Meet Carmelo "Mal" Capone & Naked Raku - Potters of Perth and WA - Part 2
Through an unassuming door off to the left entering the Fremantle Arts Centre's large ceramics teaching facility up a hill behind the main gallery and shop space, you will find resident artist, Carmelo Capone.
Mal standing with one of his large Grecian-style urns.
Mal's previous series of Naked Raku spheres titled, "Mondo Fluido", adorned Gallery Central Perth in a perfectly placed Fibonacci sequence spiral on beds of native sand (so they would not roll away). Today, he works on his next series of Grecian-style urns as a tribute to the connection between his family heritage in historically greek-occupied Capo D'Orlando, Sicily. Capo D'Orlando happens to be a "sister-city" to Fremantle, Australia linked by fishing fleets, and he found it a fitting connection between his heritage and present-life to focus on for his next exhibition.
Mal's handmade plaster forms from "Mondo Fluido"
The Fremantle Arts Centre sits overlooking the hills of Fremantle, a now suburb of Perth, Australia by the Indian Ocean. The area is predominantly a historical shipping port and today serves similar purpose. It also happens to be a central part of Perth's art and ceramic scene.
The Fremantle Arts Centre's Ceramic Studio on a Hill behind the Centre
I learned about Mal from his daughter-in-law, Amy Perejuan-Capone who is the Gallery Supervisor at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. I was glad I had the chance to sit and chat with Mal. His humble spirit began our chat telling me all about the ceramic happenings in Perth area and all of the other artists I needed to go see and speak with (which I plan to provide a list of in a future blog post). Eventually we spoke about his art, motivations, and adventures - but not after he clarified he is of no relation to the famous Capone from my country.
After completing his career working as a draftsperson, Mal didn't feel living a life of sitting in front of the Telly was for him. He decided to enroll at North Metro TAFE (Technical and Further Education Institution) and received his diploma in Visual Art with a minor in Ceramics. He studied there under Bela Kotai (Google for some images of fantastic work!) who he refers to as one of the guru's of Perth ceramics.
Mal first saw Naked Raku and was exposed to it via Joan Campbell in the 1970's. Joan has since passed away, but was very instrumental in the ceramics careers and education of many in the Perth area. He also was familiarized with the process via Judith Paisley who also does Naked Raku work. He uses the word "seduced" when referring to the process and said he was first seduced by Naked Raku at a ceramics masterclass with Mara Funghi in Tuscany.
For those not familiar with the process of Naked Raku, Mal's process begins using a coarsely grogged Raku body which he forms and then burnishes either naturally or with slips using a curved knife and tools he makes himself.
Several of Mal's handmade forming tools and his die for extruding rectangular coils.
After burnishing and drying the Naked Raku pieces receive the application of a sacrificial glaze which Mal then coats with a bit of hairspray to keep it from flaking off before firing. He fires them in his homemade fiber kiln and pulls them out at 900C (1652F) to place them on a bed of combustibles that are then covered with a can. The sacrificial glaze cracks from the thermal shock and stress of the process allowing some of the reduction carbon trapping to absorb into the cracks leaving a soft non-repeatable pattern of cracking and gradient black to grey lines organically over the surface.
Steward Scambler's Kiln - Similar to Mal's Homemade Kiln.
Mal's Naked-Raku kiln being fired
Mal tried to describe the seducing power of Naked Raku and spoke about some of his studies where they did print-making in a non-controlled process that eliminates the artist's thought-process entirely and leaves the end-result up-to-chance by rolling the dice for colors, placements, and evolution of a print or landscape painting. In some cases the end-result was 'eh' other cases it was spectacular. He likens Naked Raku to this as a process that can never be fully controlled or repeated...it has seduced him.
Images from the facilities inside and around Fremantle Arts Centre
When asking Mal my three questions for artists on this journey he first shares with me "Biele's Wheels". This is the tool he cannot live without in the studio when coil and throwing large vessels. It was a required tool for students to make in all of Bela Kotai's classes and helps keep the thickness consistent from row to row to minimize cracking when firing. He also said that his flexible bandsaw blade for shaping and a torch for firming each row are crucial to his process. He shows me a new use of a laser level (lookout Ming, this one might be commandeered from your wood-working tools!) and a really interesting way to make sphere molds. He makes all of his tools for French curves, but would really like a mirror with a grid opposite his wheel on the wall for perfection of every curve of his pieces.
Mal with his set of "Biele's Wheels"
We talked about the idea of "addressing the clay" - at the start of each day when you work with clay it becomes a time that is between the two of you. Some potters prescribe to the philosophy that they 'control' the clay and others agree this time 'between the two of you' to be something of a sacred time where sometimes it's the clay that speaks to the artist what it wants to become. Mal and I prescribe to the second philosophy which he learned as important when working with Mara Funghi in Italy.
For pure joy, Mal says taking the pot out of the kiln. He says everything looks easy or sounds easy until you try it yourself. Each one of his pieces is touched with his own hands and has its own life out of that kiln. That idea that that particular piece cannot be repeated gives him joy.
If money was no object, Mal would have his own ceramics studio with his own wheels, own kilns, and own music. His work currently can be completed due to a residency position that allows him to work from the Fremantle Arts Centre from September through December 2019. He also says he would travel more. He mentions Faenza near Ravenna, Italy and the three-story art Gallery there. Mara Funghi told him he had to go here and he was totally blown away. His musical joys involve singing his Italian Opera's at full volume while driving his Alpha Romeo Spider through the country-side or down the freeway where no one can hear him! He also finds great joy in bicycling. He owns a specially made bicycle that was made for him in Tuscany and he cycled nearly 1/2 way around Sicily and Italy with paneer bags on front and back. It was specially made for him of lightweight steel and once he picked it up he immediately took it to the local Tommasini church to have it blessed. He said there is nothing better than riding a bicycle from winery to winery or eatery to eatery without having to stop and pay for petrol.
It was such a joy for me to catch Mal working and have a chat in his current studio space at Fremantle Arts Centre. Thank you Mal!
I don't want to forget many of the organizations and artists Mal mentioned I should go see. Some of whom, I was able to get to,...others will need to wait until next time...
- CAWA - Ceramic Arts of Western Australia organization
- Pippin Drysdale - one of several of the most well known potters of Perth
- Warrick Palmateer - Videos on Vimeo, had his start throwing with Joan Campbell and now works and collaborates with Pippin Drysdale - one of the most prolific throwers in Perth. He lives and works in Yanchep on the "Turquoise Coast' of Western Australia about 1.5 hours north of Perth central business district. (It's amazingly gorgeous there!)
- Joan Campbell - one of the local Perth matriarch's of pottery.
- Bela Kotai - no one link will do Bela's work justice - Google it for lots of pics and write-ups.
- Judith Paisley - Also does naked Raku like Mal.
- Mara Funghi - Italian Naked Raku guru who taught Mal at a Ceramics Masterclass in Italy.
- Fremantle Arts Centre - The central hub gallery, shop, and ceramics studio in Perth Australia with rotating exhibitions. (A blog to come about the center!)
- Paul Soldner - Mal's favorite American ceramicist.
- Mundaring Arts Center and Gallery - about 1 hour east of Perth.
- Guilford Pottery Studio - on way to Mundaring.
- Perth Studio Potter's - Open Saturdays 10am-4pm
- Victoria Malone - Crystalline Glaze Specialist.
- Cher Shackleton - Another of the Perth well-known potters, wood-fire specialist, and instrumental in guiding Mal to be a part of a group exhibition. (Watch for an upcoming blog post about my time with her!)
- Pot-tober - Bi-Annual Festival of Clay in Perth (next is 2020).
- Fremantle Arts Center teaching staff:
- Stewart Scambler
- Sandra Black - Sandra was instrumental in helping point my way through the ceramics community before I arrived in Perth; however, timing did not allow us to cross paths.
- Stephanie Hammill
- Robyn Varpins
- Lee Woodcock
- Njalikwa Chongwe - Master Potter and Owner of Zinongo Gallery (Upcoming blog post about him!)