Ira Winarsky: Vessels of Light and Landscape

By McNutt, Sarah | Ceramics Art & Perception, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Ira Winarsky: Vessels of Light and Landscape


McNutt, Sarah, Ceramics Art & Perception


And the rain's comrade, the bow of Iris, wove her many colours into a rounded track and shone bent under the light-shafts of Helios the Sun opposite, mingling pale with dark, and light with rosy." ~ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2. (Translated by Rouse) (Greek epic C5th AD.)

A DECEPTIVELY CALM CERAMIC FORM RESTS DORMANT outside Ira Winarsky's house of glass as the sun appears as a sliver over the horizon. The humid air feels heavy as clouds crowd the sky overhead. Slowly, the darkness thins out and, like parking-lot motor oil transporting the broken concrete to a galaxy of colour, the iridescent bowl wakes up, a thumping pulse of life held together by unbroken surface tension. The glaze drips over voluptuous curves sodden with colour, the complexity of surface transforming the subdued lines of the vessel like a skin pulled taut over a rippling orb of tonal mercury.

The damp heat rises from the verdant surface of 15 acres of land in Gainesville, Florida, US dubbed 'Iraland'. An unexpected flash of lustrous colour appears as 20 peafowl roam the overgrown area, tending to their own business while a German shepherd, affectionately known as Rosie, diligently stands by. The environment births an appreciation for regional colour in Winarsky's work. As we psychologically absorb the pallette of the spaces in which we exist, so Winarsky has collected the sticky, iridescent, scintillating sweat that drips under the heat waves of the wetlands and projected it onto his vessels.

Winarsky's interpretation of forms using lustre and iridescent glazes can be described as an ongoing study in the chemistry of light. Early works in fluorescence and phosphorescence, later departed from because of their toxicity, marked the beginning of a journey into experimentation with metallurgy and its interaction with light. Winarsky graduated from the sculpture program at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was exposed to both the old traditions of sculpture and new technologies. The similarities of his glazes over opaque clay, to the look of radiant moulten metal in casting, is uncanny. Additionally, his early work revolved around programming sculptures to interact and move to the action of the viewer, this interactive quality of his work has been maintained throughout his career.

Winarsky claimed that he was forever changed after seeing one of Beatrice Wood's works in person and identifies that experience as the spark for a lifelong investigation. "When I saw Beatrice Wood's art at the Garth Clark Gallery in New York City, I was 'blown away'. Her art used more than lustre glazes; it also used iridescent ones. 1 knew at that time that an iridescent glaze was possible. Wood, however, never disclosed the formulae and other processes for creating her art."

Living a double life as an architect and professor by day and 'mud slinger' by night, Winarsky applied the same methodical and analytical process of designing buildings, including his own home/ studio/gallery, to ceramics and glazes, albeit on a smaller physical scale. Just as we interact with the designed spaces we occupy, Winarsky's landscape vessels engage the viewer, with their uniquely radiant coloration and through their reflective natures. Winarsky demonstrated a commitment to controlling the ephemeral interaction of light on the skin of his forms through the rigorous calculation and testing of ceramic materials. "My passion for the last 20 years has been to discover the iridescent glaze secrets and to use them to create a rainbow of colours of new iridescent glazes for my art. Because there was almost no literature on the subject, I had to start my research with the basic chemistry and physics of light." His alchemy, beginning in 1988 with his first successful iridescent vessel, has been a lens into the secret life of light.

His warm, avuncular voice over the phone elaborated on the sophisticated process of creating, glazing, firing, documenting and 'grading'. …

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