Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Conversation with the Hyperactive Ceramist:

Introducing to you, the animal-hugger, peace-lovin' ceramist and hyperactive personality: Amy Woo.

Please introduce yourself, Amy:)
My name is Amy Woo and I have been living in Singapore for 11 years. I used to work in the financial information industry back in Hong Kong. In Singapore, I am a full-time house wife (who is not good at housework!) and a part-time potter and yoga instructor living with 3 rabbits, 2 cats and one husband.

When did you start working with ceramic? Did you learn the skill from someone? Or by yourself?
I started pottery in University of HK around 25 years ago. It was part of the practical of my fine arts study (my major is economics). After graduation, I practised in my instructor's private workshop and later, in a few other private workshops.

Is there a big appreciation for pottery in Hong Kong?
At the time when I started working with clay in Hong Kong, pottery was like from Mars. Very few potters were trained overseas and moved back to HK, no one had the knowledge to appreciate it. My instructor held a Masters Degree from Canada and she cannot make a living out of pottery. It is a bit better now, but we do not have art schools and institutions like the ones in Singapore, hence pottery is not as common. 

I thought this was a rather Chagall-inspired piece from Amy:)
Is there an artist/potter whose works and life influenced you or your works? 
I am not influenced by any particular artist, but I like pottery from Japan. I used to visit the small studios and galleries run by individual potters. Pottery is a serious art form in Japan and standards there are very high, but also extremely common. My favourite artist is Marc Chagall but he is not even a potter. I love his playful and magical presentations, dreamlike colouring and the weird stories.

What is it about working with ceramic that appeals to you?
Since I was a child, I love to play with dough for hours. I just like to make things out of a lump of something. Pottery has no boundary and it is everlasting (as long as you do not break it). 

Pottery involves all the basic elements: fire, water, earth, metal, air and is really a "down to earth" art/craft. The glazing effects could be amazing too... I can write 20 more pages on this, so better skip!!

Fire. Water. Earth. Air. Metal.
Hahaha. I'm actually curious to read that 20 pages. Why is there a joy in making things out of, "a lump of something"?
Maybe a god-like feeling, to create out of mud using your raw hands only! It is not about tools and materials. I tried sculpting before and it did not feel right as it depended on the materials - marble, wood etc. and you carve from there and cannot go beyond that. I guess I am a manipulator, feeling the clay changing in my hands is just 'shiok'. You can add more clay in an existing work and they will merge together like they are one. Again, I better stop or else another 20 pages, haha.

Okay, hahaha! I think that's a great explanation. The process is not as limiting as sculpting, in fact, working with lumps of clay really reminds one of childhood: putting blocks together, putting things together with your hands, building something.

On to the next question I have...

I'm always a little confused on the terminologies. Should I say you work with ceramics or you work with clay?
Whichever is ok, I normally say I work with clay. I use porcelain most of the time as I love its pure and fine quality, but I also like raku clay and other coarse stoneware clay. My choice of clay depends on what texture, size and glazing effects I wanted to achieve for that particular piece of work.

Are there any kind of clay that you are very interested to work with, but it isn't sold in the stores here?
I had used a kind of stoneware clay from the US before, really nice texture and colour but the supplier left Singapore already. Singapore is a limited market so only those popular clay will be carried by the suppliers. There are hundreds of clay selling in the market, so testing and switching to a new clay is common unless you are mixing your own clay. Some potters will use only one common clay all the time as they may focus on other factors - glazes, firing technique etc. I like to try new clay and if it is not available later, there's still so many more to try!

Can you spot the different clays? Porcelain, stoneware, raku...? :)
I see a lot of bunnies in your earlier works. And increasingly, cats too:P Care to explain or share why the progression to cats?
I have been living with bunnies for 11 years already, they are just part of me. Then one day, I rescued a 3-days-old kitten and she became a very important family member. Good things always come in pairs and I found another kitten about a year ago... My mind is full of bunnies hopping and cats jumping, so do my works.

Amy's kitten...
...who grew to enjoy riding funky sports car:D

What's the biggest misconception people have about your ceramic works? 'Cause for me, I used to be annoyed when people commented how it is easy to just 'patch patch' and call it a day.
It is annoying when people comment on the price and start comparing with 2 dollars shop. I also do not like it when people say this is my style or that is my style. I do not have a style in my mind and I hope I have no style so I am really free in making each unique piece of work when I want to. However, I do not care about others' comments that often... so I am happy most of the time :)

What is the most enjoyable part of what you do? And what is the least enjoyable part?
I love throwing and glazing! I can spend hours sitting on the wheel and feel so calm and relaxed, though it is actually no good for blood circulation. I like painting, and glazing is like painting with your eyes closed. It is all in your imagination. You do not know what will happen inside the kiln with the glazes mixing and melting. There are still so many skills and techniques I have not practised or spend enough time developing it, so it is fun and challenging. Least enjoyable would be after spending lots of time on one pot and realised it is no good and making a decision to keep or destroy. That is the tough part.  

I know you are an avid yoga practitioner too. Does yoga teachings influence your works? If so, how?
Yoga and pottery is the same to me, sometimes I cannot tell I am throwing or meditating. Before I learn yoga, I was already doing yoga through pottery. Now I am practicing yoga, I get to know my pottery in a much better way.

What do you mean by "I get to know my pottery in a much better way." Care to enlighten on that comment?
Pottery requires lots of concentration and sometimes I have blank seconds or minutes where I am working unconsciously. It feels blissful after that and the work is different. Now I know the art helps me go into my subconscious mind and bring out the best from there. I am a bit better in reading my own work: which part is from a blissful mind, which part is routine work. I am sharper now and my senses advanced. My yoga study helps me understand that better. The practice improves me spiritually and I have more to give when creating. My pottery is more like a humble pilgrim now. I am a beginner in both yoga and pottery. There is a long way to go and never ending, I am just trying my best.
Set of ceramic wares for a family of 4.
What will be a dream commission for you? I would imagine, if I am a ceramic artist, a dream commission would be to create special crockery for a funky cafe or something. But what would it be, for you?
A dream commission will be for someone to give me a budget and no timeline, haha! Once there is a timeline,  I already do not want to engage myself. I guess a dream commission should be lots of fun and challenge and cannot be something I've done before, but that means I need lots of time.

I've known you for a couple of years now. Your crazy loud personality is a total contrast to the calm, collected and at times, minimalistic personality of your works. Do you have a rational for that?
It is obvious that I have split personality! Lucky I have pottery or else I have suppressed my other side so much, real bad things can happen! 

Amy surrounded by deers.

What project are you currently involved in that you would like to share?
I hope I can conduct another fund raising workshop for the House Rabbit Society this year. Also got to finish a no-specific-deadline order for a chef :) I always wanted to start my forest animal project ... it is in my mind only, will be good if I can do it next year. 

Thank you Amy!
Amy resides right here:

Love the "Conversation with..." series? Please check out the 1st interview here:)

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