Heading down the blue wooden stairs and into the bright basement studio in the Saint John home of New Brunswick potter Darren Emenau, it’s hard to know where to look first. Your gaze darts from the works-in-progress, including unfired forms in naked brown clay ranked tidily on wooden shelves, to finished vessels in an explosion of forms and sizes whose surfaces seem ripped from nature.
Acid-green, dirt brown, sky blue, and beyond, the glazes are lichenous, bark-like, flaking, and layered, in some places thick, in others mouldering. The natural finishes give the inert objects a sense of life and energy.
In the corner, a quartet of almost one-metre-high vessels in pale pink, bright green, turquoise, and sea blue seem almost to conspire, so lively are they in finish and form. “I’m starting to slowly morph my forms,” says the artist, who works under the phonetic tag MNO.
These works are part of an all-out effort he’s making in advance of what will be the biggest years of his career, with solo shows at the Saskatchewan Craft Council in spring 2019, and at the University of Maine Museum of Art in the fall of 2018. The latter will feature dozens of pieces, including eight to 10 hefty sculptural works, along with 30 to 50 small and mid-sized works, plus a wall installation he’s still conceptualizing.
Recent experiments include rough rims, elongated vessels, and intentionally rounded bottoms that will need a base, or to be turned on their sides, forcing a new perspective. Emenau riffs on traditional ceramics elements in his more sculptural work while he continues to create production-line pieces, including the cute characters of his Whimsical series and the clean lines and muted shades of his Japanesque collection.
After years of country living, Emenau recently relocated to suburban Saint John, but nature continues as a constant in his work, which isn’t just inspired, but is also sometimes made, of its materials.
A keen outdoorsman, Emenau digs local clays, retaining “impurities” such as rocks and twigs as part of his embrace of unpredictability, and firing once or twice a year in his rural wood kiln. It’s of a piece with his spirit of exploration, which extends to glazes, clays, firing temperatures, and techniques, offering endless opportunity to blend art and science in new ways. “I just have to experiment, making things and trying things,” Emenau says. “I’m just playing a little bit.”