Inside this life, time is only this moment, risks are taken, chance weds human intent with the unexpected, and the best discovery is often things not sought (14).
– Scott Meyer, With Fire: Richard Hirsch, A Life Between Chance and Design
Inside this life. There are risks when we write from a place of subjectivity. At least that is the line we are fed from our elementary school days. In With Fire the artist Scott Meyer writes about his colleague, artist Richard Hirsch. There is no pretense of objectivity- but as I never paid much attention in my elementary school days anyway, I prefer it that way. After all, if fine arts have any meaning at all, surely it is one of making connections: connecting techniques are used to express connecting ideas and questions, which ultimately (if successful) make a profound connection to the viewer. Through our eyes and hands we feel the walls of our humanity from inside this life- where we exist.
With Fire is an account of Richard Hirsch’s continuing journey as an artist working in clay. Through this life examined, many aspects of ceramics: historical, technical, and artistic are illuminated. Meyer opens the book with a wonderfully exciting account of Hirsch’s 1978 trip to Japan where he shared his innovative American style Raku technique with Mr. Raku himself at the World Craft Conference (I have to admit that I didn’t know before reading this book that Raku was a proper noun and not simply an adjective; I guess I didn’t pay much attention in art school either, sigh). Fraught with diplomatic, cultural, and artistic pitfalls, the excitement and genuine appeal of Hirsch comes through in the storytelling.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to interpret pivotal moments romantically (39).
As an added degree of subjectivity I should probably mention that I am recently acquainted with the writer of this book as well. But I don’t think anyone would accuse me of even trying to write objectively about Hugo, Lawrence, Nabokov or any other of the writers that touch me deeply, that is, in fact, what I always hope to share- the pressure of their touch on my soul. I do think that the point of an overtly subjective account is that the writer adores his subject. Meyer’s prose doesn’t hide his admiration for Hirsch and passion for the art- he very much intends for the reader to fall in love with both as well.
One can hardly avoid subjectivity, in my opinion, which makes objectivity a boring lie. There has never been a book written or a piece of art produced that didn’t involve subjective passion. Well, there have of course, but they are the sorts of things that only a mother could love. Unless I’m your mother. The one memory I have of ceramics class in school is the moment when I had produced one of my first pots and I showed it to my teacher. She held the still moist clay in her hand, and then – she crushed it. “Don’t be precious,” were her only words to accompany this brutal act of critique. I suppose I have some attributes as a student after all: I learned that lesson well! Much to my children’s annoyance (although I know they secretly appreciate my disinclination towards empty flattery).
The end result must be a testament to the quest (65).
Meyer’s book delves into Hirsch’s evolving development, seamlessly connecting his myriad interests, intellect, and passion with a winsome mixture of charming cheek and abiding reverence, all culminating in the pots. It’s all there.
I have an overwhelming desire to touch these pieces, and if I have understood anything at all about Hirsch’s art, I think he would understand that urge, and be glad.
Hirsch presents what is essential, even primal, in man’s interaction with tools and material. From this fertile vantage point we may touch what is most spiritual and what is most human (52).
Image information in respective descending order:
1) Ceremonial Cup #1B, 1992, bronze: polychromed patinas, 7 3/4″ x 10″ x 10″ photo by Geoff Tesch
2) Crucible Assembly, 2012, soda fired stoneware and slate, Hirsch, Meyer and Scotchie, 26″ x 20″ x 10″ photo by Gordon Humphries
3) Vessel, 1974, raku fired “painting with smoke”, 18″ x 20″ x 20″ photo by Neil MacEwan