Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pricks on Sticks: Finding a Satirical Voice in Clay

Yesterday some beautiful spring like weather came up into the mountains making it a perfect time to get a little early evening photography done out on the back deck at my shop.  Pictured here is my patio torch collection "pricks on Sticks." This series is a satire of the leaders of finance and their collusion with the federal government(please check out my short silent film). I'd finished this work just before the Christmas season, but decided its vibe wasn't exactly helping the holiday cheer in my showroom, and so shelved it until the new year.  Now that it's been over a month into 2011, I've had some time to ponder the series and the direction it will take.  I've decided "Pricks on Sticks" will live on as more than just a one time satirical piece and instead will find new life 

as an activist blog at  Once a week or so, I will feature a sculpted portrait of the week's standout "prick on a stick" and 
Bernie Madoff and Friends
explain in a word or two how they achieved "the honor." To be eligible someone must demonstrate a psychopathic willingness to place their personal greed before the needs of the planet and its inhabitants.  Unfortunately, these days the competition for the award is very stiff indeed.

The Back Story

What Prompted you to make this series? 

Well, since 2008 I had become increasingly outraged with Wall Street's reckless behavior and the government's apparent complicity, if not out right assistance.  As a simple (and poor) potter, however, I felt powerless to vent my frustration.  It eventually occurred to me, however, that through my clay caricatures I might find a constructive voice of dissent.       

How is Satire constructive and not destructive?
To be honest, I've been asking myself this same question, and have had occasional bouts of apprehension about continuing the series.  The question of whether negative karma was attached to doing this kind of work definitely occurred to me.  Recently, however, I had a transforming conversation with an activist friend of mine, Dana Smith, attorney and Founder of the Dogwood Alliance.  Dana is in the trenches full time working to change unsustainable forestry practices in the South (see video below).  She makes a career out of leveraging pressure against corporations whose actions are motivated only by the dollar.  In our discussion she assured me that gaining public support for their cause is a key to making corporations re-shape harmful practices and that satire is one valuable tool for helping this happen.  We talked about different ways my clay work could help bolster their message and that of other activist organizations all over the world.

What Other Ceramicists have inspired this work?

Well Robert Arneson is definitely first to cross my mind.  Much of the political work he did through his career was insanely bold and 
Robert Arneson sculpture
memorable.....and often so funny Kathy King is another potter I'd mention.  I actually was around her in the studio at the University of Florida.  I believe she was an Associate Professor there back when I was taking my first clay class.  I still remember her humorous tackling of gender issues through the most amazing porcelain scraffito you could ever expect to see. In my opinion, there is a whole lot more room for satirical ceramics.  
Plate by Kathy King
What a great idea for the next Lark Books  publication.

Describe the torches and how they're made.

All the patio torches are initially wheel thrown bottomless stoneware domes.  I add facial features to the outside and then shape them mainly by pushing out from the inside.  It's actually a very fluid process for sculpting and ideal for caricature.  The torches are then decorated with a range of washes and glazes before being fired to 2300 degrees in a heavy reduction atmosphere.         



  1. I love these! And I love the name of them! Too bad you couldn't make lolly's too? Imagine that . . . orange, lemon, or lime or cherry Pricks on Sticks! Bet they'd be a huge hit!

  2. I was just thinking after I posted that, about you saying you are concerned at times about being negative, and karma and all that. I understand because much of what I write or draw is based on frustration and sometimes anger about situations I find myself in. But I don't see it a a negative thing to express the way I do. If anything, the opposite. It gives me an outlet to express my feelings, and hopefull not keep them in and become bitter about things, also, it often helps me to make light of the situation-to see humor in it-because like many things in life, I can't change much of it, only how I think about it. Our hands are sorta tied in a lot of ways politically, and yes, through a lot of activism some things can be changed-but really how much? I think this work just gives people a way to let off some steam about some situations that they might otherwise feel powerless about. Great stuff!