Local Ceramicist Andrew McIntyre Shares how Chinese Pottery and Spanish Architecture Influenced his Work
OXFORD, Ms. – At first glance, the organic creations of Andrew McIntyre, a Ceramic Technician and Instructor in Ceramics at the University of Mississippi, appear to just be functional porcelain vessels with colorful glazes. However, when the light hits one of McIntyre’s pots or mugs, the pottery takes on a translucent quality and reveals something new.
“I like this idea that there is a visual language that I’m marking onto the pot within form, within volume, within the tools that I use, the way my hand marks the clay,” McIntyre said. “But then also how glaze affects that surface, so I’m literally making decisions during the making process that will then result in how the glaze forms and changes in color on top of that.”
McIntyre first fell in love with pottery 18 years ago after he enrolled in a three-week ceramics class at Power APAC, Visual and Performing arts elementary school. Growing up in Jackson, Ms., McIntyre said he had many mentors that were encouraging him to be a ceramicist, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue ceramics professionally. That all changed during his freshmen year of college when he took his first ceramics class.
“It started to click that not only did I like to make pottery, I liked to make really anything in clay, I also liked to teach, and I like to give back,” McIntyre said. “So those things kind of went hand-in-hand and throughout my four years at Ole Miss that guided me to think about how I was going to be a professional in ceramics and what I was going to do out in the world.”
The style of porcelain pots that McIntyre makes and teaches his students to make in his courses is called soda fired pottery. The soda firing process involves spraying a super-saturated solution of sodium carbonate (baking soda) into a kiln towards the end of the firing. The baking soda then separates into sodium ions and carbon dioxide; the CO2 leaves the kiln, but a portion of the sodium remains attached in the clay and creates a glaze. The baking soda mixture mingles with the silica, alumina and interacts with the clay to create rich rustic colors that often range from yellow, red, brown and gold.
McIntyre received his BFA in Ceramics from the University of Mississippi in 2011 and his MFA in Ceramics from Syracuse University in 2015. While he was in graduate school, McIntyre completed two artist in residency programs abroad. While McIntyre was at The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China, he discovered the technique that allows him to create translucency in his pottery.
“During grad school, I went to China one year and then India the next year for a three-week residency,” McIntyre said. “I was immersed in those different cultures, histories and ceramics – that alone was a wealth of knowledge – but what I started to love specifically when I went to China is this form called ‘rice grain’ pattern.”
“Rice grain” is a technique that came to China from Turkey during the 14th century; it involves making small piercings in the walls of a piece of unfired porcelain. The holes are then filled with translucent glaze. After the porcelain solidifies with the glaze, the walls are thinned down enough to allow light to pass through the pot and reveal hidden patterns.
Four years ago, McIntyre and his wife took a trip to Barcelona, Spain, for their honeymoon. McIntyre said one of the draws of visiting Barcelona was Spanish Architect Antonio Gaudí’s design and architecture. Born in Catalonia, Spain, in 1852, Gaudí is best known for his intricate structures throughout Barcelona, his masterpiece being the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, a large unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica. The Sagrada Família’s exterior features a lot of Gothic architecture with elements such as blister windows, exterior buttresses, and a tall needle-like spire. Inside the basilica, columns shaped like tree trunks branch out into a celling of kaleidoscopic shapes making the visitor feel like they are deep inside a forest; the church is also full of vibrant stained-glass windows that set the mood for prayer, meditation and reflection.
After visiting the Sagrada Família and seeing how light passed through the basilica’s beautiful stained-glass windows, McIntyre said he was inspired to incorporate Gaudí’s design into his work by creating little windows within his pottery.
“We went to the Sagrada Família, and all of these things started to click in terms of a visual aesthetic and light coming through the stained-glass windows and the different types of architecture,” McIntyre said. “So, I had already been looking at moving my work in a direction of pushing form more and pushing these repetitions of line, but now I’ve brought back this idea of how glaze looks on a pot and how light shines through it.”
While his travels have inspired him to craft beautiful vessels of color and symmetry, at the end of the day, McIntyre said he wants to create pottery that is not only beautiful but also functional. The act of making something out of clay like a mug that someone will use to pour their coffee into or creating a bowl that a family will serve their dinner out of is an aspect of functional pottery that McIntyre said is very important to him.
Though he has bad days at the pottery wheel, McIntyre said he embraces those challenges because he knows the end result will be worth it.
“Being hands-on is who I am,” McIntyre said. “That process of making the clay all the way to making the pot and finishing the pot – there are challenges through all of that, but one of the things that I love about ceramics is problem-solving and working through those challenges and then, in the end, having something that represents the culmination of all of that.”