domingo, 14 de febrero de 2010

Ruth Krauskopf: Australian article (2004)

Ruth Krauskopf: Revitalising Ceramics in Chile

Article by Edward Shaw

“There is a before and an after in my career:
the turning point was the year I spent at
the University of California at Berkeley in
Peter Voulkos’s studio workshop program
for a Masters degree,” Ruth Krauskopf,
Chilean ceramist.

publsihed in:
22 Ceramics: Art and Perception No. 59 2004

Ruth Krauskopf is hardly the kind of person
you would expect to absorb and adapt the
rough-and-ready Voulkos approach to the art of
producing pots. “In 1981 I was living in Venezuela
with my husband, raising our three children. Miguel
decided to take a year’s sabbatical and offered to let
me pick a place where I could advance my career as a
ceramist. I was already beginning to alter symmetrical
forms. I felt identified with irregularity and gestural
work. I recalled an illustration of a Voulkos plate
in a publication. I wrote to him at the University and
received no answer.”
Krauskopf continues, “Miguel decided we’d go to
Berkeley anyway, certain that I’d convince Voulkos to
accept me once I confronted him face to face. Amazingly,
that’s exactly what happened. The first day was
bad for me. Voulkos, at that moment, was going
through a rough period. The class was frightening. I
almost quit. Then, the second day was extraordinary,
and we were able to establish a rewarding non-verbal
rapport based on connecting with each other’s work.”
That year at Berkeley gave Krauskopf the confidence
and the experience she needed to dedicate herself
to her vocation. She felt that she was ready to
investigate materials and develop her own style. She
reduced the emphasis on utilitarian ware and began
to concentrate on objects with a more sculptorical
intent. Today she moves between functional ware
and sculpture, drawing vitality by shifting from one
to the other. The spirit of Voulkos impregnates her
work, but what comes out of her large gas-fired kiln is
totally hers. She has maintained an authentic sense of
refinement without sacrificing inherent strength or
the element of surprise.
When she returned to Chile in 1984, where she was
born 40 years before, ceramics as a valid expression of
art was the carefully-guarded secret of a chosen few.
Little by little she adapted to the local circumstances.
Venezuela, where she had lived 10 years in exile, had
offered a stimulating environment with an enthusiastic
public accustomed to seeing ceramic pieces as artworks.
There was even a gallery dedicated to
showing the work of local ceramists.
Back in Santiago, she took matters into her own
hands and built a studio in her backyard. When local
ceramists began to ask if she taught, she decided that
she would. In 1984, she started Huara Huara, her studio-
workshop project which is set in the foothills of
the Andean Cordillera, in an area now incorporated
into Santiago’s suburban sprawl. Initially, she had
three students; now, 20 years later, she has more than
70. There is virtually no turnover. Almost all of the
students from the 1980s are ceramists in their own
right and many continue to work at her studio.
Krauskopf stimulates them by inviting
artists and potters to Chile several times a year. Warren
Mac Kenzie, bringing his contemporary interpretation
of mingei, and Doug Casebeer, a dedicated
supporter of Huara Huara, have both contributed
their talent and knowledge to producing unforgettable
workshops at the studio. Names like sculptor
Stephen de Staebler, ceramists Paul Soldner, Linda
Christianson, Yasuhisa Kohyama, Michael Simon,
Randy Johnston, Takashi Nakazato, and Akio Takamori
have also worked there, giving master classes
and directing workshops. Several Latin Americans
have also been involved; Venezuelan ceramists,
Guillermo Cuéllar and Gigliola Caneschi, have participated
in seminars on several occasions.
Krauskopf and her colleagues have devised an
original way to market the production of the
ceramists at the studio, which is called La Mesa Larga
(The Long Table). Twice a year, for just one day in
April and October, each class alternates assembling
an exhibition in a well-transitted public space. A table
is built out of scaffolding that runs the length of a football
field – 100 m long. Thousands of utilitarian
objects are displayed and sold. The program is in its
fifth year, and Huara Huara has a database of 1,300
satisfied customers to ensure the success of the next
Long Table presentation.
Today Krauskopf divides her own time between
coordinating the studio program, teaching, and making
her own work. She has an assistant who teaches
three of the five courses and reserves Thursdays for
her alone. All the work made at the studio is in
stoneware, the hallmark of Krauskopf’s own pieces.
In her own work, she has recently made a modular
mural, which she exhibited in a group show, where
it was acquired by a local corporation for installation
at their headquarters. The untitled mural, which
measures 223 x 100 x 24 cm, is composed of 11 irregular
slabs of reduction-fired stoneware. The background
colour of the flat surface is a dark earthy
brown on which a thin layer in relief of a yellow tone
outlines the interrupted form of an abstracted human
body. The effect caused by the disintegration of the
figure into 11 fragments of different sizes, each basically
rectangular, can be appreciated as pure form in
space, or as a metaphor for man’s disconnected persona
in today’s complex world. The artist wrote: “I
am afraid of the intrusion of words and I yearn for the
liberty that only poetry can give. I tried to formulate
the mystery in which we live with the language of the
Krauskopf began modelling in her childhood; her
father had a marzipan almond paste factory, which
Sculpture. 2003. Fired in anagama kiln. 29 x 10 x 62 cm.
21 SHAW 12/21/04 2:36 PM Page 23
24 Ceramics: Art and Perception No. 59 2004
provided her with unlimited raw material.. When she
finished high school in 1961, she enrolled in the
School of Applied Arts at the University of Chile. Following
the principles of the Bauhaus, art was divided
between the ‘pure’ and the ‘applied’, which included
ceramics, textiles and metal-working. The wheel was
considered an industrial tool, so Krauskopf became
proficient at modelling clay. She interrupted her
studies to accompany her husband Miguel, whose
career as a research physicist took him to the U S. She
returned to Chile in 1968 and finally graduated from
the University of Chile in 1972.
Her career as a ceramist began a year later when the
family went into exile in Venezuela. There she
acquired a wheel and built a downdraft gas kiln and
set up shop in the family home. She became active in
the local art community and felt at home there: then
came Miguel’s sabbatical and a radical change of
pace. After that year at Berkeley, and a brief stay in
Caracas, the family returned to Chile where, after a
difficult period of re-adaptation, she began to find her
own ‘voice’ as a ceramist.
“I’d fallen in love with the material. I was able to
prepare my own clay in Chile and I wanted clay to be
the protagonist. I wanted to avoid being pretentious,
and by nature I was still not expressive. Little by little
I realised that I had to incorporate more of myself
into the pieces, and was able to express that realisation
in the work. I went on growing as my life
changed; there was no conscious effort on my part to
provoke change.”
Krauskopf has always respected the inherent honesty
of the material and avoided adding anything
artificial. Any use of glazes must reflect the inner reality
of the clay and not just be a superficial imposition.
The final texture of a piece must emanate from within,
but once again, the result is more an existential process
than a cerebral one.
“I realised I was an artist when I discovered that it
was more important to impregnate the work with
sentiment than just to produce it in quantity. Even so,
I still feel that I am principally a ceramist. In any case,
I’d gone beyond just repeating objects and forms.
Voulkos had awakened the capacity in me to take
risks. Now I depend on my gut feeling; I’ve learnt and
continue to learn to listen to my inner voice. I shy
away from any dependence on glazes, on pure technique,
or an academic formalities. I have always felt
that it was more important to produce work that was
unsettling. My motto has been: beware of an excess of
balance, symmetry and perfection.”
Ruth Krauskopf presented a selection of her work
at the Instituto Cultural de Las Condes in Santiago in
May 2004. The show was her first in over a decade. In
the catalogue, she wrote, “I fear complacency more
than a lack of harmony... I prefer to tackle what I don’t
know, even though it leads me to unpredictable
results.” The results of the show were glowing
reviews and enthusiastic praise: success when it
finally does come, usually leads to bigger and better
achievements. Krauskopf most challenging project at
the moment is preparing the material for a book on
Taller de Cerámica Huara Huara, her studio, and her
own work that Random House will publish in 2005.

Edward Shaw is an American curator, art critic, art collector, and
photographer who called Buenos Aires his home from 1960 to
1999, when he settled in Chile.

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