Originally posted November 2019 – Reposted with permission from Melinda of For the Love of Art. Thank you Melinda for the interview and all your support!
Please welcome Jay Jasper from The Alchemist’s Studio at https://rakupottery.ca, He is a self-taught Raku pottery artist. He’s on the eve of publishing his first book, A Potter’s Dream: Myths and Legends. Jay takes an interesting approach to each piece of pottery by associating it with myths and legends with a unique approach to storytelling.
Melinda: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Jay: When I grew up I used to want to be an archaeologist. I think the ‘Indiana Jones’ series of movies may have had something to do with that! I spent a lot of time in the library reading about ancient history and reading about the lives of people across cultures and times. For me, this was an escape from the challenges of a difficult childhood and the source of much daydreaming. Even back then I could somehow perceive that objects have stories and perhaps a kind of energy of their own. It makes me smile to think that I am now making such objects and retelling some of those stories that I read as a child as part of my artistic practise.
Melinda: At what age did you make your first piece of pottery?
Jay: I made my first piece of pottery in elementary school. I remember the piece fondly, though it is now a lost relic of my past. Ironically, it was a vase. It was made by using a coiling technique where you roll the clay in coils, or as we referred to them at the time, little snakes and build up the wall of the pot, scoring each coil and then attaching them with slip one by one. The process can be time consuming. I am grateful that I know use a wheel to make my vases now. My first raku vase was thrown on the wheel. It was pretty tiny and resembled an ink pot.
M: What other artist skills do you have or pursuing?
J: I have had a fondness for art that started as a teenager. Prior to that I had an art teacher who was also the gym teacher. He was more of a gym teacher than an art teacher, and I did not really enjoy art. I started painting while in high school one rainy day with my friend Ellen. She was an art major in university at the time and she changed the way I view art. There was no expected outcome or constraints and that freedom helped me express my feelings around trauma I had experienced and teenage angst in general. I had also started writing at that time, and have a few old journals of poetry from that time. Teenage poetry! I have continued to write and paint since then off and on again throughout the years. I have now been doing pottery for 5 years and have also explored printmaking. Pottery, and specifically raku pottery has become my main focus and has become a huge part of my life. It’s love, magic and passion all rolled into one. It makes my heart happy.
M: What is the difference in Raku pottery and other pottery?
J: Raku pottery and regular pottery have a number of key difference. The raku process originated in Japan around the 16th century. Fun fact: Raku means pleasure or enjoyment, and for me, it lives up to the name! Traditionally raku pieces were hand built pots. In my work, most of the pieces I create are wheel-thrown vases. Raku pottery is different from regular pottery in regards to the glazes that are used and the firing process. While regular pottery is allowed to cool in the kiln slowly over time, raku pottery is removed from the kiln when it is red hot. From there the pots are placed in easily combustible material like sawdust, newspaper, or other organic materials. The pot and materials are then covered, and as the flames burn all of the oxygen is used. This process is known as reduction, or oxidation-reduction. Variables such as temperature, glaze composition, reduction material and a few other tricks produces unique chance effects that can have unexpected and often beautiful results.
M: I’ve seen several post where you ask people to name the of pottery, that’s so much fun. How did you come up with the idea?
J: When I finished my first few raku firings I was enchanted by the results. There was so many different effects that can not be achieved any other way that they were spellbinding to me. As silly as it may sound, I would spend time looking at my pieces. At that time I was posting my pottery piece on Instagram and I started sharing my impressions and thoughts on these pieces. This would eventually lead to me creating stories for many of my pieces. I noticed that people enjoyed reading these stories and reflections and I also enjoyed writing them. they helped bring the pieces to life. When I started my website rakupottery.ca I noticed that there was a great community of writers out there. One day I thought why not give other people the chance to ‘Name that Vase’, as I was interested to see what other people might come up with. At the time I thought it would be a one off post on my blog, but I was blown away by the response and the creativity and impressions of others, so much so that this has now become a monthly feature. People continue to amaze with their beautiful writing. It seems a community has emerged around ‘Name that Vase’, and they have made me laugh, smile, cry, and shown me things I have not seen in my own work. It also amazes and humbles me that people want to write about my work. For the people involved in the community it serves as a writing prompt or a chance to be creative. People also enjoy reading what others have come up with, so it is a real win for everyone. An artistic collaboration that has become a very meaningful way for me to connect with other artists while out in the wilds of Canada.
M: How do you decide what glaze colors to use on each piece?
J: This is an interesting and more complicated question with multiple answers. There are times when I throw a piece on the pottery wheel knowing that I am looking for certain shapes and angles that have tendencies to give certain effects I like from a particular glaze. So sometimes I make the piece for the glaze. Sometimes, after throwing a piece an idea for a story will come to me and I choose one of my glazes that seems likely to support my story. And of course sometimes I just experiment with glazes on pieces. Part of the magic of raku is you can not have total control over the results. Much like life, you need to surrender to what fate may bring, but as you understand the nuances of raku and your glazes you can increase the likelihood of positive results and influence the outcome. Of course, sometimes the results are disappointing. Sometimes they are not what you had planned and something even more intriguing emerges. I am always learning more about how glazes interact with the raku process and different variables that are a part of it.
M: Tell me about the book, how did the book come about?
J: It has been a dream of mine to write a book for many years. I have started a few of them over the years. I always figured I would one day write and finish a book when the time was right. When I became consumed by my passion for pottery, I had put this dream aside. While at my recent art show ‘The Myth of Family’ (video link available) I noticed that people really enjoyed reading the stories associated with the pieces. So much so that people were talking to me about their favourite stories. A few days after the opening of the art show, it hit me. I had already written much of the book through creating these stories and that there was synergy between my pottery and writing. After that, I started looking through my content and organizing it and laying out the book. It has been a steep learning curve, but I have found out I enjoy it. In order to defray the costs of printing the book I have embarked on a crowdfunding project to offset some of the costs. I am really humbled and grateful that I am at 127% of my goal. I am passionate about my book project, because it makes my pottery accessible to people who appreciate my work, but can’t necessarily afford a particular piece. I often say that if I won the lottery I would love to be able to make pottery and give pieces away to people who love it the most. But I have not won the lottery and pottery is sort of an expensive undertaking,so this book is the closest I can get to that for now. Each piece of my pottery is a little part of me, they are almost like my children. When someone has a piece that I made in their home I am honoured. To know something I was able to create becomes a part of someone’s daily life in some small way makes me smile. I like to somehow think that far off in time some future archaeologist who followed their dream might find a part of one of my pieces and that appeals to the child in me.
My last exhibition “The Myth of Family” ran at the Oxford Riverside Gallery!