Artist Spotlight focuses on interesting artists, upcoming exhibitions, and articles about art and those who love it or create it.

Discover new ways to stretch your imagination, be introduced to new artists, their exhibits, and books to read about them. Expect to excite your mind. Comments are very welcome! -- Rosemary Carstens

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hands on Horses . . . Richard Hess Works His Magic

Richard Hess, Texas hill country ceramic artist, finds it pretty amazing how his life brought him full circle to the work he was always meant to do:
"I grew up in a small working class town in New Jersey where art in school or the community was mostly nonexistent. People worked hard in factories to put food on the table, and there was little time for much else. Fortunately, I was able to go to college and picked Alfred University, a major force in American ceramics. I didn't know anything about pottery at the time but was always intrigued by the students who wore "mud" on their jeans. After a year, I transferred from Alfred to Rutgers in Newark, NJ, studied history and spent my free time hanging around the one-person theater department. I thought I wanted to be an actor."
After college and two years in the Army, Richard went returned to the east coast to live in New York City. At a pottery course in Greenwich Village he discovered he was “hooked.” He loved clay, but had reservations about being able to make his living as an artist. He taught at Little Red School House in NYC, went to grad school and became director of an alternative elementary school. Throughout all his career positions, a part of him yearned to work with his hands. Finally, at age 50, his life came full circle as he came back to the “mud.” He worked nights as a janitor to support his day job as a potter as he built his reputation. Today, Richard Hess is a full-time potter living near Lake Travis, TX, doing what brings him the most joy.

Each of Hess’s pieces is unique. He uses a variety of alternative firing techniques with his slab-constructed pottery, but Raku, a technique developed in Japan in the early 1500s, is a favorite. It utilizes a rapid rise in temperature in a fuel-fired kiln. The red-hot items are then placed in an air-tight container with various combustible materials; a short time later the pieces are removed from the container and either air cooled or sprayed or dipped in water. What is special about this method is that pieces develop wonderfully vivid coloration and sheen. Fire and smoke can create matte black surfaces in unglazed areas, and oxygen deprivation, the fire, and temperature changes cause the glazes to fully or partially reduce, causing distinctive colors or patterns to develop.

Horses have played key roles in war, transportation, and industrial development throughout history, and, in America, they stand as iconic representations of all that symbolizes the American West. In addition to Western history, legend, and the sheer majesty and physical beauty of these animals, Richard’s work has been influenced by the Bronze Age of China and American folk art.

As his work continues to develop, Richard says, “I am excited to think about what might come next as I continue to explore and refine these images. This is work that I love—I hope you enjoy it, too.”

For more about Richard Hess and his work, visit his website and the website of Artisans at Rocky Hill, Fredericksburg, TX, the gallery that represents him:


-- Rosemary Carstens
Join me on Twitter: @tweets2go


Andy said...

Isn't it wonderful that this artist found his calling! How miraculous that must be to him. Thank you, Rosemary, for this lovely post.
Best Wishes

Jerrie Hurd said...

Love the whimsical pottery horses and the way you make me want to meet all these artists you write-up.

Gail Storey said...

I've never seen anything like Richard Hess's work--thank you for sharing it on your Artist Spotlight! I appreciated the explanatory text about his method as well as the photos--so interesting.

Priscilla said...

What a lovely post! I share Richard Hess's love of the mud--as well as love of the serendipitous results possible with raku firing. You describe the process beautifully! And his pieces are amazing! Raku firing, because of the rapid temperature changes, also can result in a lot of breakage--which doesn't seem to plague him at all. What beautiful work.

Laurel Kallenbach said...

Richard's story is inspiring because it encourages us to pursue art and to find ways to work it into our lives even when it may not seem economically advisable! And I love those horses: there's definitely an ancient Etruscan reference there, merged with an American spirit.

mjthier said...

How this work reminds me of those done in ancient China--honoring the strength, grace and beauty of the horse, almost mystical, yet very earth

Excellent posts on your blog--I love art and just can't stay ahead of the curve--you are dong that for me.