Chris Staley
Artist Educator

Black Ooze

By Chris Staley

While growing up, my Mom would often say to my brother and me "Get outside, and I don't want to see you until dinner time." As a result, much of my childhood was spent in the woods, abandoned lots, or open fields. Having spent so much time outdoors when I was young has affected me to this day. I still enjoy walking in the rain, picking up leaves and stones, and I even get an odd pleasure helping to clean out the clay traps under the sinks at school. The clay sludge reminds me of the black ooze I once waded through in a pond during my youth.

The late Sculpture, Barbara Hepworth, said "Perhaps what one wants to say is formed in one's childhood and we spend the rest of our lives trying to say it". Despite it being over 40 years ago I still have indelible memories of the time and place the black ooze covered my bare legs and hands.

Clay doesn't lie. It is so direct and honest in its response to touch. I believe it is the immediate consequences of our touch that makes clay so satisfying to work with. Increasingly our lives are being consumed by an ocular-centric world, staring into pixilated screens. Working with clay is such a different experience it reminds me that I have a body and do not solely exist in my mind and eyes.

I would like my work to look like it is still becoming. To be a reflection of the search that goes on inside me to explore notions of the beautiful and the disturbing, to explore context as meaning. Why is the hair on our heads so desired and a hair in our mouth so disgusting? Every touch has a meaning-from the softness of a baby's cheek to the beach sand between our toes. I believe Touch has the potential to make our world larger.

Every type of clay has its own character, its own qualities. I use a wide range of types of clay from black stoneware to porcelain. The whiteness and smoothness of porcelain reminds me of the seductive qualities of water. Porcelain is clean and white like snow and feels refreshing, like taking a shower. There have been times when I have juxtaposed a porcelain vessel next to a gunmetal black stoneware slab.

In the end, clay's formlessness is its greatest gift. This trait affords infinite possibilities of becoming. It is clay's ability to leave traces of a moment when it was touched and then revisit that moment, that makes it so life affirming. Every day when we drink from a cup and become aware of touching the cup we can experience a moment of reflection and stillness.

Published in " The Masters:Porcelain" by Richard Burkett
Published by Lark books 2008