Genie Thomsen at VC Potters Guild
By Claudia Pardo 04/10/2014
The ceramics of Genie Thomsen are currently featured at the quaint Ventura County Potters Guild gallery in the Ventura Harbor Village. An instructor at the Center for Life Learning at Santa Barbara City College, Thomsen has been exploring the ancient Japanese process of raku over the last 15 years. Raku, a technique that originated in Japan in the 16th century, traditionally for use in the tea ceremony, is very popular among Western ceramicists for its rapid process and unique finished look. The raku firing process uses both fire and smoke and it requires special clay that can sustain temperatures of about 1,800°F, and a special kiln. Unlike the typical raku pottery, however, which has a functional purpose, Thomsen’s pieces are predominantly sculptural.
Thomsen is interested in the unpredictability of the raku process. The firing and drying aspects hold the most intrigue for the artist, as they reveal a different end result every time. Thomsen achieves a range of beautiful textures and colors through multiple uses of glazes and firings. More interesting is the variety of patinas that are developed during the combustible drying process. They range from deep emerald greens to vibrant copper reds, and the surfaces offer equally unanticipated uniqueness. This is achieved during the drying process. After removing the pieces from the kiln, Thomsen places them in a metal can filled with combustibles that the hot and glowing pottery ignites. There, the reduction process takes place with surprising and never-boring results. (Thomsen relies on the little repetition that this process lends, as she admits to being easily bored).
Some of the pieces on display reveal the artist’s exploration of the non-traditional. Taking inspiration from ancient cultures, some pieces look like Egyptian headdresses and display the same regal quality. Thomsen burns designs on their surfaces, adding a sense of the narrative to them. She crafts other works by incorporating nails and copper tubing into the clay. The product is evocative of primitive weapons that gladiators may have used. The placement of the nails is often modified under the high temperatures of the kiln, resulting in jarring designs.
Thomsen’s work is not designed under any obviously intentional principle; rather, the artist lets the clay dictate the process. As she works the clay into a form, an idea will develop and re-route the original purpose of the piece. The results are pieces with varying morphological characteristics: tall and cylindrical, short and squatty, square and bulky, lidded or open. Shapes and style, width, length and other attributes are largely determined by the principles of the process of art making.
Thomsen was first introduced to the art of ceramics by her mother, who enjoyed it as a hobby for many years. She followed in those footsteps, but chose to pursue it professionally. During her career, she has participated in craft shows, earned an MFA, taught ceramics at Ventura College for 15 years, and last year became part of the collection of the American Museum of Ceramic Arts.
The element of surprise has kept Thomsen hooked on the raku process over the years. It is safe to say that her work is the result of a dedication to the process of ceramic-making. There is no underlying political theme, no grand philosophy, no spiritual pursuit; rather, the simple enjoyment that the artist gets from satisfying the impulse of art making.
“Raku Passion” by Genie Thomsen through April 27, Ventura County Potters Guild Gallery, 1567 Spinnaker Drive, suite 105, 644-6800.