Perhaps more than any other art form, Raku is the most misunderstood. Where Eastern Raku is steeped in the tradition of making tea bowls for the Zen Tea Ceremony, much of Western Raku has departed from it, both in forms and techniques. Ronald Franklin, who has practiced and refined the art for over thirty years, has pushed it well beyond traditional boundaries, taking it to a new level of sophistication.
It is in the final (glaze) firing that Raku departs so radically from other types of pottery. While the artist’s work with other pottery forms is finished when the piece is put into the kiln, Franklin’s is just beginning.
He uses kiln temperature, oxygen control and post-firing techniques to achieve his complex results. He watches for the moment that the glaze surface develops during the firing, uses long tongs to pull the pieces from the kiln and further craft the glaze surface. Then he introduces carefully selected materials, creating the highly prized crackle and flash patterns. (There are actually two layers of crackle finish - the larger primary crackles and the tiny secondary ones.) Each element ignites and forms its own distinctive pattern in the glaze. Franklin calls it “painting with fire” as he achieves dramatic variations in color (both reds AND greens) from a single glaze. Due to the extreme thermal shock(s) and high temperatures, Raku is very much an ordeal by fire for the pot and the potter. Not every piece survives, making his porcelain Raku very rare and highly prized. Each piece and each firing are remarkably different - a chronicle of the struggle between the potter and the unpredictable forces of nature. For Ronald Franklin, that is its appeal.
Ronald Franklin says:
I work with a limited number of glazes which I have mixed myself. With Raku, a broad variety and range of color is achieved by the way I fire the kiln and what I do with the pieces during the post-firing after I have removed the pieces from the kiln.
The effects of two types of reduction - kiln atmosphere and post-firing- are essentially evident. Red Bronze glaze responds beautifully to kiln reduction. Its bright reds and greens reflect kiln circulation. Patina and matte type glazes produce wonderful flashing effects by post-firing. Copper, a key ingredient to both of these glazes, becomes mystical under such conditions.
The touch of fire, temperature, atmosphere and circulation are all beautifully recorded by copper’s keen responsiveness. The fire marks each piece. No two are alike.