GLAZE – THE WORK OF ROLAND SUMMER
Introduction by Richard Godfrey
Summer lives on the south facing slopes of the Alps in Austria, not far from the
Italian border. His beautiful modern studio is cut deep into the steep slope of
the garden, and is roofed with soil and turf, providing insulation and warmth in
the winter and maintaining a cool working environment in the summer. Outside the
big glass windows is a terrace providing an ideal area for the raku firing which
is such an important aspect of Summer’s work. Beyond the house and garden lie
the mountains and lakes that are so much a part of his life.
For many years Roland Summer has
been developing his own style of raku and refining the techniques needed to
develop such subtle and delicate surfaces.
Raku of course is not new and its origins are believed to lie somewhere in the
16th century. The surfaces created by such a rapid firing technique,
coupled with the crazing produced by fast cooling produces ware that was much
prized by the Tea Masters.
Many eminent potters, including Leach and Hamada, have played with the idea of
raku but it was in the 60’s on the west coast of the U.S.A. that raku was
reborn. A group of radical potters including Paul Soldner started playing with
the idea of post-firing reduction to produce lustre effects and carbon staining
of the crazed glaze.The immediacy of this process has great attraction allowing
ceramic artists to “paint with fire “ giving huge scope for creative
thinking and fresh ideas.
For many years Roland Summer has been investigating and refining a surface
treatment known as Terra Sigillata and then firing his pieces using a raku
technique that he calls ‘Lost Glaze’.
Terra Sigillata, as the name suggests, was developed by the Greeks and used to
decorate their famous red and black Attic wares. In simple terms it is a thin
slip made up of very fine flat clay particles, painstakingly collected over
several weeks from a watery suspension of clay. The heavier elements settle out,
leaving only the finest, flattest particles floating in the water. Once
collected and made into a milky slip this Terra Sigillata can be applied to the
leather- hard or dry pieces by spraying, dipping or brushing. The resultant
coating is then gently polished with sheepskin, polythene or similar to create
the most magical and sensuous satin-gloss surface. The pieces are then
bisque-fired to await the ‘Lost Glaze’ raku.
Roland Summer’s technique is both complex and risky, leading to many failures,
which he acknowledges as being part of the journey. In essence the process
involves coating the bisque-fired pot with raw slip, which is then in turn
coated with a thin layer of glaze. The piece is then fired again in a raku kiln
to a point where the glaze has melted enough to form a brittle skin.
It is then removed from the kiln and placed in a post-firing reduction
chamber along with combustibles like sawdust to create dense carbon smoke.
Finally the brittle skin is peeled away to reveal beautifully delicate
markings and smoky blushes. He has many ways to encourage the ingress of carbon
and it is the subtlety of the markings that gives his work its distinctive
All forms are coil built and he
usually has several under construction at the same time. This gives him the
opportunity to consider and develop the form as it grows. Summer often works
with a series of similar forms, which are then exhibited as a group. It is at
this stage that the pieces display such a remarkable presence. The pieces,
although vessel based, combine classical elements of proportion and
architectural refinement of form with the slight and deliberate irregularities
created by the coiling process, this creates a tension that implies an inner
pressure. The carbon markings seem to float within the depths of the polished
translucent surface creating more tension between architectural coolness and the
inherent warmth of the Raku process. They have a monumental quality, which gives
them the power to dominate a space, but they also exude a subtle sensuality,
their beautifully curved, mottled and spotted surfaces exerting a primitive
power that invites touch.
Why are we fascinated and attracted by such surfaces? It is very much like
walking across a beach full of sea-worn stones; only a handful will cause us to
pick them up. How does an artist like Roland Summer distil this special quality
and incorporate it in his work? The process must involve complete understanding
of the finished form and surface, so that he can create a piece with the
knowledge of how it will look, at the same time guiding and manipulating those
elements of chance so that the finished piece is a powerful combination of idea
Godrey lives and pots in South