In 1900, sponge divers off the coast of a small Greek island discovered an ancient shipwreck. After reading an article in a British science journal about writing found on a hunk of metal from the ruins, Colorado Springs potter Jerry Rhodes was inspired to make a representation in clay.
The seemingly unimportant artifact turned out to be "a celestial calendar that worked via an incredibly intricate set of gears," Rhodes says. His interpretation of the treasure is named after the island, Antikythera. And though the pottery work doesn't look anything like the device, Rhodes says it captures "the idea of juxtaposing the ancient with the new."
The piece has a round base common to Rhodes' work, recent examples of which are currently on exhibit at Commonwheel Artists Co-op. In the pot's center, a square cross section reveals a series of interconnected gears, atop which a boat-shaped apparatus appears to teeter between gears like a carnival ride that swings back and forth, almost capsizing. Intricate carvings adorn the gears and top rim of the base, and a yellowish-copper glaze crackles the surface, combining the aesthetics of modern mechanics with antiquity.
"I guess it's human nature to explore the unknown; the philosophical as well as the physical," says the artist, who's also a former Air Force officer still serving as a liaison to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Rhodes' artistic exploration can be seen in his unique Raku method. Only a few of his pieces have the shimmery turquoise, purple and copper glaze most often associated with the style. He adds traditional and non-traditional techniques to Raku's typical process: Plant food gives a blue/green shading, horse hair leaves squiggly carbon trails, and steel wool leaves dark patches.
"Instead of using a glaze on some pieces, I'll wrap these various elements around a pot and hold them in place with foil," he says. "As they heat up in the kiln, each of these substances vaporize or melt, and their impression is bonded to the clay of the pot."
An excerpt from Rhodes' artist statement clarifies the result: "In the end, I'm not really trying to resolve the different elements that go into a piece, but rather, bring the composition to a point where it finds a temporary détente within itself."