It started with his work (as it should). Exuberant. Modern. Sculptural. Un-derivative. Beautiful. Intriguing. Accessible. Just really different from what’s out there.
Now, the ceramic artist, Mark Goudy, seemed like a nice enough person: gentle, self-effacing and perhaps a little harried the day I met him (at a juried art show, the same one at which I met the fabulous Peggy Loudon), surrounded by gawkers and buyers of his fabulous work.
But then, I didn’t know the whole story. And as great as the work is, so is the story of how Mark made his dreams happen.
I spent time with Mark (and his similarly talented photographer/ceramic artist wife, Liza Riddle) at their home/studio in Berkeley. Nothing ostentatious, but thoughtfully, consideredly, and beautifully designed. The best part? They live surrounded by their work, which, given what it is, isn’t exactly a terrible thing.
Like anyone, DesignCrafters are influenced by their upbringings and backgrounds, but in Mark’s case you really do see it in his work, once you know his story. A degree in Marine Biology. Work in chemistry. A Masters in Electrical Engineering. All this was followed by stints at computer companies, and in particular, graphics computing. A stint at Pixar long before Tin Toy, let alone Buzz Lightyear (when Pixar was still a hardware company). Stints at SGI and NVIDIA.
Graphics, biology, chemistry, engineering…they all come together quite perfectly in his work. The patterns and colors remind you of deep space, deep ocean, and things at the deepest molecular levels. The chemistry that informs his preferred technique: water-soluble metal salts. The careful engineering orientation that allows him to create forms that not only look balanced, but do balance (perfectly) on whatever surface you put it on. The sense that you’re looking at something moving, throbbing, alive.
His background also comes through in his obvious pleasure (boyish delight, even) in the process, the experimentation, and the problem-solving challenges inherent in what he does.
So….the very obvious question. How’d you get here from there? We took a long trip after one of my jobs ended. And on that trip, it became clear our lives were out of balance, that it was time to shake things up. We realized we could live a lot more simply and do more of what we wanted, which was travel. And art. So we did it. (Let’s see, they just got back from a trip around the west, and last year took a 5 month trip to Laos, Thailand, Burma, Japan, Sri Lanka and India. Liza and Mark explained how the funding works and it’s simple genius. They’ve got it completely down and could undoubtedly write a book on how to make it happen…who doesn’t fantasize about that? I’m guessing the book would be wildly, wildly successful. But then Mark wouldn’t be doing ceramics, and that would be a loss.)
Was art something you’d done all along? I have a hard time imagining how you’d have had the time while you were working in tech. I had been doing art projects all the time but that was the point, we didn’t have enough time for it. So I just dove into it full-time as soon as I had the chance. And had ceramics always been your preferred form? Not necessarily. I took my first real ceramics class about 5 years ago. (Liza pipes up: yes but Mark’s mother was a potter so it’s in his blood.)
Your work is so unusual, so striking. I love the look, the texture, the colors. Who collects your work? (Mark and Liza look slightly puzzled then laugh.) I’m not sure. I definitely have collectors after 5 years, but I’m not sure who they are, or what they do with the pieces.
Give me the cliffs notes version of how your process works. Well first off, it’s important to know that the work is for holding, but not for holding water. (People always ask.) I use high fire clay, but fire it at a low temperature, so it’s porous. I design and create the forms which go on a mold, then bisque fire them, and use sponges and brushes to paint on these water-soluble metal salts. The difference with these salts is that they actually permeate the clay, and don’t just sit on the surface. The challenge is that I can’t see the pattern until it heats up (in the second firing) so there’s a little bit of working blind. But I’ve learned….and it’s great. You can apply different colors so you can get different depth, dimensionality. The dots I apply dig down, and pull colors up from below. It’s a neat process.
How do you get the final texture? The pieces are burnished. There’s a coating of wax over it. (Like buttah.)
But it’s so different. Where’d it come from? Gary Holt (also in Berkeley) is the only other guy I know doing soluble salt work. (Check out Gary’s great work, and his site, which has a description of how the process works.) But the guy who really created this technique was Arne Aase who wrote a pioneering book called “Watercolour on Porcelain.”
Working with these metal salts…what’s that like? You have to be careful in working with them. I work with eye protection, gloves, and respirators when mixing solutions. It’s highly corrosive until fired. (The chemistry background helps.) It’s really the same metals you use in the glazes, just in soluble form. I work with 5 metals, which limits the palette….I end up combining these to create new colors. There are so many variables it’s ridiculous. I think it’s a little insane.
So tell me about your inspirations and style. I’ve done photography my whole life, a lot of it manipulated on the computer. I’m into making patterns that are so complex that your brain can’t take it in. They make you want to keep looking at them, but you can’t understand what you’re seeing. It’s almost meditative. The Mandala is an example of meditative art: complex patterns that seem to fold into themselves. There’s a whole science in Buddhism about creating these images you can stare at and meditate.
Whose work do you love? I love people who play with your perception. James Turrell does these light sculptures. The art that I like tends to be something that’ll take you in a direction you didn’t expect. And there’s Vija Celmins. She does these incredibly detailed drawings of the surface of the ocean. Etching and drawings. And Andy Goldsworthy of course. He combines environment with art. His work is all about organic forms, which I love.
Do you two artists work together? What’s that like? It’s great. We have separate corners in the kitchen and garage. We also make sure we take the time to walk daily. Today, it was Tilden Park. I take lots of photos of the rocks I found there.
And do you listen to music as you work? Yes. Jazz. (Says Liza: Mark’s a musician as well, a drummer. When you think about it, drumming is all about patterns.)
OK, so who’d play you in a movie? Paul Giamatti, Harry Dean Stanton, Steve Buscemi. (All awesome actors. Somebody’s been prepping…)
And what kind of movie? An adventure story, of course!
What’s the best gift you’ve received? My brother gave me a couple of drawings that I really like. I look at them every day. A gift that keeps on giving. (OK, when Mark said this, I groaned inwardly and indulged in a snarky thought or two. You know what I mean. However, this all changed when he took me to see the drawings. Mind-boggling and beautiful, like the intricately detailed and shaded drawings done as studies by Georges Seurat.)
What objects define you? When I first saw you asking that of everyone, my first thought was….I’m not a collector. (Which they all say.) But then I realized there are objects that mean something to me. We have this table that used to be in my parents’ kitchen….I think about all the times we sat there, talked. it’s just a crappy old table but it has a lot of meaning. These salt glazed ceramics…something I grew up with. And music. I’m not playing in bands now but it still means a lot to me. And my tools, probably the ribs I use every day.
Thanks, Mark and Liza for quitting your day jobs. Inspiration and beauty all rolled into one. Can’t ask for more.
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