So, WHAT'S Katie up to???

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Around Town

Remember those grapes I mentioned a few days ago? Well, these ones are destined to be raisins. It doesn't take more than a few days in this heat (today it's over 40) and dry air to turn these plump little beauties into sweet raisins. They do have seeds in them, but no one seems to mind. And the grapes that aren't eaten, used for wine, or dried for raisins?

For those ones, it's into the pekmes pot. Starting in the last week of August, piles of sticks begin appearing in little nooks and crannies along the back streets here. As you can see, the piles get pretty big by cooking day(s). In the photo above, the entire street is blocked by the woodpile. But, no matter; it's a little on the tight side for cars anyway. And cars are not nearly as important as pekmes.

The grapes are cooked for ages and ages. They don't get hot enough to get to the jelly stage, and no pectin or sugar or anything is added to them. Rather, the juice is reduced to a thick syrup. Burlap bags are used to strain the fruit mash out, and, voilà: pekmes. It is antioxidant rich, and very yummy. And it is rumoured to fix absolutely every possible ill. All I know is, there is nothing like dipping a piece of warm-from-the-oven french bread into a bowl of pekmes with my morning tea (or priceless filtered coffee).

And now, here are some of the visitors to the studio this week......

This dragonfly was perched atop the neighbour's car. No water nearby that I could see, but I guess he/she found some. Maybe the river about 1/2 km away?

A preying mantis, I believe, though I've never seen one in the flesh, so to speak. This fellow was perched in the studio doorway. He's about 2.5 inches long -- small, compared to the grand-daddy that we had in the studio this afternoon, that was over 3 inches long. I think they're very beautiful things. & totally harmless, if you're not another insect on the menu. But having one fly at you would be pretty disconcerting I'm sure.

This 3.5 inch guy was kind enough to stop by this morning. Fortunately, he didn't come inside my room, but chose to wait for me out on the patio. I said my hellos, snapped this photo, and sent him on his way. Apparently, most of the scorpions here are not deadly. Their stings just hurt like mad. But they are very quick with their stingers and quite unpredictable; and, deadly or not, poison is poison. So, unfortunately for any Bhuddists out there, he was dispatched.

Interestingly, the residents here in this small place are actually quite urbanized, and don't seem to know much about the 'wildlife'. Often, their first reaction is to squash whatever-it-is. But after much discussion in broken Turkish & broken English, we've established that these critters are in fact very useful. Now, even the neighbourhood kids are flocking around to check out whatever 'Katie abla' (big sister Katie) is looking at with her camera.

All for today.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Studio #5

This is the entry to "Bei Kaya", the studio in which I am working. A literal translation of the studio name is "Cave Man", which is also the name by which the owner, Erdogan Guleç, is affectionately known around town. &, indeed, he is known by almost everyone.

The last couple of days I have spent making some small (about 12 x 6") abstract pieces. I have succumbed to economic reality and the anticipation of sales, deciding to make some smaller (i.e. less expensive) pieces to give the exhibition a broader appeal.

The pieces above represent, from left to right, a woman napping under a tree, a dancer, and a mosque.
And here are 3 more dancers. From a work standpoint, although these will sell for less, and may therefore sell more easily, they are not terribly efficient to make. I can produce 6 pieces in the time it would take me to make 2 of the medium sized panels, which are each 4 times as large. Of course, If I sell 6 of these to one of the bigger ones, it will prove to have been worthwhile. They actually have been really fun to make. Heaven only knows what they'll look like after firing...

I really am attempting to work with the materials at hand in the way that local artists would work with them. The clay is worlds apart from what I'm used to, and it has taken some getting used to. As I usually do, I'm trying to let the clay speak for itself, emphasizing its characteristics through carving, texturizing, and some staining. But I want to enhance the clay, not cover it up.

Pieces are not 'pampered' here during the firing process. They are stacked one atop the other, dozens high, until the kiln is full. No one seems to worry about chipping off bits, or colours rubbing off, or much of anything. It's not the place for delicate pieces, for sure. Amazingly, what goes into the kiln usually comes out just fine, in spite of the rough treatment. This clay, although very sticky and full of bits & bubbles, seems very tough. So I have faith all my work will fire well. Whether it looks like anything good after all is said and done.... well, that's another story.

All for today (I had another pic to add of an interesting insect visitor, but it's lost.... tomorrow).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Studio #4

Here is the bathing lady, after I applied the stain yesterday. I hope her towel will be blue. Inshalla. Since this photo I've off-brushed the excess stain, scooped out the excess clay from the backs of the tiles, and set them out to dry.

I really like this dancing couple. André, this one's for you! I applied the stain to it today, and will brush & scoop it tomorrow, as well as line up another 2 panels to begin sculpting. I'm thinking of a lady lounging in the hamam (Turkish bath).

This photo shows what the tiles look like with the backs scooped out. It takes a while to complete this for each panel, and is one of those jobs that is sort of mindless, but requires concentration nonetheless. Patience is required, and care to make the tiles of even thickness for even drying. After they're scooped out, it only takes about 3 days for them to dry, as opposed to more then a week at home.

The bulk of my afternoon was occupied with the less-than-exciting task of sanding the rough spots off the backs and sides of each dry tile (about 100 of them) and setting them aside to fire. Probably we will fire all the work at once, perhaps over 2 or 3 days, in about 2 weeks. That will leave me enough time to get the panels constructed on their backing pieces and ready for the exhibition by October 1st.

Work continues well into the night here, and the studio is more like a living room than a workplace. There is always music (sometimes live, when a saz-playing friend drops by), animated conversation, and endless glasses of strong Turkish tea. The TV is on if there is interesting news or a good 'futbol' game. & many computerless friends come by to use the internet.

Life moves at a different pace here. The work day is long, but there seems to be a lot of time for visiting as well. You don't walk by someone's home or business without saying hello if the door is open (which it always is here at the studio). & if someone walks by your door & says hello, you always offer them tea. The studio is a little off the beaten track, so people who come by here usually intend to visit. Work continues regardless, amid the conversation & tea. The odd tourist stops by, and some of them buy Erdogan's smaller pieces. Everyone is welcome, from the neighbourhood kids who come to ask 'uncle Erdogan' for bits of clay to model, to the other artists and tradesmen working nearby, and the wives, mothers, and grandmothers who stop by from time to time to use the phone, get some little job done, or bring goodies of some sort.

There is a very good energy here, in the place and in the people; and I am really enjoying my time here, in spite of how hard I'm working!

All for today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Studio #3

This is my workspace. It doesn't look like much, but it has all I need: drawings, music on the computer (and my screensaver with my favourite pics of home), the 'easel' with the panels(s) I'm working on, and my little stool to sit on. Behind the camera is a big worktable where I place each panel to air dry for a day or so before off-brushing the excess stain to soften the image.

I can't seem to manage to sculpt more than one panel per day; but I am getting into a rhythm where I have 3 or 4 panels on the go at once, each at a different stage of completion. And I'm figuring out small ways to speed up the work. So, eventually, I may be able to turn out more than one panel each day. But it's pretty draining work as it is.

Yesterday's panel was 'bathing ladies', which I stained this morning and trimmed (cut out the excess clay from the back of each tile) this evening, after I had sculpted the one below. The look will be much softer after the excess stain has been offbrushed in a day or two.
Another 'bathing lady', ready to be cut into tiles and stained tomorrow.
The full harvest moon rising over the house across the way from the studio. Rumour has it that, at the same time I was watching this beautiful moonrise, there was a glorious sunrise over the Coast Mountains in Howe Sound.

All for today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

In the Studio, 2nd panel

The grapes are ripe, delicious, and plentiful right now. Those that aren't eaten right off the vine and shared with friends and neighbours are dried for raisins, or cooked over open fires in back alleys and gardens, their juice rendered into the thick syrup known as "pekmes". It's great for dipping your fresh breakfast bread, and is thought to cure all manner of ills. I've never seen it in the shops, so I don't know if it's made commercially. But it is an 'institution' in Cappadocian villages. No doubt some of the grapes become wine, which apparently has been made here for hundreds of years. But it looks to me like the locals have much more use for pekmes than they do for wine.

I made the second panel yesterday, with the new clay that arrived at the studio the night before. At less than $100/ton, it's about 1/10th the cost of clay at home. And all prepared by hand (and foot, actually). It doesn't come in nice square boxes, but in one giant sticky, gooey mass which gets unceremoniously dumped on the studio floor on a large sheet of plastic. The studio assistant packs it into plastic shopping bags (valuable things in a Turkish pottery) of about 50 lb each. It is a hefty process, much better than a half hour of weight training at the gym, lifting and dropping each bag onto the marble floor to smash out the bubbles and get the blob into something resembling a cube, so it can be cut into the slices used to make the panel grounds.

My second panel began in the usual way, and after a couple of hours looked like the picture above. It then went from that,

to this. All that remains is to cut out the excess clay from the back of each tile, and, when it's a little drier, brush off the excess stain to soften the look a bit.

Mercimek the studio dog had an unexpected guest for dinner this evening. "I know sharing is caring; and I really don't like this "dog food" stuff much anyhow -- but, really, isn't this going a bit far? Whose cat is this, anyway? & who invited it to dinner?"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the Studio

A less-than-flattering pic of the Studio owner, Erdogan Guleç. Erdogan is now in his mid forites, and has been working with clay, like his father and grandfather before him, for as long as he can remember. He is a kind and gentle man, and a patient teacher. It is his method of panel construction that I have been using for several years.

There is about 70 lbs of local Avanos clay in this, the base for my first panel. No worries here about diligent wedging, or about bubbles in the clay (of which there are many). Just smash the roughly packed bag on the floor a few times (hefty work) to smash the bubbles and get the clay into a roughly oblong shape so it can be cut into layers about 1/2 inch thick and placed on the board. Then about 2 hours' worth of smacking and whacking, a little rolling, and a whole lot of smoothing to achieve a workable surface. The panel is then tightly covered in plastic for a few hours before the rest of the work begins.

I had to work very quickly, since the air here is so dry, and had to keep the edges, especially the top one, tightly covered with strips of plastic to keep the moisture in. By the time I was finished (maybe about 8 or 10 hours) the bulk of the sculpting, I was covering all but the small area on which I was working at the moment...... a bit of a problem maintaining the proportions because I wasn't viewing the whole piece at once. Size 42 chest, size 2 feet. But no worries... After a bit of a giggle, I fixed it up to my liking. Then the piece was cut into tiles.

Following this photo being taken, some stain was applied and the work was again wrapped for the night. Next day, being yesterday, I began the tedious process of carving out the excess clay from the back of each of the 66 tiles. I finished that this morning, and then brushed off the excess of the stain that I had applied as a wash the day before. We'll see how it all turns out. As they say here, "Inshalla" -- it's in the hands of the gods now. In this heat, we could be firing in 2 or 3 days, rather than the 2 weeks I usually leave things to dry at home.

Mercimek (say "mare-j'mek -- it means split pea soup), the studio dog, in his usual place on the potter's wheel seat. He's a bit miffed 'cause we just gave him a bath.....

Avanos is keen to honour its clay and pottery tradition, as evidenced by this new fountain erected by the municipality on the (also new) riverside walking path. A process of 'beautification' has been going on for the past 3 or 4 years here. A bit of gentrification is happening in the old town, but its character remains essentially the same as it has for who-knows-how-many years.

There have been humans in this area since the stone age, and inhabitants have been working with clay for more than 4,000 years. The people here are a resilient and independent bunch, making this a region of relatively stable politics and somewhat 'enlightened' non-fundamentalist religious practice. Honour is paramount for Turkish people; and I have found the residents of Cappadocia (& Avanos in particular) to be tolerant, generous and welcoming.

More tomorrow..........

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I've arrived!!!

Well, here I am in Turkey. After a couple of days in Istanbul checking out the Istasyon Galerie and wandering through the giant Grand Bazaar, & weathering the 35+ degree, 96% humidity, I've settled in to the studio in Avanos, in the heart of Cappadocia, which is smack dab in the centre of Turkey.

I've completed a large panel, about 30 x 48 inches, which I hope will be the focus of my exhibition. I've put it to bed for the night, so picture will have to wait until tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are some photos of this wonderful place.

Rooftops of Avanos, the town in Cappadocia where I am doing my work
The Friday Market has the most wonderful fresh veggies! Herbs, a zillion different peppers, tomatoes, apricots & peaches are presently at their prime. Soon it will be time for melons and squash. Watermelon is good now, but musk melons will still be a little while. Apples and fresh walnuts in September. What a feast!
Many houses in the old part of town are built against the hillside, and most have a cave component which was once a living space, but now used for storage of food etc. Many workspaces are in caves, since they are reasonably warm in winter, when the temp dips to -10 or lower for several weeks at a time. In summer, caves workshops provide relief from the 35+ temperatures.
The famous "fairy chimneys" of Cappadocia are volcanic rock formations into which people have for centuries built homes, churches, monasteries, and dovecotes (the pigeon guano is great fertilizer for the grape vines.... but the wine is still pretty awful). Although the churches are long since abandoned, and people do not live in the 'chimneys' any more, they are an attraction for what must be millions of tourists each year. The interiors of the cave churches often bear original frescoes dating from 1000 AD and earlier.

There are many visitors daily to the studio, since the Muslim holy time of Ramazan (you may know it as Ramadan) falling in the summertime means many people are taking their holidays at the same time. With the visitors are endless glasses of strong tea and various nibblies that guests bring. Many Muslims observe the fasting tradition of Ramazan, eating and drinking nothing from sunrise until sunset. Thankfully, Ramazan is 'suspended' :D here in the studio, and there is no fasting. Meals have so far been fabulous! Lots of my friends are very glad to see me again, so I have invitations for delicious Turkish suppers.

That's all for today.