January: Vivian Purcell

We are so excited to be welcoming Vivian Purcell to Moon+Arrow as January's visiting artist. Vivian is a local ceramicist who works specifically with the wood-firing technique. Learn more about her process and shop her work all month long in the shop and online.

Tell us a little about yourself and your art practice. How did you start creating?
I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art to study sculpture and by chance took a ceramics class. In school, I was mostly making larger sculptures in clay. Now that I have my own studio, I’ve discovered the power of making small works. There is an intimacy in working small that I connect with. This past year I really fell in love with the wood-firing process and the surfaces it creates, which has been a driving force for my work.  

These are wood-fired pieces. Can you talk about that process?
Every ceramic piece is fired in some type of kiln. In wood-firing, instead of heating the kiln with electricity, wood is used as fuel and also creates the finished surfaces on the work. It's a community based process as wood is stoked into the kiln around the clock anywhere from 24 hours to 14 days depending on the goal of the firing. It's a big group effort to fire for that long and the community collaboration is part of what I love about it. 

This body of work is fired for around 60 hours to build up ash on the pieces over time that then melts at around 2350 degrees. 

The look of the finished pieces depends on where it was located in the kiln, what was next to it, and how much wood was burned during the firing. 

The flashes of color in the pieces are created by flame paths moving through the kiln and the accumulation of melted ash. There are many things to be done to control the look of the finished piece but a lot is still left up to chance, which is why no two pieces look exactly alike. 

What do you derive your inspiration from?
A lot of my work comes from thinking about shapes, stripping them down to their most basic form and building them back up. I take lots of walks around Philly with the intention of finding some good shapes or textures to work with. I also like to make objects for floral arrangements which is great because Philly really loves flowers. Most houses have some sort of planter or decoration outside and there is plenty of interesting architecture in the city. 

Do you listen to anything when you're creating? 
Unlike most artists I know, recently I’ve been trying to work in silence in the studio. I believe in boredom as a big driving force for creativity. Working in silence makes me fill up the space on my own and doesn’t let me fall into any sort of monotony. When I’m doing something repetitive like throwing mugs, it's easy to stop paying attention to detail. If I do end up listening to anything, I prefer instrumental music so it fades to background noise. If it’s raining, I’ll go with Blues. 

What do you enjoy most about living and working in the artist community in Philadelphia? 
Philly is a great city for ceramics. There are a bunch of really great ceramic facilities here and the sheer amount of people working in clay is what originally drew me to the city. There is also such a great sense of community and the whole city is very focused on uplifting local artists. It's amazing to be a part of and it's been a pleasure to work and live here. 


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