December 28, 2020

The Eclectic Art of Janet Kozachek: A Retrospective with an Ekphrastic Poetry Event

 The new year will be ringing in with an Ekphrastic Poetry Reading at 7PM on January 1 at my Retrospective at the Hampton Gallery Art Center in Hampton, SC.  Most of the art work that I make does involve narrative.  I believe that this encourages both the written as well as the spoken word.  The event will be available to folks both on and off Facebook via Zoom. Follow the link to their Facebook page:

"Naiad"  Mixed media mosaic with hand modeled pit fired face. 

December 27, 2020

The Eclectic Art of Janet Kozachek: A Retrospective at the Hampton Fine Arts Center

 The concluding works in my Archaeology portion of my current exhibition are eight pieces featuring fragments of artifacts.  The first two, “The Key to Understanding Sibling Rivalry”, and “The Key to Understanding Ancient Poetry”, were discussed in my last blog post.  The next two are “Untying the Knot,” and “The Broken Sword.”

“The Broken Sword” was initially styled after a medieval sword hilt found in the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia.  I used to visit the Barnes when it was still a cozy place in Marion, Pennsylvania, and found it refreshing and fascinating in the way artifacts were intermingled with paintings.  Despite the new venue looking a little cold, Philadelphia at least kept some basic concepts in the elevation of  craft to fine art by mixing the two in mostly the same symbiotic relationships as they were in Marion.  The seventeenth century dagger hilt that inspired my small mosaic was of a small boy carved in ivory.

For my sword hilt, I changed the figure into a woman and added terra sigillata colorants.  My ceramic sword broke twice, once on purpose for the sword end, and then by accident on the hilt end.  I decided to fire it and then pit fire it anyway.  I had named the piece “The Broken Sword,” after all. While assembling this mosaic, adding bits of green beach glass around the figure, it occurred to me that an arc of a brighter color emanating from the woman’s head would add some variation and highlighting.  In creating the pale orange arc, I thought of a final scene in Ingmar Bergman’s film “The Virgin Spring.”  In this final scene, the father of a murdered girl retrieves her body, and when he pulls her from the ground, a stream of water issues from the ground where her head had rested.  Despite my stream being orange, the issuing effect is still present.  Would she have been able to save herself had she been armed?

My next mosaic, “Untying the Knot,” was inspired by my recent readings in ancient Chinese stone seal designs.  Some of the early designs had pointed ends which ostensibly functioned as a tool for untying knots.  The untied knot in my mosaic is signified by the swirling lines in the pottery shards.  I had stored this broken plate for some years, as I had not the heart to discard it.  The plate had been made by Zheng Ke, in Handan, China.  He was the teacher of my teacher, Ka Kwong Hui (Xu Jiaguang in Mandarin).  Hui, who I had studied with as an undergraduate at Rutgers, wrote the letter of introduction for us to take to Handan.  Zheng Ke had been imprisoned for nearly twenty years.  There were many in his generation that were incarcerated twice, first shortly after the Communist revolution, then again during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960's.  I was astounded that Zheng Ke seemed to pick up where he had left off and founded a new school of ceramic art in Han Dan.  It was with a certain satisfaction that I was able to put this broken plate back to use.  Fortunately, I also still have an intact piece.  What I would give to also have a piece of ceramic art by Hui, although considering that I dropped one of Zheng Ke’s pieces, I probably don’t deserve it. 

The face in this mosaic is imaginary.  I was simply challenged to create something that looked like it could have been someone. 

December 22, 2020

The Eclectic Art of Janet Kozachek: A Retrospective at the Hampton Fine Arts Center. Focus on mosaics

 My current exhibition at Hampton Fine Arts Center, The Eclectic Art of Janet Kozachek, features both old and new mosaic assemblage pieces.  The older figurative mosaics have not been on view for about ten years.  These will be new to those who have not seen them before.  The newly made mosaics pick up on the archeological theme where those older ones left off.  The older mosaics depicted small ceramic figures lying in repose in what looked like dioramas of archeological excavation sites.  These incorporated both found objects as well as handmade artifacts.

The newer, smaller mosaics, completed this November/December, made use of a pile of leftover 8" x 10" and 8" x 12" cement backer boards - a total of eight.  Applying hand made ceramic bull noses to these for frames, using locally mined clay for hand made relief sculptures, and integrating found objects onto these pieces satisfied yet again my goal of dispatching with excess materials on hand.  Because these cement boards were on the small side, rather than create environments as in the older, larger mosaics, I opted instead to focus on one or two artifacts.  If the mosaics of the past evoked a sense of lost civilizations, these smaller ones would be the tools the people of these imaginary civilizations used and the objects they collected. 

 The two mosaics below have large keys central to their design.  These keys were sculpted from my locally mined red clay and fashioned in a manner like old Nordic tools.  The themes emerged slowly, as the art of mosaic is slow and deliberate.  The key became not just an object but a means to understanding, hence the titles “The Key to Understanding Ancient Poetry,” and “The Key to Understanding Sibling Rivalry.”  The key here unlocks not just physical doors, but access to information and a means to understanding.

The porcelain sherds in “The Key to Understanding Sibling Rivalry,” were a serendipitous find of two female figures from a broken Chinese vase.  The sea tumbled pottery sherd with the three uneven lines stimulated a memory of someone I once knew who was the eldest in a family with three children.  I always puzzled over how he was unable to see the pecking order in his own family, despite being a counselor to others’ families.  In reflecting on the American striving for democratic equality, and how there must be a substantial cognitive disconnect with regard to how many people are actually raised, the title for this mosaic was born.  The “key” to understanding here is perhaps the small imprint on the round form which reads, in ancient Chinese, “The Universal.”  Family favorites are, in fact universal.  

In “The Key to Understanding Ancient Poetry,” I use another stamp on the square ceramic piece above the key.  The stamp is the ancient form in Chinese zhuan script for “Poetry.”  The key to understanding is found in another stamp impressed into the ceramic lock.  This one was impressed by a stamp that I had carved recently, adapting one carved by the Ming artist Su Xuan.  It says, “I think of ancient people, and my heart is moved.”  From the book Chinese Seals, Carving Authority and Creating History, by Weizu Sun. 

My carved stone seal is not as nice by far as that of a Ming master, but it is serviceable. 

December 20, 2020

The Eclectic Art of Janet Kozachek: A Retrospective at the Hampton Art Center


The exhibition at the Hampton Gallery looked wonderful when I visited yesterday in order to replace a painting.  I truly appreciated all the hard work and ingenuity that the curator, John Wright put into designing the layout of this installation.  He suspended my eighteen 14 ft painted rally snakes from the ceiling so that they floated above the art work below.  I would never have thought of such a creative use of space!   John found a menagerie of chairs, couches, (including hair salon chairs!), that matched the colors and textures in the art work perfectly.  It was amazing!  

The Hampton Fine Arts Center, at 103 Lee Avenue in Hampton, SC,  is open by appointment, mask and social distance etiquette required.  For an appointment call: 803 842-9842.  

It was nice to finally be able to see the show in person.  I am hoping to go back for the Ekphrastic Reading by Mind Gravy Poetry on January 1.  

Some more shots of the installation: 

December 8, 2020

The Pandemic Pit Players: A Parallel Narrative

 For the length of the pandemic this year, from March through November, my energy was focused upon dispatching with excess clay by making creative musical instruments and other, mostly pit-fired ceramics.  The greatest largess here was the little creatures that I dubbed The Pit Players - little clay anthropomorphous animal forms that I found I could configure into creative dioramas. The backdrop I used was, for the most part, a commercial flotone backdrop that worked well with three-dimensional art.

My last post demonstrated the process by which I created the Pit Players.  The rest of my posts this year will be dedicated to the little “plays” and recreations of famous films that I set these players to work on.  Like most of my creative work, this started out as a joke.  But over time, the sets became more elaborate, the Players more complex, and personalities emerged.

I believe it all began with a recreation of The Great Escape, using simple props.

This was followed by 2001, a Space Odyssey.

Then a simple set up reproduced Psycho.

November 7, 2020

A Pit Player Process


After finishing a number of small sculptures in the shape of chairs, I turned once again to the barrels of unused locally harvested orange clay of the Edisto River basin.  This had been percolating under wraps in large white spackling buckets in the corner of my studio for about four years.  Picking up where I left off four years ago, I began to make the anthropomorphous animal shaped ceramic musical bells that I had previously named The Sonic Hedgehogs.  What emerged became the Orangeburg Pit Players.  These were initially meant only to serve as novelty items, but after I accumulated a number of them and began to play with them, they became destined for something more.

For a start, I’ll outline the labor-intensive process by which these are born.  Most of them function as primitive bells.  The sound of the bell is made by a solid ball, known as a katel, hitting the sides of a hollow sphere when shaken. The pitch of the sound is determined by the length and width of the opening of the round sphere.

The first step in making these bells is to create the separate parts of the instrument portion of the figure: the hollow sphere and the solid ball, or katel.  It is wise to allow more drying time for the solid katel than the two parts of the sphere that will house it, so that it does not adhere to the sides during assembly. Made by hand, the sphere is basically two small pinch pots that can be sealed together. 

When the katel is sufficiently hardened, it is placed inside one side of the sphere. The edges of both sides of the sphere are scored and slip is applied.  The two pieces are then sealed together with the katel inside.  

 When it is nearly leather hard (not yet completely dry but no longer pliable) a gash or hole is made in one side of the sphere.  Then attachments are added to the sphere in patterns or designs that rough out the shape of the final figure.  Two of the figures here, are hollow with holes and a fipple added to make them into small flutes rather than bells. 

After the attachment dry to nearly leather hard, the forms are carved to refine the details.

The figures are  allowed to dry thoroughly, then further refined with fine sandpaper and smoothed with moist rags.

To emphasize the details, I then add a mixture of water and black iron oxide. 

For coloring, I use a commercial underglaze mixed with painting terra sigillata. This is then burnished smooth by hand and with small stones and metal tools.

Some artists do a pit firing at this point, which blackens portions of the sculpture for an antique look.  I low fire bisque them first in order to ensure some solidity and stability to the clay.

After the bisque, I pit fire the pieces.  Results vary depending upon the temperature the fire reaches and the degree of reduction in the firing (removal of oxygen).  For large loads, I use an old defunct kiln loaded with wood.  The firing can take the greater part of a day.  For smaller, quicker loads, a coffee can will do.  I smother the fire with Spanish moss and grass.  A lid goes on the kiln.  The coffee can gets covered with an overturned ceramic bowl. 

After the kiln cools (two days for the large one, and about five hours for the can) the pieces are removed, cleaned and dried.  The sheen sometimes disappears with higher temperatures but can be reclaimed with a thin coat of microcrystalline was and buffed to a satin glow. 

Some of the higher temperature firing results in an iridescent effect.  A lot of work for such small delights!

November 2, 2020

Curious Sculptures for a Folksy Curio

 The impetus to create ceramic sculptures this past summer and autumn was initially fueled by a repair.  A few years ago, I was given a very rustic handmade shelf.  It was in a second hand shop and was initially for sale, but it was so rugged with unfinished wood and coarsely filled with holes that the shop owner just asked me to take it.  

The shelf sat in my studio for nearly a year and a half before I finally decided to make an attempt to repair it.  To do this, I applied liberal amounts of wood putty, then sanded to a relatively smooth surface.  I then painted the shelf with white enamel.  Adding mirror hinges and wire to the back got the shelf off the floor.

For the next few months, I made my ceramic musical instruments in the shape of chairs and sofas that were sized to fit the niches in this rustic curio.  A large assortment of these allowed for alternative arrangements.  

What a strange motivation for a body of work!  Every artist has their muse.  It can be a painting in a museum, an inspiring mentor, a good book.  Mine was a junk shop item begging for repair and rehabilitation - the lackluster craftsmanship compensated for by sincerity of purpose. 

October 26, 2020

Red Earthenware Sculpture with a White Disappearing Act

 During studio cleaning, I came across a number of packages of unused clay, and have been slowly reconstituting it for use in small sculptures and ceramic vessels.  I finally used up all the red earthenware by making more three dimensional figures.  For decoration, I used a design that graced my tiles several years ago.  These were painted with black brush work, then adding white in the background.  The design was then enhanced by scratching thin outlines through the white to expose the red clay body.  

I  painted my figures black and white, then made the outlines in red using the same sgraffitto technique.  These were placed in the kiln and fired  up.  Two days later, however,  when I opened the kiln, I found to my surprise and disappointment that the white background in all my pieces had burned entirely away!  So now my pieces were just black and red!  Annoyed by the fact that all that painting had been for naught, I kept them anyway because they still had nice forms and they were fun to play with.  The first pieces were ceramic chairs that I had used a heart shaped stamp for.

Human and animal figures sported lively designs similar to what I had seen a few years back in Scythian tattoos. They can hold their own in red and black. But they would have been so much bolder in black and white and red!

My red earthenware is now used up, and I don’t anticipate obtaining more of it.  I’m not certain that I can say that it was made into something more useful than a package of hardened lumps in my studio, but at least these small pieces are more interesting. 

October 21, 2020

Making the Most of Reconstituted Clay

 The summer months and early autumn were spent trying to clear out some excess materials from my studio.  Most sensible people would try to give away their surplus stuff, ala Marie Kondo.  I sought instead to put the supplies to work. With a barrel of locally mined clay used up in making small sculptures and vessels for my pit fires, I turned towards my bags of hopelessly hardened up red earthenware clay.  I had written some years ago about the process of reconstituting hardened clay but this bears repeating.

The clay had to be broken up with hammer and chisel, then soaked under water to soften.  The slurry was spread out onto plaster bats to dry, then wedged into usable, pliable clay.  After being put under wraps for a few weeks, I took the clay out to make tiles, vessels, and small sculptures. 

The vessels that I made also required a bit of reconstitution work, as a number of glazes had hardened up as well.  The glazes were restored by grinding them with water onto a marble slab.

The stamps that I had previously used on my giant “Liberty Snakes” were put to work again on the clay.  The free-form leaf-like stamps were used in the ceramic udu drum below.  The colors here were made from burnished terra sigillata. 

Some of my specialty glazes were not food safe, so this little covered jar, however charming, should not be used as a sugar bowl.  

Finally, because I was uncertain about how my hand painted ceramics would work out, I remade the bed and pillow ocarinas over again, this time with stamps and commercial glazes. 

September 23, 2020

Intact Musical Chairs: Ceramic Sculpture with a Sound

 In my last blog post about clay projects, I highlighted my ceramic musical chairs that did not quite make it intact through the firing process.  The creative solution to reassemble them, apply marble dust gesso, shellac, and paint, worked out well although it was time consuming.  These chairs made with local clay made it through the kiln and subsequent pit firing intact.  The coloration is from burnished terra sigillata.  

The anthropomorphous chairs also function as rattles, clacking instruments, and ocarinas.  Hence the name “musical chairs.”  The smooth, streamlined forms are in part influenced by Cycladic sculpture.  This also results from the burnishing process.  It is generally easier to polish a form that does not have pronounced  textures or sharp angles.  The pieces above were smoke fired after being kiln fired, which blackened areas in order to create contrast.  The chairs below were kept away from the fire, and so remained clean and oxidized.  I made good use of my Chinese brushwork for the slip decoration on these.