Please join my fellow students and I at our DAAPworks show with an Opening Night of Tuesday, April 22 from 5-6pm. This is our last show together as undergraduates and we have worked very hard. Come celebrate with us!
I present to you, whomever you are reading this, my Thesis paper. Please excuse irregular formatting.
Wall art has been a form of communication ever since the days of cave paintings. Now, communication includes words and letters as well as symbols that can be seen on many surfaces besides cave walls. It is even found in the art of bathroom graffiti, if I dare call it “art”. These bathroom markings range from phrases to doodles to arguments between strangers and stems from the maker needing to expel something from the mind immediately. Examining the uses of bathroom graffiti within DAAP, I have pulled marks that echo the style and themes of graffiti and applied them to surface decoration of ceramic vessels. By using the white space of the gallery to elevate the work, viewers can reconsider the value of the graffiti used for inspiration.
My work started with capturing bathroom graffiti within DAAP and compiling the photo book I Did Not Make This because I am intrigued by why people write certain phrases and why they write it in the bathroom. The overarching theme of most writings are not significant or life changing and can be seen as juvenile, petty writings. But yet, there is something that makes me look forward to new scribbles, spend the time to read through them and wonder who these people are. One of my favorite findings reads, “SEX, DRUGS, HELVETICA.” Among many things, I find humor, a lack of maturity and mystery in these writings.
I tried to discredit the importance of these wall markings by shrugging them off as insignificant Sharpie marker scribbles but struggled to defend that point of view since I continued investigating the idea and their historical reference. “I am not aware of any culture in the history of humankind which does not create aesthetic significance” (Hickman 111). And from “approximately 3500 to 1000 BC”, more than 2000 years of history, Egyptians created a “pictoral world” for themselves (Tiradritti 6). “Egyptian tombs were covered with paintings of scenes from everyday life and with hieroglyphic commentaries on both those scenes and the lives of those buried within the tombs” (Hunt, Lomas and Corris 7). There is too much importance held in the history of wall art that it cannot be easily dismissed or ignored today.
Technologies as primal as writing utensils are utilized everyday mostly to form words for communication. “Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology” (Heidegger 286). Writing is a form of technology and in so we remain unfree and chained to writing. “We have interiorized the technology of writing so deeply that without tremendous effort we cannot separate it from ourselves or even recognize its presence and influence” (Ong 294). It’s hard for me to ignore that thousands of years later, people all over the world are still interested in writing, drawing, carving, scribbling, etc. on walls. This relates to William Smith’s idea of language being a virus. Smith says, “the word has not been recognized as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host” (Burroughs 1). Besides, how many advertisements nowadays are on billboards, sides of buses, bathroom doors, hanging in windows-all of these are seen on 2D surfaces in public places.
By discussing my photo documentation work with others, I often hear that they have seen the writing in person or know who made the writing. This allows for the viewers of my documentation to have a stronger bond to the actual existence of the writing in some cases, simply because they have viewed the graffiti in person. After compiling a book of DAAP bathroom photos I wanted to know where else this could go. This source documentation is informing a new body of work, which entails the remix of patterning found in the bathroom.
My work will consist of multiple cylindrical ceramic vessels of various sizes handthrown from stoneware and sprayed with white slip during the leather hard stage so that they appear more white like porcelain. They have various surface techniques applied to them such as white slip, black underglaze5, colored underglaze, clear glaze and decals. The collection of these treatments will produce patterning and visual aesthetics on the vessels similar to the walls of the bathroom. Patterning will be produced based upon intuition to create something that is aesthetically pleasing to onlookers and feels like it was produced without much effort or thought. It is reminiscent of the way street artists work for “they tend to be uncompromisingly free and uncensored in what they express and how they express it” (Manco 10). This calls for negative space in the marks and not every bit of the surface will be altered or marked upon. They will be displayed on white pedestals to further push the idea of elevating the work by being in a white gallery space.
Lauren Mabry creates large ceramic cylinders, which she then glazes in graffiti style, abstract painting blocks of color6. Her artist statement reads, “Drips, swipes, and splashes of colorful glazes variously fold and float…The completed surfaces look effortless, but in fact they are the result of my deep understanding of the physical and chemical behavior of ceramic materials”(LaurenMabry.com).
On a much larger scale, her forms are similar to my much smaller cylinders. While being a painterly style of mark making, there is a tone of graffiti and street style incorporated to her work especially in the pieces with definitive straight lines like a pencil mark. One piece I’m working on now incorporates a similar paint swipe7.
Pottery “allow[s] us to realize…the essence of the individuals who produced the pieces” (Perry 1). These ceramic vessels are very much a product of modern society. People are still writing on walls, just not the walls of caves, recording history. Although it is not saying the same thing as a cave painting, these bathroom walls serve as an image of our society and generation. “More than ever designers allow the useful objects they create not only a function but also an emotional component and communicative potential” (Schmidt, Tietenberg and Wollheim 8). Not only do they transform the writings of the Internet and social platforms into a non-Internet environment but also “the introduction of words into the visual field is one of the dramatic ways that artistic production is transformed in the twentieth century” (Hunt, Lomas and Corris 111). Popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram often have a spew of information from people, often without having a second thought about the content. This same idea rings true when reading the messages scribbled inside the bathrooms in DAAP. There’s also the idea of “immediate contact with the maker” present in my work (Perry 1). Viewing and holding these pieces in hand you are directly contacting the surface the maker had contact with. “We can, in our mind’s eye, become the creator in a way that we cannot do when we view a painting or a piece of sculpture” (Perry 1).
It is more important for a medium to be used properly in conjunction with another medium than it is to study the medium itself. It is because of this that the message being sent across the medium is more important than the medium itself. “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication” (McLuhan 6). McLuhan states, “Our time is a time for crossing barriers, for erasing old categories, for probing around. When two seemingly disparate elements are imaginatively posed, put in opposition in seemingly new and interesting ways, startling discoveries often result” (McLuhan Side A 1:40). These two seemingly disparate elements are graffiti and ceramics. One is seen as an illegitimate and corrupt activity and the other is held in high esteem with regard to histories of precious objects crafted. Remixing and applying bathroom scribbles onto ceramic vessels breaks those boundaries and makes their worlds collide.
An example of an artist I’ve been inspired by because of their line work on ceramics is Molly Hatch: a multimedia artist who has made works in ceramics that are sold in popular retail outlets like Anthropologie. What draws interest to her pieces is how she etches into the clay, most likely during the leather hard stage, with a pin tool and rubs a colorant into the depression and wipes the excess away-leaving behind crisp, thin lines on her pieces. These decorative mugs give a Victorian vintage feel with the floral pattern on the bottom8. She is also highlighting the shape of the mug by drawing a line around the top and bottom of the mug and along the handle and it’s attachment site. She is also depicting a teacup on the side of a rather boxy mug, which creates tension between image and form. Her pieces are inspiring because the designs and line patterns are good examples of commercial art. I wouldn’t say that my work is commercial by any means but it has hints of these commercial qualities (MollyHatch.com).
All types of media affect the human being in a way for them to intake information and this helps people see clearly for themselves what it is they are viewing. By separating graffiti from the wall and applying it to a vessel, it eliminates the negative connotation that stereotypically lives within graffiti. It helps the viewer lift the connotation graffiti holds. “Ornamentation that decorates the human body and buildings…is then, according to Loos9, a dependable index for criminal energy, childish behavior, sexual recklessness and dissipated hedonism – with other words: a sure sign of the degeneration of society” (Schmidt, Tietenberg and Wollheim 6). This is an example of the negative thinking of graffiti that still exists today. Like Marshall McLuhan said with “the medium is the message”, my vessels garner a different kind of attention and beg to be examined, interpreted and analyzed based on their medium. There’s more strength and respect in something that is hand made and produced carefully, than something scribbled on the wall of a bathroom. In the history of ceramics there is a “tolerance for adaptation” unlike the graffiti due to its seemingly destructive nature (Perry 1). “The artists featured in [Street Sketchbook] create a lot of their work on the street and this work is by its nature ephemeral” (Manco 8). The bathroom writings are periodically painted over to have a clean slate but in ceramic form, it is intended to last. My viewers first see the beauty of the vessels, and then question what the markings mean. When told, or found out, that they are derived from graffiti they will look at graffiti in a new way – perhaps a more positive and beautiful way.
An art source that uses text, from anonymous senders, is PostSecret. As they state on their website, “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard” (PostSecret.com). Rather than finding text by stumbling upon it on their own, PostSecret invites collaboration and welcomes submissions to use as the artwork itself. In this context, many who are viewers of the work are able to identify with the submissions and are therefore comforted that they are not alone. The submission topics vary greatly from postcard to postcard10. Although I did not specifically ask for participation of writings, it is evident that others take it upon themselves to contribute to the bathroom writings. They, too, are anonymous and now shared because of my photo book I Did Not Make This.
Another community-based artist is Candy Chang who uses the city as her canvas and people as her artists. Well known for her Before I Die…11 collaborative installations, there are now over 425 painted chalkboard walls all over the world where anyone walking by can pick up a piece of chalk and fill in the blank. (CandyChang.com). Her work, too, invites collaboration and welcomes submissions like PostSecret but is permanent in location. She supports the idea of graffiti in a way that has been given permission and is ephemeral due to the slates being wiped clean naturally by rain.
Malcolm Mobuto Smith uses both surface decoration as well as the form of his pieces to create graffiti aesthetic (Malcolmmobutosmith.com). Most of his forms are unrecognizable and abstract but one that holds my attention, the Illinup Cloud Cup12, which has a three dimensional form of an arrow draped across the top. His unexpected three-dimensional forms hold many surface marks similar to the ones found on my vessels.
Continued research and experiments with surface decoration, patterning and ceramics will further push my work into merging the realms of graffiti and ceramics. Driving this dynamic will maintain the elevation of graffiti and lift the negative connotation placed on street art while still allowing it to keep its humor. Combining these worlds will create unexpected outcomes and new relationships that demand attention and critique. Graffiti will continue to show up throughout my life on various surfaces no matter where I go and can be a constant source of information to inform new surface decoration and patterning. Although I have the option to branch out, and I eventually will, this thesis is essentially about my artist community. “Local cultures and traditions [are becoming] increasingly important…artists can play a key role in strengthening local identity” (10). It’s about DAAP and the people who venture into the bathrooms with a Sharpie in hand and a sketch in mind.
 Appendix 1
 Appendix 2
 Appendix 3
 Discussion with Professor Jenny Ustick and Professor Matt Lynch implied that there are rules the ceramic discipline has that Thesis does not. Further supported by Professor Katie Parker due to time limitations.
5 Appendix 4
6 Appendix 5
7 Appendix 6
8 Appendix 7
9 An architect who opposed Modernism in architecture and opposed ornament. “This text is based on a talk with which Loos shocked the Viennese public in 1908: Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, Lecture 1908, in: Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime. Selected Essays” (Schmidt, Tiettenberg and Wollheim 11).
10 Appendix 8
11 Appendix 9
12 Appendix 10
Figure 1. Chelsey Finan. I Did Not Make This. 2013. Photo.
Figure 2. Chelsey Finan. I Did Not Make This. 2013. Photo.
Figure 3. Chelsey Finan. In-progress photo. White slip sprayed onto leather hard stage of hand thrown pieces. 2014
Figure 4. Chelsey Finan. In-progress photo. White slip sprayed onto leather hard stage of hand thrown pieces with underglaze applied. 2014
Figure 5. Lauren Mabry. Cylinders. 2012.
Figure 6. Chelsey Finan. In-progress photo. White slip sprayed onto leather hard stage of hand thrown pieces with black and red underglaze applied. 2014
Figure 7. Molly Hatch. Mimesis. Detail of installation at Clay Studio Philadelphia. 2010.
Figure 8. Post Secret Postcard. Untitled. 2014.
Figure 9. Candy Chang. Before I Die. Chalkboard paint, paint, chalk. 2011.
Figure 10. Malcolm Mobuto Smith. Illinup Cloud Cup. Porcelaineous stoneware, slip and glaze. 2007-8.
Burroughs, William. The Electronic Revolution. Germany; Expanded
Media Editions, 1970. Print.
CandyChang.com. Web. 2014.
Heidegger, Martin, and William Vernon. Lovitt. The Question concerning
Technology and Other Essays. New York [etc.: Harper and Row,
Hickman, Richard D. Why We Make Art and Why It Is Taught. 2nd ed. Bristol,
UK: Intellect, 2010. Print.
Hunt, John Dixon., David Lomas, and Michael Corris. Art, Word and Image: Two
Thousand Years of Visual/Textual Interaction. London: Reaktion, 2010.
LaurenMabry.com. Web. 2014.
Malcolmmobutosmith.com. Web. 2014.
Manco, Tristan. Street Sketchbook: Journeys. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2010.
McLuhan, Marshal, and Fiore, Quentin. “The Medium is the Massage- An Inventory of
Effects. California: Gingko, 2011. Print
MollyHatch.com. Web. 2014.
Ong, Walter J., Writing is a technology that restructures thought.
Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1992.
Perry, Barbara. North Carolina Pottery: The Collection of the Mint Museums.
Chapel Hill: Published for the Mint Museums by the University of North
Carolina, 2004. Print.
“PostSecret”. PostSecret. Web. 1 February, 2014.
Schmidt, Petra, Annette Tietenberg, and Ralf Wollheim. Patterns in Design, Art
and Architecture. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2005. Print.
Tiradritti, Francesco. Egyptian Wall Painting. New York: Abbeville, 2008. Print.