Last November, assistant curator of contemporary art Katherine Love visited O‘ahu-based ceramic artist Yoko Haar to see her process for Garden Reflections, which is on view through July 21 at First Hawaiian Center. Haar sat at a big table at the Hawai‘i Potters’ Guild—a partially open-air complex under the H-1 freeway near the University Avenue exit—crumpling up balls of newspaper and placing them under thin strips of moist clay.
Garden Reflections is part of a trio of exhibitions centered on the idea of craft—the lobby and mezzanine-level galleries feature works made from paper, fiber, glass, wood, and metal. Haar’s seven flat ceramic pieces hang in the adjacent hallway gallery beside wall-mounted ceramics by Kaua‘i-based artist Licia McDonald. Collectively, these concurrent exhibitions go back to a vision that late curator of contemporary art Jay Jensen had for the satellite museum space. It was a bonus for Jensen and Love to be able to include Haar, an artist they had watched closely for years.
The crumpled newspaper Haar placed beneath her artfully woven lattices of clay created the undulating ripples found in works like Morning Calm.
“This is dangerous,” she said to Love. “Usually it’s not like this. Yesterday I made this too dry.” To bend, the clay has to be moist—but too moist and it won’t hold its shape. To aid in shape retention she uses a special paper-infused clay. “I want to make very thin, flexible tiles.”
“It reminds me of light patterns that are caused by different natural things like water, or sand, or looking through a lattice, or vines,” Love said as she watched Haar work, hinting at why she ultimately titled the exhibition Garden Reflections.
Working with thin, three-dimensional ceramics is somewhat new for Haar, who previously only made thick, flat tiles. In a way, bringing the light and shadow back into play helped her return to her original medium, painting. Hanging on the walls at First Hawaiian Center, the sculptures function like paintings, too.
Getting the final works on the walls was a long road for Haar. In spite of her efforts to reinforce her clay and patch cracks en route to completion, many didn’t survive the bisque and glaze firings needed to make a final piece. Even if they did survive, she didn’t always like the final color produced in the personal electric kiln at her house.
That’s what brings her to the Potters’ Guild, which has a gas-powered kiln. The more natural heat source helps create an organic variance in glazes—that is, if the other works in the shared kiln don’t offset the flow of heat. As a final precaution, Haar personally unloads the kiln. After removing the sculptures, pinch pots, and wheel-thrown bowls created by other talented ceramists, she reached a wafer-thin sheet intended for her piece Into the Woods and transported the delicate piece to a padded box.
“It’s looks a little bit rusted, like it got a patina. I like its subtlety,” remarked Love.
Haar looked at it for a second, then said, “It’s OK,” and went back to work.
Pictured at top: Yoko Haar at the opening reception for Garden Reflections in April.