Artist answers howling question: Why teapots?

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What: "The Slipcast Object" reception When: 5 to 8 p.m. tonight Where: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St. Curator Richard Notkin will give a slideshow and gallery talk during the opening. What: Notkin also will conduct a workshop titled "Ceramic Sculpture: Concept and Technique" When: Saturday and Sunday. Call: Beth Banning at 879-9008 to register.\

When Richard Notkin teaches a class or a workshop, the first inevitable question is, "Why teapots?" Notkin has been a ceramic artist for 36 years and for 25 of those, he has been making teapots.

The teapots come in all shapes, loading with a variety of aesthetic and political statements. He chose the teapot, he said, simply because it is the most complex of the ceramic vessels, the canvas of the ceramic artist.

"On the teapot, there is the body, the handle, the spout, the knob and the foot. There are more parts to play with," he said. "I build narratives by juxtaposing and metamorphosing, and I can get the widest range of images from working with the teapot."

Inspired by the small and intricate teapots made in the Yixing region of China, Notkin's pieces are usually no taller than 4 or 5 inches.

"You don't have to make something big to make it important," he said. "The aesthetic is proportional, not to its size, but to its content."

Like the Yixing teapots, Notkin creates pieces using unglazed clay. Because there is no glaze, he has no worries about covering his extremely detailed work.

Although based on the concepts of Ming dynasty Chinese pottery, Notkin's subject matter is modern -- commentary on the military or the environment.

His pieces blur the line between function and sculpture.

"Teapots are considered quiet, tranquil and domestic," he said. "But it's kind of a bait-and-switch. Everyone can identify with a teapot. People aren't intimidated by teapots, which makes my messages more accessible to people outside of the narrow parameters of the art world. The teapot breaks down that wall."

Notkin will be giving a slideshow and lecture tonight at the opening reception for "The Slipcast Object" at the Depot Art Center. Notkin juried the show, which includes work by artists from around the world exploring the technique of slipcasting.

Slipcast probably is best known as the technique used in the mass production of ceramic objects such as toilets and sinks.

Liquid clay is poured into a plaster mold. The longer the clay is left to set, the thicker and stronger it becomes. As the clay wall thickens, the plaster absorbs water. As a result, the ceramic form shrinks and easily can be removed from the mold. The clay is fired, glazed and fired again.

Notkin said there have been three exhibits that focused on slipcasting and that the Steamboat Springs show is the first international juried show of its kind.

In 1978, the Koehler Arts Center held an exhibit titled "Clay from Molds," and in Kansas City in 1989, there was a small survey of slipcast work called "Clay from Plaster."

"The technique has been irresponsibly bad mouthed," Notkin said. "But a technique is only a means to an end, and no piece is stronger than the idea behind it."

While jurying "The Slipcast Object," Notkin said he saw a lot of work that "pushed the envelope of what slipcasting could be."

"They did a good job to justify the case that slipcasting is another tool in the ceramic artist's tool belt."

Notkin also will be giving a two-day workshop Saturday and Sunday on the technique and conceptual underpinnings of slipcasting.

"I will discuss the importance of developing a personal aesthetic rather than imitating," he said. "All artists should know why they make the work they make, and it should come from a deep place within them."

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