I am fascinated by the infinite variety of marks that potters make in and on clay. A simple mark, an incised gesture can move a pot from dull to exciting in the instant it takes to be made. As I have mentioned, making marks can take a lifetime or a repetitive dedication to create, just think of Hamada's characteristic sugar cane motif or the brisk marks of Michael Simon. For a mark to work, it has to be well conceived, deftly executed and more than anything, compliment the pot. It would seem the practiced spontaneity is at the heart of good mark making and experience and practice, the basis for successful execution.
The reason this came to mind again is that I recently encountered a wonderful wood fired pot covered in ash, strong form, great clay, well fired with a mark made round the top of the pot that just seems to lack any purpose of conviction. Is a poor mark like a so-so kodai on an otherwise nice chawan? Does the mark alone diminish the quality of the pot? I have spent a lot of time looking at the pot which has descended in to a love/hate relationship, I love the pot but the mark is so much a distraction that it dooms the pot to my eye. It is funny how a simple mark, made by an experienced potter which is meant to be innocuous ends up being the exact opposite, the focal point of the pot. I know as a potter, I struggle with making marks that are meaningful and appropriate, but it amazes me that you can do almost everything right and get only one thing wrong and the pot fails. It is rather inescapable that the devil really is in the details and for a potter, you need to get all the details right, each and every time. Certainly sounds simple enough.
Illustrated is a close up of a Persian box by Michael Simon. The design of two fish is the model of simplicity, all superfluous detail has been removed and in economy and fluid dexterity, he has rendered a design that he had familiarity with through his experience of repetition. Though simple in line, mark and detail, the essence of the fish comes through and animates the surface of the box. His ability to create such spirited marks speaks to his intuitive and purposeful sense of creation; there are few modern potters who can say so much with so little.