Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
 
Front Page

PREVIOUSLY
FEATURED ARTISTS:

TOM ASHE

TOM BAKER

ERIC BEARDSLEY

BARB BELKNAP

BARB & TY BELKNAP

BUNNY BOWEN

GERALDINE BRUSSEL

JB BRYAN

JOE CAJERO

MARY CARTER

ARTURO CHAVEZ

LISA CHERNOFF

RALPH CHURCHILL

CATE CLARK

MICHAEL COLEMAN

DAVID W. CRAMER

CREATIVE SPIRITS OF PLACITAS

SARA LEE D'ALESSANDRO

FERNANDO DELGADO

MARILYN AND HERB DILLARD

SAMANTHA McCUE ECKERT

ALVARO ENCISO

ROGER EVANS

MARCIA FINKELSTEIN

JIM FISH

JIM FISH

BEN FORGEY

C.E. FRAPPIER

BILL FREEMAN

LENORE & LARRY GOODELL

ED GOODMAN

EDWARD GONZALES

SCOTT GREENE

JANA GROVER

SUSAN GUTT

PATRICIA HALLORAN

BIANCA HÄRLE

DALE HARRIS

LYNN HARTENBERGER

LINDA HEATH

KATHERINE HOWARD

BARTLEY JOHNSON

EVEY JONES

SUSAN JORDAN

DAISY KATES

JULIANNA KIRWIN

RUDI KLIMPERT

LYNNE KOTTEL

KATRINA LASKO

KATRINA LASKO

JADE LAYVA

MEG LEONARD

JON WILLIAM LOPEZ

GENE McCLAIN

GENE McCLAIN

BARRY McCORMICK

SARAH MADIGAN

SARENA MANN

JOHNNY MULLENS

TONY PARANÁ-RODRIGUES

ANN POLLARD

GARY W. PRIESTER
GARY W. PRIESTER 2

MICHAEL PROKOS

MICHAEL PROKOS 2

GREG REICHE

LAURA ROBBINS

LAURA ROBBINS 2

MAGGIE ROBINSON

JUDITH RODERICK

GARY ROLLER

ANGEL ROSE

RIHA ROTHBERG AND WAYNE MIKOSZ

MARIANA ROUMELL-GASTEYER

MARIA SAMORA

GARY SANCHEZ

ADRIANA SCASSELLATI

SHARON SCHWARTZMANN

RAY & BETTY SHAW

DIANNA SHOMAKER

BILL SKEES

KATHERINE SLUSHER

LORNA SMITH

LORNA SMITH2

CIRRELDA SNIDER-BRYAN

KEVIN TOLMAN

MAX & JENNIFER VASHER

CATHY VEBLEN

DAWN WILSON-ENOCH

MARY ALICE WINCHELL

For more great local art, visit
Placitas Artists.com

  Featured Artist

  

Signpost featured artist: Michael Prokos

Michael Prokos in his Placitas studio

Wood-fired kiln in Tres Piedras, New Mexico

Orange Bottle, wood-fired kiln ceramic vessel
Tea Bowl, wood-fired kiln ceramic vessel

Playing with wood fire: The timeless ceramics of Michael Prokos

—Ola Robbins

For centuries, artists have valued the beauty that exists in nature. Following the Renaissance, a work of art was judged largely on the extent to which it represented nature faithfully. But there is a difference between using nature as a guide, even reproducing its grandeur in two or three-dimensional form, and harnessing nature’s most powerful elements to create art—as is the case in wood-fired ceramics.  

Placitas artist Michael Prokos was among the first artists to experiment in wood firing in our state, and the organic and sometimes rough appearance of his works bare the very process by which they were made. For 1,000 years, the Japanese have appreciated the natural, sometimes elemental, beauty that wood-firing enables. Such an aesthetic took centuries to catch on in America but is enjoying a Renaissance in New Mexico, where there are currently at least ten wood-fire kilns, all of which have emerged in the last twelve years.  

Prokos helped build New Mexico’s first wood-fire kiln—modeled after a Japanese Anagama kiln—in Madrid in 1999, when there were only about a dozen wood-fire kilns in the country.  

Wood-firing—the oldest firing method—necessitates community, as the process can take up to ten days, during which time, the kiln must be stoked every few minutes. As one person can’t possibly tend to a kiln every few minutes, day in and day out, a group of artists must band together. The finished products are the creations of individual artists, but their existence is predicated on a partnership between various artists working toward a common goal.  

During a several-day firing, the kiln will slowly reach the desired temperature of about 2,350 degrees. While this temperature could be achieved in about a day, a slow-rising temperature ensures that the wood ash thoroughly coats the ware. To explain wood-firing, Prokos has developed a helpful analogy: “I think of it as a river, the pots are stones, the fire and the ash are the water flowing through.”  

Glazing has become synonymous with ceramics, but the glazing that occurs during a wood firing entails much more than painting a clay piece and placing it in a kiln. The ash that moves through the kiln as you stoke the front is called “fly ash,” and it bonds to the silica in the clay to create a natural, oftentimes textural, glaze. Prokos stacks the kiln according to the firing effects he wishes to achieve; sometimes he positions his pieces so that one protects another from the ash, or strategically places rice stalks and sea shells on a clay body for a sought-after effect. Small, high alumina clay pieces that are resistant to the wood ash support each clay piece to ensure that every object within the kiln doesn’t fuse.  

Although Prokos enjoys seeing the “happy accidents” that take place during the course of a firing, he has a good idea of what a piece is going to look like before examining the final product. Over the years, Prokos has done about thirty wood firings and has become familiar with the interactions between particular types of wood and types of clay bodies, the amount of reduction and oxidation in the kiln, and the chemistry of both the clay bodies and the wood ash. Even with all this knowledge, though, Prokos maintains that you “have to release control. Let the kiln do its work.”

Sculptural and often utilitarian, Prokos’s work complicates and blurs all traditional distinctions between fine art and crafts. His tea bowls, for example, are functional objects inspired by those traditionally used in tea ceremonies. In Japan, such bowls are highly revered art forms. If one views these tea bowls in light of their context, their spiritual function can not be separated from their aesthetic, and they become objects with visual, historical, and practical value—objects that defy being branded as either craft or fine art.  

The tea bowls offer an obvious connection to the Zen tradition, but much of Prokos’s work is in fact rooted in a sort of Zen mentality. Prokos says, “Part of the aesthetic in wood firing is not having full control over the results, the Zen idea of letting things be how they are. Set up some things and hope that you get what you’re looking for. Release a bit of your desire.”  

There is a powerful beauty conveyed through Prokos’s style and medium, as if the moments endured during the many days spent inside the fiery, ash-filled kiln—the ash bonding itself to the clay, spreading itself slowly but surely along the curves of the clay body—are worn permanently by the finished piece. The piece itself and the centuries-old process it underwent are indelibly connected. Some pieces emerge from the kiln looking quite polished, even controlled. But others, Prokos explains, “actually can have a certain type of abstract beauty that’s hard for me to describe.” Indeed, Prokos’s own aesthetic instincts and intentions, coupled with the vital forces at play in a wood firing, endow his works with a coarse, almost primordial quality.  

Michael works full-time as a ceramist and is a thirteen-year resident of Placitas. His work was recently published in the book 500 Raku: Bold Explorations of a Dynamic Ceramics Technique. It is carried in national and international collections and can be viewed at the Weyrich Gallery (weyrichgallery.com) and the Chicago Art Source (chicagoartsource.com). You can also visit www.placitasartists.com/m_prokos/.

     

Top

TOP OF PAGE

     

Ad Rates  Back Issues  Contact Us  Front Page  Up Front  Animal News   Around Town  Arts   Business Classifieds  Calendar   Community Bits  Community Center  Eco-Beat  Featured Artist  The Gauntlet Health  Community Links  Night Skies  My Wife and Times  Public Safety  Real  People  Stereogram  Time Off  Youth