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More on Paperclay
by Graham Hay

Similarly, the increased spontaneity arising from the ability to stick together then pull apart and rejoin dry parts of paperclay art, opens up the possibility of artists making pieces, sending them unfired to other artists who might add to, subtract from, and modify the work before firing. This offers the possibility of physical transcultural exchanges in ceramic art – an 'Internet of Objects' rather than text or images. Delicate unfired pieces may be traded or shipped around the world, assembled and fired for exhibitions. The resulting reduction in insurance and freight costs may open up international exchanges in lighter and more delicate work.

As whole unfired works can be broken apart and reassembled again and again until a satisfactory result is achieved, for me the result of working in this way has fostered an even greater degree of irreverence to material traditions. The impact of this cumulative process is best illustrated when I find myself continuing to break off and add pieces to the work even after firing. Sometimes this involves adding unfired paperclay and refiring, or works are designed to have pieces broken off after firing. This may challenge the general perception that a broken work is damaged and devalued, but some potters find this irreverent attitude personally liberating in their own work.

By building with dry pieces and rods, the conventional vessel wall and illusion of mass may disappear. Viewer attention can be drawn away from the profile towards gaps in the wall and glimpses of its interior surface and space. This can be taken further in that the lines formed by the rods suspend or support themselves in space. It is as if the work is a three dimensional drawing in space, rather than the conventional painted lines of glaze on the surface of the vessel wall. That is, the 'lines' of clay have real mass rather than being merely an illusion of mass. Prior to paperclay, this effect required considerable skill in joining and drying this type of work; now the same effect can become quick and easy, as well as increasingly spontaneous.

Thus paperclay increases the number of ways of building in clay, increasing the visual vocabulary of ceramic artists and challenging them to become more irreverent about their own and others' work. It challenges established traditional ceramic skill hierarchies but, provided it is taught in an open manner, it may increase the appeal of ceramics as an artistic medium. Perhaps its greatest potential lies in its pre-fired strength and dry-to-dry joining. These properties suggest a number of new and real ways for ceramic artists to interact, regardless of distance.

Thanks to Graham Hay, ceramic artist from Australia. This article was first published in Ceramics Technical. Reprinted by permission.

Caplan, J. (1993). 'Paper and clay'. Ceramic Review, (144), p.11.
Ellery, D. (1995). 'Profile – Sold on Paperclay'. Pottery in Australia, 34, (1), p. 20-21.
Gartside, B. (1993). 'Paperclay'. New Zealand Potter, 35, (3).
Gault, R. (1992). 'Amazing Paperclay'. Ceramics Monthly, June/July/Aug, p. 96-99.
'The Potential of Paperclay'. Ceramics: Art and Perception, 18 p. 81-85.

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