As a student at Florida A&M University, artist Earl Washington felt the loving support of his mentors Curtis and Yvonne Tucker. They first met when Washington was a student at Rickards High School and the couple continued to encourage his interests in ceramics well into his academic trajectory.
Washington had his family’s support as well — his father’s trade in building and construction taught him the same discipline and fortitude that he received from the Tuckers. He recalls one day in the studio wanting to throw a larger ceramic pot like the ones his mentors were making.
“One day I threw one and Curtis came over and said, ‘I see you’ve got it.’ Then he knocked it down,” remembers Washington. “He reminded me that if you did it one time you can always do it again and build it better the next time. I took that as encouragement, and anything I’ve tried to do since, I accomplish it.”
A Tallahassee native, Washington grew up near FAMU where he pursued art. Though he made a career from construction, he’s now returning to making art full-time in his retirement.
As a student he dabbled in a variety of mediums including photography, macramé and collage — all which will be showcased in his exhibition “Unlimited Expressions of Life” at the Foster-Tanner Fine Arts Gallery. The show will be on display through March 29 and features 60 works.
Washington first got a taste of the art industry from the Tuckers. He traveled with them to shows, selling his hand built and thrown ceramics as early as10th grade. They also introduced him to the Afro-Raku style of firing clay. This approach carbonizes the material by burning it in sawdust, leaves or paper to bring about gradients of gray and black finishes.
“In every Raku firing you will never get the same effect because you’re dealing with different atmospheric environments,” says Washington. “The glaze reacts to different temperatures.”
First a pot is glazed and placed in a kiln before Washington removes it with his tongs. He then puts it into a container filled with natural materials and leaves it to burn for twenty minutes. The longer the burn, the darker the clay will get. He fondly remembers his early Raku firings in high school when they would run out of the art room to avoid setting off the smoke alarm.
Nowadays, Washington has more freedom to experiment with his work, and even has ceramics blended with his macramé, or intricate knot tying work. His collages speak to larger themes of time, decay and justice — some are narrative depicting Barack Obama’s inauguration day, while others remain more abstract. Regardless of medium, his creative process remains relatively the same.
“When I’m producing a piece of artwork it’s like a birth,” says Washington. “I get this piece of clay and put in my experience and how I feel, then the characteristics of the piece come out and it grows into a piece of artwork.”
Washington molds his work to highlight its inherent features, which he relates to raising and rearing a child. He gathers wood for sculptures and similarly will let the medium reveal what it wants to become. In his photography, nature is a constant. He wakes up early to capture lilies in full bloom and loves to catch a sunset or beach scene out on the coast.
Any given piece takes a few days to weeks to complete, with the most difficult part of the process being able to produce exactly what he visualizes in his mind’s eye. Washington’s patience is tested as he takes the time necessary to create, step back and continue shaping a piece to his satisfaction.
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