ROLAND SUMMER - CERAMICS
in 1955, Roland Summer is one of those Austrian ceramicists whose work is
definitely of an international standard and whose products are correspondingly
sought-after. This is evidenced not only by the fact that his ceramics are
represented in the major museums worldwide and that he has received numerous
prizes for his oeuvre, but also by the impressive names of his collectors –
from Norman Foster to Robert Wilson and even the Duke of Devonshire.
Neue Sammlung is now, for the first time, presenting an exhibition of the work
of this renowned Austrian ceramicist at the International Ceramics Museum in
Weiden. In fact, this exhibition could also be described as a retrospective;
since the show in Weiden contains not only Summer's latest work but also a
number of items from earlier phases of his career. It is hard to imagine
anywhere that would be more suitable for this exhibition than the International
Ceramics Museum with its collections from all kinds of different eras and
it is the shapes and techniques that are used by Summer that demonstrate his
interest in past cultures in other parts of the world. Africa, and especially
the Sudan, plays a role, as do Asia and, of course, Europe. Summer works with
raku, an ancient Japanese pottery method, originally inseparable from Zen
Buddhism and the tea ceremony. As important for his work is the use of terra
sigillata, which originated in Italy in the Roman period, and which he applies
in a very specific way. However, Summer’s broad knowledge of ancient cultures
and techniques is merely the starting point for his own creations which are
situated in the present – the here and now – with traditions transcended and
the future mapped out.
Summer turned to ceramics relatively late, having first completed his studies in
architecture at the Technical University of Graz (1974-80). Although he finally
decided against a career in this field, his association with architecture and
the questions it throws up, which are at the very least questions for mankind in
general, as well, was to remain a lasting influence. Above all, his encounter
with Hugo Kuekelhaus (1900-1984), one of the most important initiators of
teaching in the disciplines of sensual perception, architecture and ecological
approaches, was in retrospect the decisive impetus for Summer’s turning to
ceramics. Impressed by this versatility and ability to assemble the most diverse
matter before the mental eye, he decided to create something using his hands,
not in order to plan extensively, but to create and build in detail.
time factor plays a major role in his working process. And his vessels make this
clear, in a very positive sense. He does not work with the "rapid"
potter's wheel, instead he builds up his ceramics centimeter by centimeter. They
grow out of themselves slowly. Summer's shapes are organic and softly rounded,
ideally suited to his preferred technique using terra sigillata and to the
has, therefore, in this way, developed an entirely individual technique. After
the biscuit firing the vessels are covered with a separating slip, earlier in
combination with a glaze. Lines are drawn into this, even though, without this
treatment, crackles will still appear after the raku firing. The coating splits
and peels during the cooling phase when plunged into water, leaving a negative
image on the surface in the form of smoke traces.
a certain distance the pieces look like conventionally glazed ceramics, but on
closer inspection irregularities become evident; lines and crackle patterns
begin to blur. They do not really exist, only their negative images. At the same
time they form an inseparable part of the vessel by not appearing as an applied
coat but as the material itself. This is the difference between Summer’s work
and glazed ceramics. For him the glaze is a supplement, a surface covering that
does not arise out of the piece itself. Typically, his glaze cracks away. It is
only a medium for the purpose, not part of the completed object.
Roland Summer's vessels possess a certain severity and great precision, they
still have a sensual, corporeal feel to them and are full of refinements. Almost
imperceptible irregularities, minor displacements, slightly crooked lines
instead of straight ones mean that these shapes always express life and tension
– underscored by the chance qualities of the traces of smoke.
same applies to Summer's so-called " pairs" which have kept cropping
up in his work since the mid nineties. It is not merely about placing two
vessels side by side, as they do not only correspond with the space around them,
but above all with each other and by establishing a relationship. The space
between appears as negative space (“empty space”) and gains in this sense a
special importance. Out of this juxtaposition of the vessels emerges
architecture in space. It is made evident, particularly in the case of the
“pairs", how Summer’s view of space is influenced by his earlier
studies in architecture.
lines of development are recognizable within his work – as in the case of
pairs growing together or merging into a single shape. Some pieces, reminiscent
of fruit shapes, have their origins in this development, while others follow a
further line, such as porcelain objects which were produced as a result of an
exhibition project at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in 1999. Even if Summer
did not pursue this route any further, it did provide him with important
stimulus for his oeuvre.
What all Summer's works have in common is their particular meditative character that has something to do both with his focus on their external shape and with the process-oriented nature of his modus operandi. This is complemented by his open way of looking at things and the associated pleasure he takes in experimentation. Nevertheless, every step that he takes is well-considered and has been thought through. This intellectual approach is, at the same time, an attitude recognizable in all his ceramics, and one that makes his oeuvre so unmistakably idiosyncratic.
Josef Strasser, NEUE SAMMLUNG MUNICH
Text for the catalogue published for the exhibition at International Kermikmuseum Weiden / Germany