Skip to content

Lucy Merrett: Circus Tricks in Porcelain

Artist in residence October 2012 – April 2013

Introduction by Lucy Merrett

So I thought that I would make my own circus tigers, and cheetahs, and lynxes and lions and leopards to satisfy a yen for use of porcelain. All the beautiful dinosaur cats! But the time that it takes to make one object whittled the ambition down to repetitions of slip cast porcelain tigers; four of them; and one lone cheetah with broken legs fashioned from chunk vitreous porcelain supplied by Somchai. All the raw stuff was supplied by Somchai as well as the recipes and powders to mix the glazes with. I bought the lustre glazes.

So I sweltered in 30 degree heat over the hottest days that the summer of 2012/13 had to offer in order to cast successfully four tigers. I attempted five. It’s a long process and getting the glaze to flow is a long process especially in the heat. Hey it’s all a learning curve I said to myself and to Somchai who patiently answered my questions and stood by and intermittently assisted me to pull out 4 entire tigers from the moulds that he had taught me to make.

The glazes turned out lumpier than  I would have liked – due to my clumsy application. But I was particularly pleased with the bronze metallic looking glaze that Somchai conjured up, as it lay on naked fired white porcelain. The porcelain looks very glassy and the glaze very metal like and shiny. I could do something jewel like with the cheetah, perhaps adding a garnet for a heart later. Oh, but I would have to cut the raw garnet, polish it and fit it to the body: more long process work.

I was hoping to age some metal to make stands for the tigers but had trouble finding plain ammonia for the recipes that I was keen to try out. Persistence has its rewards sometimes and I was hoping that some would turn up which it did. I once read in some self-help book that to gain time you have to do everything slowly. Well this project seemed to involve all my other interests which all took time to do. Polishing stones at the lapidary club takes T I M E.  I will use stone slabs inserted in the top of the stands for the tiger stands. Porcelain, rock, metal. Metal takes time to age, to saw through, to fashion. Porcelain takes time to dry evenly. After 5 months still only a modest product to show for all the T I M E.

Time passed pleasurably during the studio sessions in conversations with Somchai. We Talked about Thailand and family and politics and workplace politics and diplomacy and clay. What was especially memorable for me was viewing beautiful photographs of Somchai’s mother’s and father’s families in Thailand in the 60’s and 70’s. Palm trees, dogs, beautiful ladies and men in fashionable clothes of the time.

Recollection from persons attacked by big cats

Dr. David Livingstone

“Starting, and looking half round, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was upon a little height; he caught my shoulder as he sprang and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was neither sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation, but don’t feel the knife. This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. This particular state is probably produced in all animals killed by carnivora…….”

By F.W. Champion.

“Nearer and nearer draws death in feline form and yet the sambar passes the last few moments of his happy life in the peace and contentment of his chosen home. At last the tiger after an infinity of care, has reached sufficiently close to enable him to make his final rush; he pauses and braces himself for the last act. Then he makes a lightning charge, so fast that the human eye can barely follow and launches himself on his prey, using such terrific force that frequently he breaks the victim’s neck almost instantly.  In very few cases do the struggles of the sambar last for more than a few seconds”.

Graeme Gibson, ” The Bedside Book of Beasts – A Wildlife Miscellany”

“As they generally do, the cat had seized him by the shoulder and taken him to the ground. I was intrigued by the fact that the victim reported feeling neither pain nor terror. What compelled him most, he said, were the cat’s beautiful golden eyes, a hand’s – breadth away, staring into his.”

Ullas Karanth, Biologist, India, taken from the American Museum of Natural History

“No animal fires our imaginations like the tiger – and for good reason. Tigers are the largest of the big cats. They are incredibly powerful predators: Bengal tigers can bring down wild cattle weighing a ton or more: they are as agile as they are strong: tigers can leap more than 30 feet ( 9 metres) in a single bound, climb trees, and swim for miles. And in their forest habitats, they can disappear in an instant, melting soundless into the bush. When you see a tiger, it is always like a dream.”

Tiger kills trainer during show

Journalist gets into cage with lion and gets bitten