Last summer I went to the Ujigawa to learn how to sketch. I needed to learn so I bought a book on the subject and planned every week to visit this picturesque spot a short 45 minute train ride from my house. It didn't work as planned. I only made one sketch.
I did, however, fall in love with pottery. I walked into a studio across the street and one an hour later signed up for ten more classes on the spot. This was the opposite of drawing. Drawing felt like running my brain in reverse; ceramics seemed hardly to involve my mind at all. For better or for worse I never brought my sketchbook back to the manicured banks of the Uji.
Below are my first two matcha bowls and a cup that turned out particularly well. The effects are a result of a liberal application of iron oxide (rust) above and below a single body glaze.
One of the most exciting things about making in clay is I never know what is going to happen. After I center it only takes a few minutes for the inchoate to take shape, like some infinitesimally minor Platonic flower blooming—similarly when I trim, similarly when I glaze—each step is a fantastic surprise. I was lucky enough to have one of my plates reduce for example: the red and the light blue glazes are the same, only the red one fired in a region of the kiln with less oxygen. I look forward to experimenting more with glaze application, and to playing with other substances like iron oxide which react in unpredictable ways.
Yesterday I found the famous fields of Texas bluebonnet; with a little research it was not hard to do. Some facts:
A) they bloom for nearly a full month from late March to late April across the state -- but not much elsewhere
B) it is no surprise they are the state flower
C) they drive a multi-million dollar tourist industry
D) they are as much a symbol of this state as any.
Some analysis. It is odd that I never knew of this phenomenon nor have seen a single picture during my entire Northern, coastal, liberal life, whereas I have seen pictures of Scandinavian tulip fields countless times. What's that about? I have also heard this too many times since moving here: "At least you're in Austin ..." implying some sort of relief that I am not in "Texas" from well meaning friends who have visited neither. My two cents? Antebellum prejudice remains, and it goes both ways.
If you keep reading you will be far from bluebonnets but this is how my mind works. While much hate remains concentrated in the deep South, with per-capita registered organizations highest in Mississippi & Arkansas, the next highest are in Idaho & New Jersey, and Texas ranks along with Washington State tied at #28 below Massachusetts, California, Colorado and New York. (Data from the Southern Law Poverty Center, analyzed here.)
Back to bluebonnets: I wish you could smell them. They were so fragrant, and humming with insects and birds in the trees. Spring in Texas feels a little like what you'd imagine paradise to be. I tried to take you into the experience with some macro and selective focus. A google image search will take care of the rest, if you can handle the saturation. These were shot on a Nikon D610 with a 28mm AIS at a spot called Turkey Bend on the Colorado River 30 miles out of Austin. Go seek fields of bluebonnet, my friends. You will be glad that do you did.
Project TWO, graduation wall
A graduation wall is a long tower that is designed to evaporate a dilute salt solution into a more concentrated one. They were built in landlocked areas of Europe, common in Germany, around salt springs. The dilute solution was pumped to the top of the tower and dripped along the brushwood walls, maximizing the surface area. Water evaporated as the solution was collected below, eventually to be boiled and made into usable salt. Today they are recognized for their health benefits, and people go simply to breathe the air. Our project was to design a modern version of a one of these graduation walls.
The important thing for me was to produce a path that would be compelling to walk along even without the salt-wall superstructure. I used a combination of obscured and revealed views to provoke curiosity, and a three-turned path to exaggerate the experience of distance traveled while at the same time leaving you closer to your point of departure than expected, to facilitate the return trip. The wall is the continuous section along the bottom of the plan. The two other paths do not have a super structure. The bridge above has a deck which is visible in plan.
Project three, wellness retreat in lampasas, tx
For the third part of this studio we were given a site an hour away from Austin on a large public park / nature reserve upon which to situatate our graduation wall and add a wellness retreat / spa.
I decided to sink my path into the ground 18"-36" inches to provide a sense of containment and security, while purposefully connecting the opposite corners of the park with pedestrian thoroughfares. In plan the covered part of the path comprises the two prominent sections set at a right angle. The other paths are uncovered, but similarly recessed into the ground, providing a continuous bench for resting. I imagine the paths would be gravel.
I situated the overnight spa (12 overnight rooms) in a quiet, secluded, densly wooded area of the park bounded on three sides by a creek. I wanted to continue the feeling of containment and sunk the complex into the ground about the same amount, using the walls of the buildings to creat courtyards broken by sight-lines over lower retaining walls. A secondary entrance is accessed by a separte parking lot on the far side of the sight. Both paths continue with the three-turn theme to create a sense of distance, disorientation, and remove.
Lastly, on the non-overnight side of the complex there is a spa burried under the plaza which is accessed by a descending circular ramp. The spa and pool is entirely dark, clad in dark stone, lit only by glass rods embedded in the ceiling which capture sunlight and bring it down in little specks. As people pass above the shadows will turn off the flecks and they will twinkle like stars. I built a model of this effect which convinced me it would work and be quite fun. The lamp in the first image was used for this effect.
This work marks my first attempt at designing within the context of a studio. What surprised me most was how much of this process was concerned with representation, compared with how little dealt with actual design. It is likely that this balance shifts once the production of architectural materials (plans, models, perspectives, both analog and digital) becomes more reflexive, but what compounds this problem is that reviews happen quickly and preference bold, definitive, idea-laden expositions. In short, I suspect good work is fundamentally at odds with the process of studio design and evaluation, and that this will be a perennial challenge.
As far as the production of these materials is concerned I am left with two impressions: modeling is time intensive and represents a poor return on investment. I will continue to develop expedient techniques for exploring specific relationships (rather than comprehensive models), and use abstraction rather than representation as a methodological departure. Secondly, I learned to love and hate the computer. There are certain things design software does very well, but it is also awful to engage with for long periods of time, and it too easily introduces what I believe is an unhealthy complexity into projects that translates poorly into the physical world.
These process collages are my favorite. There is something so interesting and energetic that exists in ideas which have not been sculpted and worked and formed and polished. I will always return to these for inspiration.
Japan is a great place to ride motorcycles. It is at the same time compact and wonderfully remote, so you don't have to get far out of a city to find winding mountain roads, and you don't have to prepare for much because there will be signs of civilization another half-tank later. During the time I was there from January to June of 2016 I spent two weeks touring on bikes, first with my friend Will (pictured) and the second time by myself. It was a perfect way to see a part of the country not accessible by trains, in the mountains and along the coast.
The shot above was taken on the covered bridge between the two main halls of Jōshōkō-ji (常照皇寺). The first time I visited this temple on a Tuesday in late February, with snow melting on the ground, I saw no one, not even a monk. There was just a plate set out for the ¥300 admittance fee. When Will and I came back a month later we did meet one of the monks (who enlisted Will's help closing various ancient sliding doors before he slipped away), but that was it. It was a privilege to indulge in this quiet, intimate zen fantasy, especially to show it to someone else, when the typical experience involves literal throngs of visitors moving along prescribed paths when visiting, say Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) or Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) in central Kyoto.
There were so many beautiful places it was hard to know when it was worth stopping to remove glasses, helmet, gloves, jacket and get out the camera equipment. I was amply rewarded, however, by the rolls I shot at these glassy rice-fields somewhere outside Toyama around 9am. The sky was hazy and it was threatening to get hot; I shot this on HP5 which is what I use to try to reduce contrast. These towns on the sea of Japan side have a different feel than those on the south. They are isolated by those mountains you see, and it was only in the last 30 years that extensive tunnels were bored to connect this part of the country by express toll-road and bullet train to the urban core of Japan (Tokyo - Nagoya - Osaka) on the southern coast of the main island.
On the next trip I knew a little more about the kind of roads I wanted to ride and how to find them based on what they looked like on the map. Basically, the more tortuous the better. Because people have been living in Japan for so long, it is pretty much guaranteed that the straight roads in flatter areas are more developed, and conversely, in the hills (which are very steep), there is almost nothing and almost nobody. The same can be said of the coast, to some extent, which can be quite precipitous. It was not uncommon to find roads that were less then two meters wide (there were signs) that disappeared into tunnels or were cut into the side of the mountains without guardrails. The wide angle mirrors on orange-painted metal poles posted at every corner were a motorcyclist's dream, as they allow you to determine the apex, surface debris and oncoming traffic, all in advance.
I rented this 20 year old Kawasaki ZRX-400 in Osaka for not much more than $300 for the week, pictured here on the "Venus Line," a privately owned mountain-top road east of Matsumoto which accesses a sculpture garden built atop a 2000 meter high plateau. I watched the sun set here, afire among this stand of wild birches, and dropped into Matsumoto well after dark.
These photographs were shot on 35mm film on a warm, rainy evening late in May. The first two images were taken from a pedestrian bridge that proved to be a spectacular vantage. I was working with a lightweight tripod that would not extend above the railing, however, but I was able to lean the tripod against the railing and use two points of the tripod to level the camera. Framing was difficult. Without a ball joint on the head this meant that any adjustment of the camera angle upset the horizontal level. Additionally, if I moved too far from the camera the umbrella I had lashed to my backpack strap would not protect the lens from rain. As it happens, I shot one frame before I realized this, which proved to be my favorite in the series precisely because of the accidental rain "flare".
The final shot, below, was taken in the main plaza leading up to the entrance to "Osaka Station City," a massive aggregate of structure and infrastructure centered on the JR Osaka train station, flanked by two fourteen story department stores and packed with least one hotel, innumerable restaurants, a gym, convenience store, offices, a movie theater and public space distributed throughout on a variety of rooftop terraces all the way up to the sixteenth floor. Below there are multiple basement floors with access to two subway stations as well as the Hankyu rail line, the Hankyu department store (across the aforementioned pedestrian bridge), and the Gran Front Osaka mall, accessed via another pedestrian bridge on the other side which extends over a plaza that doubles as a temporary event space (pictured below) with an extensive watercourse winding throughout which cascades down a great array of steps in front of a day-lit underground cafe with outdoor seating.
As I was framing the shot below at 11:30 on this rainy weekday evening in the deserted plaza I was approached by a security guard who informed me that I was not allowed to use a tripod. Having been in Japan for many months now I was well past smitten, and the scrupulous adherence to minute and often unwritten codes of behavior (governing tripods, for example, or punctuality) had become tiresome. Sure, I could understand that tripods were a nuisance in a crowded plaza (as it often was) but it was so dark, so late, so rainy, so nearly empty, and he had to walk so far from wherever he was stationed that I could almost not believe what I was hearing. Luckily, I got the shot. And it was time to catch the train anyway.