Ruth Apter’s raku sculptures are inspired by traditional fetishes of the Southwest. Visit her website to see more of her work.
A friend asked me the other day when I decided to be an artist. I was baffled by the question. I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t making things or thinking about color, texture and design.
I have spent my lifetime exploring materials and techniques. There were a few art school classes that I attended decades ago, but I would have to say my journey is primarily self taught, with some mentoring from artistic friends along the way.
My current work in clay is somewhat of a surprise for me. My earlier attempts with clay involved the wheel. I hate throwing pots, and I do not like sitting at a machine. I admire potters but I do not make pots. I sculpt. I glaze tiles.
When I take a step back and look at the animals I create, it occurs to me that I am after their essence. I do not make bears . . . I make “bear-ness”. When I am working on a new design, it often takes me a few tries to capture the look and pose I am after. Sometimes I think my work looks like a young child made it, especially when I am working on a prototype and I get it wrong. The next one just might have the qualities I am looking for.
Raku is a tricky business. The very nature of the process involves risk. Raku is akin to glass working in some ways.
I do love playing with fire and taking calculated chances. There are design limitations involved with raku. I believe I have pushed the limits, both working on such a small scale and with designs that have lots of fragile parts.
I am fascinated by the never-ending variations found in the copper glazes; fire patterns caught and frozen. I do my firing in an unusual way. I take the pieces out of my custom electric kiln when they reach 1850 degrees Fahrenheit and place the copper glazed animals in a bucket with a crumpled piece of paper. With tongs, I grab up the flaming paper around the animal and plunge it into a bucket of water. The patterns of the flames are captured on the surface as the piece is suddenly cooled.
I use a lot of colors in my work, and love the way the crackle lines are enhanced by the smoke. I blow on each critter as it is taken out of the kiln until I hear it start to ping from the stress. Next, I plunge the piece into a bucket of sawdust and whole oats. As the piece smolders, the patterns are formed and the smoke enters the cracks and is trapped. This is the magic of doing a raku firing. I have fired thousands of pieces, and I am still captivated.
My nephew once asked me how I know if I have done good work. He gets a raise and an “attaboy” at work. I told him either my work sells or it doesn’t. All my “attagirls” have to come from within. And so it is with most artists, I think.
Ruth Apter invites you to follow her on Facebook.