Alive

The Ceramics and Ink Drawings of Mardi Wood

April 04, 2015 - June 26, 2015
Commonweal, Bolinas,


Una Vacca Maremanna, porcelain bowl, 12" w x 3 1/2" h

Una Vacca Maremanna, porcelain
12″ w x 3 1/2″ h

I spend time in Tuscania, Italy. It is nearby—at an Etruscan site called Vulci—that I draw the Maremma cattle. These cattle carry the genes of the aurochs, the ancient cows seen in cave art. Their recent ancestors are Etruscan cattle, a connection established by bones found in archeological diggings at Vulci.

I gather my paper, my ink, and my improvised cardboard easel to hang off the fence rail and hike in to where I might find these cattle foraging. I “set up:” clipping a large sheet of paper to my easel, perhaps wetting a big brush with which I might dampen the paper, taking up another brush, cut to the nib, and make my first line…beginning where?…at the tip of the horn?…at the hoof of a hind leg?…and thinking of fitting the “whole” into the shape of the paper….making the lines I see as I look at the animal….each line adding to the whole.

I glance down at the paper quickly to see if my hand is in the “right” place as I lay down another line, redrawing over lines to find the form of the often-moving animal, adding layers of watered-down ink….finding and defining emerging shapes…then more lines. I think my work is as much about line as it is about the animal.

Clay, being of the earth, has a materiality. It is something I can hold in my hand. l like its cool damp feel…its malleability…I form pots on a potter’s wheel or roll out slabs. I have watched the faces of beginning students; I see a total immersed concentration come over them as they feel their hands on the wet clay turning slowly on the potter’s wheel. This still happens to me.

I like to draw or redraw into my clay work. I use ceramic-based pencils, chalks, and stains, oxides, and engobes to draw, paint, smudge, or scratch imagery onto the clay surface. I often refire a piece many times to rework the lines, the color, the glaze. Refiring, adding layers of glaze between what I have drawn and redrawn, brings a certain “life” to my work.

My exhibit at Commonweal is entitled “Alive” because these Maremma cattle, that still carry the ancient gene, and that were of Etruscan times, are a sign to me of the aliveness of the land and the earth (terra). They tell me of the continuing connection between land, human, and animal…both spiritual and in daily life. Here in Italy, and as well other parts of Europe, a celebration—Transhumance—speaks of this connection between land, animal, and man. It is a viaggio, a journey, recalling tradition: cattle, horses, and man move together over the land as one, joining the rhythm of the earth.