind and I had to test it out. I saw a tree near the edge of the garden. Going near it, I felt the bark. Bingo! I put the clay on it and pressed it hard. After waiting for a few minutes, I took of that clay and looked at the surface. I sighed. Not the desired effect I wanted. While the impressions of the bark did come on the clay, it did not look like the hide of dinosaurs. I wasn’t fooling anyone.

Over the course of weeks, there was not much engagement with clay (as I would have liked). But time and again, the question came – “What should I do with the clay?”. With the pressure to give some form of output coming, I started working with it again at home. This time I was very influenced by the story I was writing and since it involved monsters (obviously), I wanted to try developing them. Using some reference sketches I had made, I decided to make a 3D model of a monster dog that played a part in the story. I was not going to let my inexperience to stop me from trying. I knew that wiremesh skeleton structure was needed before putting clay on it for modeling. With that little knowledge, I went ahead to make the beast



Ok. So it did not turn out as I planned. But hey, I thought to myself, it’s the learning that counts.

In the coming next week, I decided to work more with the idea of sculpting. This was also due to the fact that Pragya and I were thinking on an artwork for the gallery we were curating, which required 3D models of left hand. And what better material than clay for it?

Good think of working together, was that the shortcoming I was having in my ‘clay-over-wiremesh’ technique was sorted out by Pragya’s idea. We ended making armatures of left hand bone.

Adding clay on top turned out to be a lot easier then. The sculpture gave some semblance of a hand. It was a bit deformed and most definitely was going to have cracks, but given the concept of ‘left-handness as a glitch’ for our artwork, we decided to let it be like that.

The artwork turned out interesting and got mixed reviews.

While showing it in class, I did not get any useful feedback besides not enough quantity of work. I just had to spend more time with clay.

Given the workload and projects going I had, I did not account for the fact that time is not exactly something I had. I mean, it can always be argued that I could always take out time and try working, but that was besides the point. The truth of the matter was I was not finding the idea of working with clay to make sculptures (and improve on it) as exciting and worthy.  I mean, sure if spent more time on it, I would perhaps be able to make a perfect sculpture or form, but what was the point? I kept asking myself, “Why clay?”.

But what turned out to be a question from my frustration soon become the starting point into exploring the medium itself. Why clay? Hmm. Why has clay been used by so many people over so many centuries? What is it about it that it is still being used today?

To understand the material, I believe I should not just experience it kinesthetically but also read about it. The historicity of the material helps in giving a framework…a context where the evolving relationship of the material with people can be glimpsed at.

Given my interest in history (well… any knowledge for that matter), I got a perfect excuse to explore this material.

Thus began my ‘research’. I checked out how the clay was not just a material that was used for pottery, but figurines, tablets etc. It was even used (and still being used) as medicine in various civilizations as it was believed to cure stomach upsets. Cleopatra used it on her face for complexion. The more I was bombarded with facts and information, the more excited I got. I mean , knowing that there was a scientific hypothesis regarding clay being a major factor in abiogenesis (origin of life) is good enough to make you get all in the awe of the material, right?

I couldn’t wait to get to college the next Monday. Having, few sketches and ideas on paper, I had to get my hands on clay. I was very intrigued by the experience, our ancestors must have gone through, while working with clay.

I tried making a few things –

This is my replication of the famous excavated figurine ‘Venus of Willendorf’ which was found somewhere near Ethiopia and is dated to be about 22,000 to 26,000 years old. While the exact reason for its characteristic and purpose is not sure, there are enough speculation going on regarding its existence.

This is my version of a seal with symbols found in Harappa. The fascinating thing about the Indus valley script was the fact that while more than 417 distinct symbols have been found, most have not been deciphered. There is no Rosetta Stone equivalent for the language. Many theories have been formed ranging from it being a proto-linguistic code to it being a series of pictogram.

Finger fluting, by Wikipedia definition, was ‘the lines left by fingers on soft surfaces’ as seen in prehistoric art spanning over Europe, Australia, New Guinea during the Upper Paleolithic period. Being a form of cave painting, many figures and objects found in cave walls seem to have it, but the intention is not very clear as most of the time, it is hard to see a proper form. I decided to make one. Again, for the experience.

I am not sure if I have a defined concept going here. But looking back at these few ‘artifacts’ I was fascinated by enough to make them, I tried finding a common thread. Each of the elements had mystery or ambiguity attached with it.

Use of clay here as representative form or a surface for marking or printing give us an insight about the olden times, but it leaves so much more questions. Questions about its purpose, its value and – not to forget – its content.

Kind of like…Artwork in a gallery

The idea of endless possible explanation and interpretation is what makes both of them fun to ‘read into’.

Perhaps making artwork with clay (My own version of prehistoric artworks which I am working on) will finally help me understand and appreciate gallery space…


One response to “Commencing with Clay”

  1. rakhi says :

    anupriy, perhaps going to the govt. museum @ cubbon park may be a part of ‘research’
    …at present, i am doing some sculptures as ‘fragments’ in clay, and while visiting the museum today with tutees, i was feeling overwhelmed by all those small terra-cotta remnants, to think of the kind of material culture they had…since some utensils looked extremely stylish and beautiful even for today’s standards… to imagine images from that time, one has to, unfortunately, only resort to clay remnants… (i was trying to imagine an image of a person drinking something form a very beautiful black smoked terra-cotta goblet, but my image was very sparse since i could not even fathom how these people looked like, what kind of dresses they wore…(images of a culture come to us from the art/science/literary and material objects of a time…). anyhow… the imaginary images of those cultures would also remain fragmented perhaps…

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