Wasp-waist Table with Chris Shea

I've had the great privilege of collaborating with master blacksmith Chris Shea on one of his gorgeous Wasp-waist occasional tables. The table top is composed of over 300 hand cut, beveled, and glazed porcelain tiles by myself.

The jumping off point for the design of the table top stems from a large wall-tile piece I did as part of my senior show at Alfred University, but this time re-framed through an entomological perspective, rather than geological. I appreciate how collaborating with another artist allows me to redirect my focus and look at my surfaces through a different lens. Chris' work often references arthropod forms, and I found my aesthetic fit in well with this perspective. The hexagonal tile design alludes to compound eye structure, while the overall pattern loosely references the colors and patterns found on many exotic beetle shells. As with most of my work, my aim is not to create objects that are too direct or literal in their interpretations, but to references a variety of patterns and details found in nature -- ultimately allowing the viewer to bring in their own perspective.

From a technical standpoint, this project proved to be quite a challenge. We knew from the beginning that we would like the tiles to fit together as seamlessly as possible as one continuous surface — without the aid of grout to fill any gaps. Perhaps someday I will warm up to the idea of using grout, but I knew I did not want this tabletop to look like a garden patio table. This required a certain level of precision with cutting the tiles, and I immediately found that when pressing a cookie cutter through clay, no matter what you do the cutter tends to drift to one side as it slides through the thickness of the clay slab. This meant that I had to bevel each edge of every tile, to remove that extra "drift" to ensure everything fit together as seamlessly as possible. This wouldn't have been as big of a concern with square tiles, but with a six-sided shape, even a small error can throw off the fit of the whole composition.

There were actually only two colors of crystalline glaze used in this whole piece. The wide variety of colors and patterns in each tile was produced by applying the glaze in varying thicknesses, and firing in several batches. My favorite part of this process is actually digging through a box of glazed tiles and arranging them like a giant puzzle; rearranging and rotating each piece until the composition is just right. I have an idea in mind of the general composition from the beginning, but there must be a willingness for the pattern to evolve as it's laid out, as each tile is completely unique.

Many thanks to Chris for reaching out to collaborate, and to Pete Duvall for photographing this piece and capturing all the wonderful details!

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