Felicity  Aylieff
Felicity  Aylieff
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Name:

Felicity  Aylieff

Address:

37 Kensington Gardens
Bath
BA1 6LH

Date of Birth:

28.4.54

Brief Description of Work:
Large work: press moulded and hand-built using clays with coloured aggregates and glass. Also hand-built coloured vessels.

Training and Experience:
1972-77 - Bath Academy of Art - BA (Hons) 3D design: Ceramics main study, Textiles supporting study
1978 - Goldsmiths College - ATC Post Graduate
1993-96 - Royal College of Art - M Phil Post Graduate Research: Ceramics

Selected Exhibitions:
1990 - Takashimaya, Japan. Invited craftsman and guest for British Fair
1991 - 'British Contemporary Ceramics', Museum fur Kunst and Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany
1992 - Solo Exhibition, Beaux Arts Gallery, Bath
1993 - Solo Exhibition, Galerie L, Hamburg, Germany
1994 - Solo Exhibition, Loes and Reinier, International Ceramics, Deventer, Netherlands
1995 - 'Britain in Greece' Contemporary Ceramics, group exhibition, Gardelio Centre, Athens, Greece
1996 - British Ceramics, selected ceramists, Keramik Galerie - Hilde Holstein, Bremen, Germany
1996 - Solo Exhibition, The Elusive Body, The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
1997 - Solo Exhibition, Goed Werk GCV Centre for Spatial and Graphic Design, Belgium
1998 - Solo Exhibition, 'Dashed, Speckled, Brushed'. Loes and Reiner, International Ceramics, Deventer, Netherlands

Other Activities:
Associated with my teaching and my personal ceramic work I undertake short courses, demonstrations and lectures.

For Ceramic Review I write articles, exhibition and book reviews.

I am involved with the events committee for NACHE and currently organising a series of lectures to coincide with Ceramic Contemporaries 3.

Artists Statement:
I am drawn to forms - bold, simple and often stark - that may at first appear quiet and unassuming, but are arresting through their powerful presence. My references are to architecture and the natural world. In my large scale work I often seek to use a stylised image that is openly decorative in form. Rhythm and movement are common concerns in both areas of work. Visual intrigue is an important factor, revealed through surfaces that are uncompromising yet always deliberate. The small pots might be harshly slashed and inlaid with coloured porcelains or softly painted with slips. The sculptures in contrast are constructed of a fine clay matrix that has large inclusions of coloured clay grogs and glass. After firing the objects are ground and polished, giving the material a very distinct visual richness and depth. It is my desire for both the form and surface of my work to be emotionally satisfying through a visual as well as a physical sensuality.

Further Information:

The preoccupations within my work are recurrent - the formality of classical proportion, the simplicity and expressive power of archetypal stylisation and the integration of form and surface through decoration and texture. I am fascinated by both Indian sculpture that predates the 11th century and the natural forms of fruits, seeds and pods, with each having informed some aspect of my work. They share the vitality and optimism of life, yet one is the result of a sophisticated civilisation striving to express human emotion in a highly stylised way whilst the other is an equally powerful expression of life force that does not involve the human or human intention.

My early interests in clay were rooted in tradition and I focused on the vessel to explore my ideas. In this series of sculptures, titled The Elusive Body, my interests and concerns remain constant whilst the objects identify more with their relationship to their environment than to any particular historic ceramic reference. Whilst my earlier vessels were made for domestic interiors and were of a domestic scale, the new work is considered in relation to specific architectural settings and has significantly increased in size.

Potters’ terminology ‘body’ is used to describe the material from which the sculptures are made and the title is a reference to my creation of a particular ‘clay body’. Loosely described as a ceramic terrazzo, the ‘elusive body’ is essentially a composite clay mix, which has in its makeup aggregates of glass and ceramic. It is a material that visually reflects my enthusiasm for the surface qualities found in granites and marbles and their conglomerates. Its physical characteristics are those of strength and plasticity, providing the opportunity for the sculptures to be more extravagant in size than might be expected of objects more usually made from clay. When ground and polished, the surfaces of this ceramic terrazzo are exotically tactile, fragmented with colour, rich and varied in visual texture, with an optical depth enhanced by the inclusions of glass. Traditional hand-forming and plaster mould-making techniques were adapted for the construction of the sculptures.

It is my desire for both the form and surface of the work to be emotionally satisfying through a visual as well as a physical sensuality.

The Elusive Body - Felicity Aylieff

 

My early work is recognisable by the use of heavily stained clays to make vessels that explored the proportions of archetypal form - positively defined shapes, clean direct lines and strong curves. The surfaces were often inlaid with a cocktail of complex decorative images using agate structures which slowly became the ‘hallmark’ of my work. Later pieces took on a refinement with a subtle variation in profile and careful consideration of detail. The surfaces were more harmonious, with minimal colour and texture. All the work was hand-built, surfaces were unglazed, simply ground and polished to a very smooth finish.

It is a frightening moment when you stand back from your work and see that in many ways you have achieved a certain technical perfection and that the work has reached a point of resolution. For me, what ensued was much soul searching and a serious winter of discontent! However, what emerged was the positive recognition for the need to develop alternative ways of working in order to extend and express the nature and range of my ideas and produce more varied solutions. I viewed it very much as a continuation and expansion of the previous work and not a reaction against it.

New interests lay in ideas about sculpture, with a desire to create objects that shared both decorative and sculptural concerns. New territory, that I recognised as satisfying a thirst to create objects of scale, requiring the re-evaluation of ideas and the development of my understanding of form and its associated vocabulary. It required a broadening of my technical appreciation, and the acquisition of further skills. I viewed it as a challenge, technically, physically, and visually to work in a material normally associated with objects of table-top size. By considering the possible location of work beyond the domestic situation, in large open spaces, interior or exterior, the criteria for my work changed and it became more liberated in concept. I began to see forms in architectural space, identifying more with their environment and relating less to historic ceramic references. The human relationship in terms of scale, metaphor and association was now more important. I desired both form and surface to be emotionally satisfying through a visual and physical tactility.

To make some sense of what I wanted, I returned to my old haunts in the Victoria & Albert Museum to look at the Indian and Islamic collections, to the Egyptian rooms and classical casts in the British Museum, Kew Gardens and the Herbarium in the Natural History Museum, and also to my many books and photographs of architecture and artefacts.

This helped to refresh and focus interests which I identified as being specifically to do with the reflection of underlying form through surface articulation and structure. I was curious about its translation and stylisation, especially in the relief carving, architecture and three dimensional images of different civilisations. Many of the examples that I was drawn to I recognised to be rich in natural form which I had previously only appreciated on a decorative level and used purely as two dimensional reference material. Much of the Indian carving that I looked at (particularly that which predates the 11th century) I found both arresting and powerful with its potent ‘larger than life’ stylised imagery. From drawings of the natural forms of fruits, seeds and pods I was able to glean very particular information about structure. This information, combined with my fascination for Indian sculpture informs and influences my new work. Both subjects share the vitality and optimism of life, yet one is the result of a sophisticated civilisation striving to express human emotion in a highly stylised way, whilst the other is an equally powerful expression of life force that does not involve the human hand or human intention. It is the combination of these elements that I want to reflect through my sculptures.

The new works formalise and stylise aspects of nature and have overtones of architectural ornamentation. In sculptural terms it was my ambition to produce an overall simplicity where the internal structure was described by strong articulate, defining lines. It was important that the objects did not acquire a presence purely by scale alone but through their sense of volume, fluency and clarity of form and purpose. With this in mind I personally feel the most successful are Twist and Turn and Projection. The forms of Spiral and Indian leaf, (the first pieces to be made) take on a certain ornamental character which I acknowledge and enjoy since it serves to re-emphasise their ceramic roots and context and also indulges a personal fascination for ornamental form.

My early pots sought a marriage between form and surface through an applied visual texture. The natural progression was to explore the potential of creating a visual texture that was inherent in the clay body; the total integration of form and surface. The new forms are no longer a vehicle for extravagant decoration; the metaphoric subject matter and large mass demand a restrained approach, a surface quality more integral with the form in order that it might promote rather than distract from an overall coherence. I feel it is important to be able to modify and alter the visual appeal of the objects, so that one might seem warm and inviting to touch, another cool and hard. Of great importance to me is the emotional spirit of the work; it is my desire for both the form and surface to be satisfying through a visual as well as a physical sensuality.

Clay remains for me the ideal material; versatile in its handling and forming potential with body characteristics that can be adapted and altered in colour, texture and finish. Much experiment and testing went into the creation of a clay body that came close to that which I envisaged. I loosely describe it as a ceramic terrazzo for it is essentially a composite clay mix that has in its makeup aggregates of glass and ceramic. It is a material that visually reflects my enthusiasm for the surface qualities found in granites, marbles and their conglomerates. Its physical characteristics are those of strength and plasticity, providing the opportunity for the sculptures to be more extravagant in size than might be expected of objects made from clay. When ground and polished, the surfaces are exotically tactile, fragmented with colour, rich and varied in visual texture, with an optical depth enhanced by the inclusions of glass.

The use of glass as visual intrigue is instrumental to the work, producing areas of transparency and depth to what appears to be a dense mass of fired clay. From the outset I visualised the surface of the sculptures to be unglazed. They are already busy with colours and textures produced by the aggregate and do not need the added distraction of an overall glaze layer. The clarity and detail of the surface is important, with the individual aggregated to be distinct within a larger overall context. A glaze could distract, unify or mute the lively and random qualities that I am striving to achieve. There are also some practical and physical considerations involved in this decision to do with the problems of glazing, handling and firing objects of substantial size and weight. Once firing the work appears to have all the advantages at this present time.

In the past I have been totally self-reliant as a potter, working in a comparatively ‘low tech’ way with minimum equipment and limited space. I find it quite amusing and at times frustrating that the situation has almost reversed. I had not imagined at the outset that working on a large scale would have had so many unforeseen repercussions. Suddenly I have become aware of how crucial it is to plan in advance, to know the exact quantities of materials needed, how much aggregate to prepare, the equipment required and how, when and where the work is to be made. I now realise how important it is to co-opt and organise appropriate assistance for different stages of the work, and manage how it was carried out. (I often need to employ an assistant.) Lifting and moving the work rapidly became an issue, heightened when I moved to a new studio - trolleys had to be constructed to build and move unfired work, lifting gear and a mini crane to hoist work from moulds and into kilns, and slings and canvas stretchers made to move the fired and finished pieces. Access became of major importance; where pieces were made and dried had to be considered in relation to door width and kiln accessibility. The kilns themselves had to be of adequate size and a loading strategy was invariably necessary.

The decision to finish the fired objects by grinding the surface also had considerable implications. It required the designing of an appropriate grinding facility and the installation of water supplies, lighting and drainage. The grinding itself turned into a major project. The variety of surfaces, curves and angles in the work all needed particular grinding attachments. This developed into an interesting two way relationship with the manufacturers where I tested attachments and adaptions were made.

I realise how lucky I am to have had so much encouragement and support from the staff and students at Bath College of Higher Education where I teach, for it’s not an easy undertaking working on a large scale but the experience is exciting. Recently I have made some smaller vessels for an exhibition and I enjoyed the ease with which they were made. The forms are softer, the surfaces more harmonious. I look forward to working with a continued versatility in scale.

Large Scale Ceramics: Scale and Manufacture

The approximate dimensions of the largest sculpture is 1.4m x 0.75m. The others are almost as big and all have considerable volume. The technical aspects of construction, using styrofoam models and plaster moulds, are traditionally based, modified to accommodate my requirements in scale and the convenience of working single handed. I made a series of maquettes when planning the work for the sculptures. Standard practice in some areas of sculpture, but I had not previously used this approach in my ceramics. Since the forms were exploring a new personal language which was not yet part of my established vocabulary I needed to be confident of the ‘rightness’ of the objects from all their angles and aspects. The making of maquettes helped me see and understand the forms I was trying to create in a way that I could not adequately achieve through drawing alone. I was also aware that working on a comparatively large scale using plaster techniques demanded a clearly planned and decisive approach. I used plasticine, wax and clay for the maquettes, finally choosing the latter as the easiest and the most successful material to handle.

Enlarging: maquette to model

The full size models I made from styrofoam, a dense form of polystyrene. This was mainly because it was lightweight and easy to manoeuvre, necessary requirements for the scale of the models. I was also curious to work in it as a material, understanding that I might achieve the precise nature in form and surface, demanded by maquettes. Other processes used for enlargements involving armatures of wire coated with plaster or clay did not have the same handling appeal or versatility and seemed cumbersome.

Although the enlargement ratio of each maquette differed, the basic principals for enlargement remained the same for all three objects. Each maquette was divided into segments in relating in scale to the thickness of a styrofoam sheet, 11 cms. The cross-sections of the segments were then enlarged, drawn onto the form, labelled and cut out on the bandsaw. The corresponding faces of these pieces were then glued using an impact adhesive (Tretabond), to achieve a full size model of simplified form.

The first work to be made Spiral and the maquette to be enlarged was based on a simple cone, whose central axis made it relatively easy to construct out of a series of circular foam discs. The complete model was then turned down on a whirler to the point at which surface detail could be carved. The following sculptures, Indian Leaf and Twist and Turn had no such regularity in form and no clear central axis to help position the foam discs. After grappling with a number of strategies for their enlargement, instinct led me to carving directly into a block of foam larger than the overall form of the model. The step formation given to the model by the glued foam segments made the early stages of the carving hard work but it was rewarding to see the form develop and emerge.

Styrofoam

A handsaw was used to take away the bulk of the styrofoam with details and refinement of surface achieved by using surforms and fine files. The last model I made had deep ‘V’ sections in its form and the sides of these sections had a slight camber. To achieve an accuracy of line in the paring of these I used an electric carving knife.

Styrofoam is surprisingly resistant to being cut, lacking any flexibility in its structure, and I found much of the rough work laborious in its initial stages. It could be described as a lifeless material, dense and flat in colour. However, in the context of model making I liked these qualities for it permitted a total concentration on ‘seeing’ the form, and surface imperfections. I did have some misgivings about the physical side of working in styrofoam which was fairly uncomfortable. Cutting dust can irritate the skin and the fumes created by the hot wire are toxic.

Much of the carving I did by eye after plotting the high points of the form and taking critical measurements to mark out its basic structure. By adopting an intuitive approach I could modify the form as I felt the change of scale demanded. I became quite skilled in this area of the work and my last model reproduced the maquette very closely both in measurement and spirit.

A final surface finish to the model was achieved using sandpaper. It was important for this surface to be smooth, as texture was to be sought through the clay aggregate and be a visual texture. Two layers of emulsion paint gave the foam a final seal making the surface less vulnerable to damage. The paint also drew attention to any blemishes which were worked over with plasticine. Each piece of work, from maquette to finished model ready to be cast as a mould, took between two and three weeks of preparation.

Mould making

The same theory and plaster technique was used for making all the moulds, but each model had its own idiosyncratic mould design to accommodate my working independently through all stages of their construction and subsequent clay use. This demanded that the individual mould sections be of a size and weight that I could handle, that the design have no undercuts and allow access to seams and joints and for the mould to be easy to manoeuvre when complete. The scale of the models required then to remain static whilst the mould was made, with the result that much of the surface to be cast in plaster was in a vertical position. Splash moulding was the most appropriate technique to use in these circumstances. Some of the larger mould sections had dimensions of 50 x 40cms; by using this method of mould making they remained comparatively light-weight for their size. The moulds took approximately five to six days to complete and had up to 14 mould pieces. The following basic procedure was used for their construction:

  1. 4 cm high walls, from clay strips, constructed around area to be moulded.

  2. Clay natches attached to walls at appropriate intervals, to form mould location points.

  3. Adjacent plaster sections soft soaped to prevent them sticking to one another.

  4. Polythene attached around section to be cast to minimise plaster excess. Scrim used to strengthen mould sections prepared (30 cm lengths).

  5. Splash layer of plaster mixed and applied to form a thin shell layer of mould. 11 lb 8 ozs (1.60 kgs) plaster to 2 pts (1.1 lits) water. Crystacal plaster was used in the ratio of 1:2 of potters plaster to provide a stronger mix.

  6. Second batch of plaster mixed immediately (recipe as above) and a layer of scrim dipped in plaster; applied to splash layer . Remaining plaster allowed to thicken to a double cream consistency, splashed and spread onto surface to form a total thickness of approx. 3 cm.

  7. Plaster surface smoothed over, clay walls removed and mould edges trimmed and tidied with a knife before next section assembled.

  8. Minimal cleaning to the interior of mould on completion.

The first mould, Spiral, established a technique and method of plaster mould making on a scale I had hitherto not experienced. The mould was of human scale; in height it reached my shoulder. It was designed for the mould sections to release off a spiral form and be self supporting when assembled.

The second mould, Indian Leaf, dealt with opposite problems. It was designed around a long, horizontal, shallow form 1.5 x 0.5 m. The mould sections were not self supporting and required the construction of a plaster jacket to cradle and hold the mould pieces rigidly in place when in use. In order that the complete mould could be moved easily a wooden ski support structure was fixed to the base of the jacket.

The third mould, Twist and Turn, was again for a horizontal form, but one of much greater volume than the second and with a twist along its length. The mould design was potentially quite simple, but for access to the interior at the clay pressing stage it required setting up vertically with a wooden frame to support the base section. The result of it being cast vertically was that many of the mould pieces were leaning 30 degrees away from the vertical and the method of making these pieces had to be modified to make them both lighter in weight and to accommodate dogs, a U shaped metal rod, used to grip the mould sections together.

Complications

The final removal and support of the clay objects was difficult to foresee and adapt into the mould design. The clay remains in the mould for about a week to firm up. The inaccessibility of the clay pieces once in the mould and their sheer weight, approx. 100 kgs made their extraction a problem. An engine crane and forklift were used to aid this operation.

Drying and Firing

Once out of the mould, the leather-hard work is placed on a cushion of foam to dry. As the forms are completely enclosed, drying can take anything from six to eight weeks. For the first few weeks they are wrapped in a layer of newsprint to create an even drying environment. Newsprint is used in preference to polythene which has the tendency to cause the clay to sweat and crack where the moisture falls back on to the outside surface. Two weeks before firing the newsprint is removed and the work placed in a well heated room to make sure no moisture remains trapped inside. To minimise any disaster the firing is cautiously slow taking up to 50 hours to reach temperature (1020 C) with a similar length of time allowed for cooling. This is unlikely to cause the problem of heat work since over half the firing is at low temperatures to drive out hidden moisture, and below the critical temperature of chemical change. On reaching temperature the kiln is turned off without a soaking period to ensure firing stability amongst the aggregates, particularly the glass.

Ceramic blanket is used as a heat shield and placed between the work and the bottom kiln shelf. Unfired clay props are used to support the work; on firing these shrink at the same rate as the objects preventing undue pressure as the work moves. Two different kilns have been used for the firings, a top hat kiln and a trolley kiln, both are electrically powered and have kiln beds designed for the easy access and loading of large work.

Firing Schedule and Clay Body

Temperature (C)

Ramp

Time (in hours)

Degrees (per hour)

25

-

-

-

95

1

8

12

95

2

8

-

200

3

5

21

400

4

10

20

600

5

10

20

800

6

5

40

1000

7

4

55

   

Total 50 hours

 

Before adulteration the clays that I use are a variety of imported Dutch Vingerling clays and a number of unrefined brick clays. Much of the brighter inclusions of colour are fragments of fired stained porcelain, and the glass is ballontini and borosilicate glass. To finish the final surface of the work I use an electric grinder which is water fed and has interchangeable electroface diamond discs. Because the grinder is water fed the ceramic surface is well lubricated for more efficient grinding and dust is eliminated.

Diamond hard pads and files are used for the final refinement of the surface.

Ceramic Review 165

1997