About Gaby Guz

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Gaby first discovered her love of  ceramics whilst a teenager at school in London. Drawing came a few years later, when she enrolled at  life drawing classes at The Ruskin School of Art, while studying for  her undergraduate degree in Experimental Psychology at St John’s College, Oxford. Having felt, throughout her childhood and teenage years  that she was more of a “maker“, a 3-D person creatively, and somewhat fearful of drawing, the Ruskin introduced her to the joy and liberation of drawing from life using charcoal.

After two years working as an Academic Researcher in child psychology, Gaby left Oxford and returned to London, where she worked in Advertising as an Account Planner. After 5 years, however, she felt the creative itch again and left her job to train in ceramics, firstly at Camden School of Art and then at Harrow School of Art in the early 1990’s. She was particularly inspired by the pottery of Lucie Rie and Hans Coper, and her passion was throwing at the wheel.  

 Gaby continued to made pots in Kentish Town with a wonderful and supportive community of potters. She soon came to favour a style of pottery called “naked raku.”

After 15 years of throwing, turning and firing pots at the Holmes Road centre in Kentish Town, the facilities were sadly closed and the creative community dispersed. As a result, and initially only “as a stop gap”, Gaby decided to attend life-drawing classes at Hampstead School of Art where her earlier interest in life drawing was re-kindled.

Her passion for life drawing continues to grow. Her introduction to earth-coloured, soft chalk pastels and more recently to ink has opened up a whole new world  to her beyond that of the black ,white and greys of using charcoal alone.

Since 2017 Gaby has been potting at Rochester Square where she is able to continue her exploration of the raku and in particular the naked raku process.

Reflections

“After years of struggling with seeing myself as an artist, when also a scientist, I have come to understand that this division is artificial and misguided, and starts with unhelpful and restrictive “labelling” at school. I firmly believe that learning to make and create is as important as learning to read and write and that many people are both artistic and scientific, indeed flourish by being so.

 In my drawings, my principal aims are to portray the light, tonal differences and movement of a pose. Consequently, I favour shorter poses in which the model can hold more difficult and dynamic positions and where the time to capture the essence of the pose is deliberately limited. This creates pressure but I enjoy the challenge of not having time to think, but just to ‘ feel ‘ and express what is in front of me.  I am working on trying to also capture this immediacy in longer poses. The deadline of the short pose makes the adrenaline pump and the race against time is quite thrilling.

When it comes to ceramics, my obsession, once I had become a technically competent thrower, has become form and finish. My “naked raku” pots have been burnished with up to 8 layers of very smooth “terra sigillata” because the way the pot feels is as important to me as the way it looks. Similarly, the aesthetics of what sort of neck, rim or opening the vessel should have, has always fascinated me. What is it that makes one form perfect and another slightly wrong?

I like the contrast of the classic, restrained, controlled form of my pots with the wild, untamed surface decoration, which is largely uncontrollable: the end result is up to the alchemy of the kiln. You have no idea what is going to come out of “the bin” after cooling (see detailed process below) and that creates huge excitement and inevitably a lot of disappointment as well. The “naked raku” method has a huge failure rate but enough success to keep me coming back for more. 

Making pots and drawings are both very physical activities for me and both require intense concentration. My whole body is involved in these activities, which may sound quite surprising. I am in the moment and when it is going well I cannot think about all the other things that crowd into my mind the rest of the time. I am exhausted but also exhilarated after a 3-hour drawing session or a day spent potting.”

The  Naked Raku Process in Detail

After the pot is thrown and turned, I apply up to eight layers of very fine liquid clay (“terra sigillata”) to the surface of the pot. Each layer is left to dry and is burnished. The pot is then fired in a kiln for the first time (biscuit fired). Post firing a layer of “resist slip“ is then applied to the pot .The function of this layer is to stop the glaze that will  subsequently be applied to the pot from adhering to the pot's surface, thus allowing it to be removed post second firing.

This second firing is then carried out, and when the kiln reaches around 1000 degrees the kiln door is opened and the pot taken out with tongs. The pot is placed in a metal bin and sawdust is thrown on top of it. The sawdust penetrates the glaze where it crazes and this creates the random black markings that characterise a raku firing.

The difference between a raku firing and a “naked” raku firing is that  in the case of the latter ,once cooled, the glaze is removed and one is hopefully left with the smooth burnished matt layer below.  As many pots fail as succeed but for each firing there is a renewed sense of anticipation and excitement. 

Raku glazes with their characteristic crazing are fired at low temperature ( 1000 degrees ) as opposed to the normal stoneware firing temperature of 1260 degrees. Consequently, raku pots are porous and do not make good functional vessels. They exist just to be admired !