BOY WONDER: The Ceramics of Darren Emenau
by Mandy Ginson
“Bud Vase,” 5 in. (13 cm) in height, local earthenware, with MNO Lichen Glaze, fired to Cone 06.
Scientists call it magical thinking, the unique and supremely imaginative ways in which children make sense of the world around them. For most, this ability is lost over time, displaced by other ways of seeing and doing. Once lost, forgotten. Unless you’re Darren Emenau. As a child, Emenau had ample room to roam. Growing up in the undeveloped reaches of southern New Brunswick, Canada, his youth was largely occupied with walking the shores of the Kennebecasis River, combing the fields, peering under rocks and poking in the mud. Here, a sense of wonder was fixed and stuck. After completing a biology degree at Concordia University in Montréal, he returned to his home province and studied ceramics at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. Since graduating nine years ago, Emenau lives and works with his artist girlfriend in Jones Creek, 60 kilometers from where he grew up. Free to roam once more, Emenau has discovered solid groun to foot his ideas and work. He largely focuses on the production of multifired one-offs. Imbued with a ruddy reverence for the natural world, his work imparts a now quieted sense of wonder, succeeded by an eye bent to beauty in unexpected places
Detail of a covered jar made from local Cone 06 earthenware with MNO Lichen Glaze. Ceramics Monthly March 2007
In his practice, Emenau starts at the very beginning: with the clay hauled from New Brunswick riverbeds, Emenau notes that his clay is harder to work than most, but perhaps if a natural aesthetic is the end goal, no harder than trying to coax coarseness from porcelain. Emenau hand forms pots on a kick wheel, which he says allows him to be more in tune with his work. He tries to keep the clay loose and fluid as he works, noting that he doesn’t want to impose himself on the clay but rather tries to allow the clay to be what it wants to be. Form is dictated by a certain affinity for aberration. Beauty for Emenau is in the imperfect, the impermanent and the imprecise. Vases have a slight tilt, and an erratic line is drawn between lids and their bodies. Hours spent observing the natural world have supplied Emenau with a taste for the variation and diversity found in nature. The work, however, is not sloppy by any stretch. Fine, attenuating limbs are in perfect balance with ample bodies. The eye of an intelligent designer has been turned here. Texture takes on an important role in Emenau’s recent work. Impurities, such as twigs and stones, are not removed but rather retainedto effect unique markings and interesting surfaces. The roughed-up, worn exteriors convey a rich sense of history. This is not by chance. Individual works have been fired up to eight or nine times. History is not imitated but created. Emenau is a self-professed glaze fanatic. As he increasingly exploits this knowledge, the glaze is used not as mere surface decoration but the surface itself. Emenau experiments with applying successive layers of glaze and refiring. The results, he admits, might be irreproducible, but the intent here is not to make models but rather to unearth possibilities. The thick crusts, pocked surfaces and acidic earthy colors in “Lichen,” the most recent body of work to exit the studio, closely resemble the natural formations they are inspired by. The jugs, bud vases and bowls, in their simple but solid shape, team a roughed-up classical form with a rugged organic minimalism. The “Oil Can” is from an unknowable time: some farmer’s unwanted fruit, the tinman’s discarded stage prop, the yield of a favored roadside ditch. In the Lichen series, a certain sense of layered narrative is staged, with one eye cocked to the prankish. Emenau continues to create
Above: Sake Set, to 41.. in. (11 cm) in height. Below: Tea Set, to 6 in. (15 cm) in height. Both are local earthenware, fired to Cone 06. Ceramics
Monthly March 2007 “Bud Vase,” 5 in. (13 cm) in height, local earthenware,with MNO Lichen Glaze, fi red to Cone 06.
opportunities for discovery in his work. Currently he is experimentingwith glazes developed from indigenous rocks. Quartz, limestone and granite are crushed with mortar and pestle, then further refined with the aide of a sieve. Additionally, he just completed work on a new wood-fired kiln, modeled after an Olsen fast fire. In using local clay and local glazes, and working with a kiln fired by local wood, Emenau brings his practice full circle and has, in effect, createda unique record of place. Emenau’s work is simple in the smartest of ways. In breaking the universe down to its smallest bits and coming to understand the nature, identity and composition of each of these bits, Emenau is able to make sense of a complex world. His work continues to stir the imagination and supplies viewers with a renewed opportunity to fully experience the natural world and all of its inherent wonders.
MNO LICHEN (Cone 06)
Borax . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24.7 %
Lithium Carbonate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9.3
Magnesium Carbonate . . . . . . . . . . .39.2
Frit 3134 (Ferro) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1
Nepheline Syenite . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23.7 100.0 %
Add: Copper Carbonate . . . . . . . . . . 5.2 %
Bentonite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1 %
Below: “Ellie Euer,” 4 in. (10 cm) in height, local earthenware,with MNO Lichen Glaze, fi red to Cone 06; detail at right.
This recipe was inspired by low-fire recipes by Lana Wilson. Ibrush it on in various thicknesses. Some of the glaze can flakeoff during firings. After firing, I scrape or sand blast the surface toremove any loose glaze. I rub bees wax into some areas and thentorch it to remove most of the wax. Forms are often multifi red.A nepheline syenite wash will prevent fl aking during firings. Mylocal clay contains a high percentage of iron oxide and salt crystals,which act as strong fluxes.