This History File post has been submitted by Frank Bosco regarding his 1986 ceramic collaboration with painter James Brown. The project was ultimately canceled for reasons Bosco describes below, but photographs of the project survive in Bosco’s photographs, shown below.
Before I met James Brown, I met Andrew Lord, who had heard about my collaboration with Frank Stella from art dealer Marian Goodman. Lord was interested in initiating a ceramics project but asked if I’d take on a project with Brown first.
Before Brown and I got started there were a few meetings to discuss how to proceed. I was invited to Brown’s loft in New York to look at some work, and I recall being impressed with the finish on the loft’s red brick interior. A thick glossy epoxy coat right over the old peeling paint. In a way he was living in a ‘glazed’ environment, and the red brick… well that’s terracotta.
So I came up with the idea of a format being a large thick slab, or tablet. This would give him a flat surface like paper or canvass, but with the advantage of a malleable substrate for digging, gouging, sculpting. I constructed a jig for shaping uniformly sized slabs of terracotta clay 16″ x 24″ x 1″ thick. For color, I provided pigmented engobes, and a bright alkaline glaze palette.
Since the project was to be an edition, the idea was to work on a number of slabs, choosing one to be cast as a multiple. However what happened instead was a series of unique works, none of which were cast. Each one became a separate idea or resolution.
James worked quickly, loving the immediacy of the process, and in only a few short months (he) had amassed a number of finished works ready to be fired and glazed.
However what became apparent during the firing of these massive slabs were cracks at all four sides starting from the edge and jutting towards the center of the tile like a lightening bolt. These cracks were serious enough to fracture the slabs into four separate albeit broken pieces. Not all were cracked the same way, but all were cracked to some degree.
We stopped production for a while to give some time in figuring out the problem, but by the time I realized the mistake I had made in the forming process, the project was to be cancelled.
Some years later I learned of an exhibit of James Brown ceramics at Castelli Graphics in NYC. Sure enough, there were slabs, not the one’s he produced with me, but a series he had done in another studio. Same format, and size… and yes some cracks in the same places, but not nearly as dramatic.
What the photos show, taken with my Nikkormat camera, is how James addressed the issue of the cracks when he could by incorporating them into the narrative of his image. Some photos depict works that were not fired, still bone-dry greenware, other photos show bisqued works without glaze, and some with the finished glaze.
Frank Bosco is a faculty member of Rhode Island School of Design, Providence and founder of the New York/New Jersey Academy of Ceramics, Jersey City.
Above image: A photograph of Frank Bosco and James Brown’s tile work. Photograph by Frank Bosco.
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