While I get up early for a lot of my travel photo shoots I’m really more of a night owl at home and tend to enjoy working late at night on the computer while it is quiet outside. Russell Mott, the Art on the Road featured artist for Las Cruces also tends to get up early — and I mean EARLY — but on more of a regular basis. You’ll find him up and about well before the crack of dawn already at work in his studio either throwing, glazing, or working on some other facet of his clay pottery.
The style of pottery that Mott specializes in is called Raku which is a type of Japanese pottery. The Raku process involves a series of specific steps to be undertaken by the artist and include removing the still hot piece from the kiln and allowing it to cool either in the open air or in a airtight container along with some form of combustible material.
Each Raku artist has his or her own special way to finish the process including cooling the hot pieces in vats of water, but there are no standards for the final steps of creating a Raku style piece of ceramic art. Every time a new work of ceramic art is created using the Raku process it is unique in its coloration. In the reduction atmosphere of the aluminum pails that Mott uses to begin the cooling process, the clay reacts with the oxygen as do the metals in the glaze. This produces some brilliant effects and ensures that each new creation is ultimately unique.
This form of art is one where you get down and dirty in the creation process. The work environment is dusty, muddy with the clay that gets manipulated, and hot & steamy with the final firing and cooling process. What’s not to love? Mott gets to play with clay, shape it with his hands, and finally play with fire. This is a form of art I could most certainly get into myself.
I found the man as interesting as his art and happily listened to his tales of his past careers as a Marine corps officer, psychologist, and even professional photographer. The sounds of opera playing in the background on an old beat up boom box add to the character of the busy studio where every square inch is utilized for a specific purpose. The music is the perfect compliment to the man behind the rough and tumble exterior who creates such refined and intricate pottery.
While I really liked the brilliant colours of Mott’s traditional Raku pottery there was one particular style that I liked the most. The subtle black and white tones of Mott’s “Naked” Raku pots and plates with their hand drawn designs were something completely new to me and I loved the simplicity and elegance of these pieces. Achieving the results of these Naked Raku pieces requires a twist to the process where in the cooling stages the glaze is chipped off to reveal the etched image on a black or off-white surface.
I can’t say that I had a favorite piece of Mott’s work and when I asked him if he had favorites that he kept, he too said that it would be impossible to choose. I liken this to when people ask me what my favourite place is to travel to and the answer is always the same… The next place.
We didn’t have good light for photography purposes the first morning that I was in Las Cruces (a great small town) so I returned at 6AM the next day to catch Mott during the final and most crucial step in the firing process of Raku pottery. The very last steps involve removing the plates and pots from a kiln that heats up to 1850° F, covering them with the aluminum pails along with strips of paper to add some smoke, waiting for them to cool, and finally working on them with torch and hose in a steamy, smoky operation to achieve that distinct Raku shimmery surface that Mott is known for.
Mott also collaborates with his artist wife Kate on ceramic and other types of art which they showcase in their downtown Las Cruces art gallery at 535 Main street. Not only do they showcase their own work but that of other artists from all over the country. From creating to displaying and selling the art, this is a true team effort with very colourful and spectacular results.
This was a fascinating experience for me to see the process of creating such beautiful ceramic pottery and I’m thrilled to have had the chance to see a master at work.
I continued on my quest for ceramic art throughout the day and made several stops along the way where I found some very cool ceramic tile art at places including parks, schools, and monuments.
With limited time and so much to see I made my way over to the Las Cruces suburb of Mesilla to check out a couple of art galleries and I’m so glad I did!
First stop was to The Potteries and I was delighted to find the artists and owners of the gallery hard at work in the studio. Janice Cook and Jeanne Rundell create beautiful and unique art in the form of paintings, pottery, ceramics, crafts, sculpture and more.
This place was a veritable treasure trove of what I like to call “Happy Art”. When I saw all the fun and whimsical designs I just couldn’t help but to smile. This is where art can be incredibly powerful and elicit a visceral reaction that is really quite moving. For an inanimate object to have the power to put me in a good mood and melt my troubles away, well, that is something I wish I could bottle.
Not only was the art of the joyful variety but Janice and Jeanne were delightful to talk with about art, creativity, New Mexico cuisine and even politics since this was the day of the US presidential election. I’d strongly urge you to pay them a visit if you want to see some cheerful art that would brighten up any room in your home or workplace.
Check them out at 2260 Calle De Santiago in Mesilla.
I could have stayed the rest of the day at The Potteries but I had to be on my way in order to get to the next gallery. I arrived at the Rokoko gallery only to find it closed. Fortunately for me the exterior of the gallery was so pretty that I’d consider it a work of art in itself. Art on the Road indeed!
With the day rapidly approaching an end I decided to try to get out to White Sands to get a typical New Mexico sunset photo but never quite made it. As the sun started to get very low in the sky I thought I had lost my opportunity for one last shot. I turned off at the next random exit to find myself in a serene desert area much to my good fortune and pulled the car over to the side of the road to set up my tripod.
At any moment I was expecting John Wayne or Clint Eastwood adorned in dusty cowboy duds, to come riding along on a horse between those Yucca plants and the Organ mountains. This was a timeless scene and a perfect way to end my photographic exploration of the area. White Sands will wait for another time and I’m looking forward to returning to New Mexico.
Next stop… Los Angeles!