Tony Marsh, based in Long Beach CA, is a contemporary ceramic artist. He was recently awarded the United States Artist Award for his achievements within the field of craft and contemporary ceramics. He is a professor and Program Chair of ceramics at California State University in Long Beach and is on the board of the Archie Bray Foundation. Marsh has worked with numerous artists, and is the director of the Center for Contemporary Ceramics. His work is internationally renowned and is part of public collections across the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His current exhibition, American Moon Jars and Crucibles, is on display at the Ceramics and Design Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Tony Marsh talked with Nick Dison about craft, new plans for the Center for Contemporary Ceramics, and ideas on art.
Nick Dison: First off I'd like to congratulate you for being awarded the artist fellow this year, I know you do a lot in and around Cal State Long Beach and within the field of ceramics, that's a major award and can you tell us a little bit about it?
Tony Marsh: Every year people are nominated for the award, people that are nominated have to apply. I think what's interesting about it is that it cuts across all the Arts and Letters, it's authors, poets, singers, songwriters, musicians, conductors, ﬁlmmakers and then, from across all the visual arts and performing arts, so it's really comprehensive and this year, there was 45 fellows picked. Each artist was given a very handsome cash award and the opportunity to get together for three days in Chicago and share with one another.
The thing about it that's very interesting to me in particular is that for someone like me that's been in the ﬁeld of ceramics for a long time, and it feels very small actually, we all know each other, especially if you have been around for a long time, like it or not, good or bad. So we receive the kind of support from our community and get plenty within ceramics.
What we don't see so often though is recognition from outside the ﬁeld, so that's what this is and it really- the thing that I liked about it was that it put me on even footing in a sense. I think all the artists that were there felt this way, we're all on even footing, no matter what our practice, no matter what our identity or racial background, or age, or positioning, in an institution or not, our ﬁnancial status, the playing field was leveled for a couple days, we all just appreciate each other and what one does and I really love that about it.
I felt like it was very special. The people that put it together work very hard to come up with a funding to support that many artists, it's a pretty remarkable endeavor and then all the hard work they have to do to identify the people, I think there's over 500 people who were chose to apply, 45 people got Awards so it was great and I'm just, I'm very grateful to to be treated with a lot of respect, it was very nice to get out of your bubble, I'm kind of a studio rat, so to get out of my bubble here once in a while and go share with all kinds of artists of all stripes from top to bottom, that was really just great. I was very honored.
ND: That's awesome, that's amazing! Where there people that you knew that were also awarded that award or was it all new people that you're meeting at this conference?
TM: Well for one thing, in the cohort, the 45-member cohort of 2018 fellows, there were four MacArthur award winners, that's the genius award and so that's pretty lofty company. I think for someone who's kind of come from craft like me, to be put in a lineup with those people, that was pretty amazing and so yes in the ﬁeld of craft there were two other people from ceramics, Julia Galloway from Montana and Patti Warashina from Seattle. They were also awarded the artist fellow this year, I know them pretty well. After that, I didn't know anybody, I knew of people, but I didn't know them. I was nice to meet so many great people.
ND: That sounds like a wonderful experience. You mentioned craft, why is craft important within the ﬁeld of ceramics and how would you deﬁne craft?
TM: Well craft is how materials are treated, it's how things are built and the manner in which they're built and the intentionality and how things are built, it's not why things are made, but it's how they're built and how materials are dealt with and used. There's such a broad range, kind of a limited deﬁnition of the application of craft is something because there can be people, that on the surface of it look extraordinarily sloppy and careless but they might be very intentional, in how they're doing things because that's the way they wanted to look for a reason and so I could even put those kind of people in a category of careful crafters. If they're highly intentional and kind of living out their intentions in the work, regardless of what it looks like versus somebody who's trying to build a Swiss watch and do it right and reproduce it and get everything down to a 1/100 of an inch tolerances and make sure that all the rules of craft are engaged, histories are upheld. I think that's kind of what it is.
Craft versus art, I mean a lot of people are tired of that subject, I never get tired of it. I think it's endlessly fascinating and interesting to understand, if you're maker. I feel like craft is something that, it's part of the continuance of history and the legacy of the history and it's about bringing the past forward and remembering the past and honoring the past, how things should be done properly. In craft, I think that is hard, one of the ways I understand it is that it's made. It's about reassuring the culture, things are good, things work well, things are well built and they come from traditions, that are strong and so there is something about craft at large, that is comfort, comfort that history, that things will be good, things will be well done, that history matters which is very different than art.
I think arts job in part, is not to reassure, craft reassures - art is subversive and art is a critique, it's a critique of something and art typically does not want to uphold the good standing of history and wants to destroy history and say look at me, don't look at that, look at me, I'm what matters, I am of this moment, that's irrelevant now, I'm what I just supplanted, what used to be important and now what I'm going to be is important, an artist is kind of that way and it's very, it's a very different mindset in craft and so true crafters versus true artists, so is there all kinds of ﬂashover boundaries in between I mean, of course, are there territories in which one another engage? Yeah, of course. Is one important to the other? Yes, of course. Are they the same thing? Absolutely not.
So, that's, it's alright, they're more engaged than they ever have been in some ways and good art always takes good craft on some level, take some kind of craft, it's got to be there, but it's usually not what the art is about and the arts kind of in trouble in art circles if it's about its own craft, it doesn't get to be about other things, so it's a very interesting topic, I could probably go on for a while but go ahead if you got another question.
ND: Thank you, that's a very thoughtful answer, I like that. You have a show American Moon Jars and Crucibles on display at the Ceramics and Design Gallery in Santa Fe, can you tell us a little bit about the show and what are some of your ideas about the American Moon Jar?
TM: Well the crucibles, I've been making it for about ten years or so and I've been showing them mostly in Europe, not so much here. American Moon Jar, the title there, it's something that I mean it's kind of an inside joke, it's not a joke but it's inside stuff you know, in the sense that if you're a potter or if you know pottery history, if you know, Asians ceramic art history, you'll hopefully, you'll know something about the Korean Choson dynasty moon jars. They are some of the most exquisite and beautiful kind of dynamic, reserved, subtle pots in the history of Asian art and in the history of any kind of pottery. I've always loved them like a lot of people have and there's a lot encoded in them because they are really shrines to Confucianism thought and beliefs, Confucian beliefs, that embody, that present them the way they are and so I think that's interesting that culture embeds itself in things that are made, that the Korean moon jar is pretty high up on the food chain for me in terms of what's embedded in it. I love them and a lot of potter's love them and every now and then you see people take it on you know, though, they'll make something, they'll call it a moon jar and it's a western iteration of that in the west anyway, a lot of Korean potter's do too and they'll make a big round jar like a moon jar and so that's ﬁne with me.
I like the idea but I wanted to make kind of my own moon jar and so I am making cylinders these days, I decided to call it American moon jar, that gave me the freedom to not have to be obedient to the to the beautiful orb, full bodied shape in a Korean moon jar and it's a way to honor it, but not make the same. Of course the surfaces on a lot of these crucibles is cratered and lunar landscape like and the rocks on the shelves that adorned the outside of the vessel, could look like lunar landscapes. I wasn't caught up with that but I was aware of it.
If anybody knows very much about the history of the work I've made over the past thirty years, it's classically made vessels, ceramic vessels that are based on pottery, pottery is the subject matter and history of pottery is the subject matter and all the things that pottery has ever been asked to do, the laundry list, you know, beautiful things and throughout all cultures all time, it's the short list that, this is what we need pottery to do in our culture, to present, to preserve, if you think about kimchi jars and sauerkraut vessels that you've made, those are pottery and they are designed to preserve. It's also about beautiﬁcation of the space, it's about the commemoration of an event on the surface, it's about ritual, and then after that the list gets short, there's a list of six or seven things that are primary reasons why pots have always existed and I want to use those things, so I've made vessels and then put things in them symbolically and ritualistically, so really this is a continuation to that, except the objects are not inside, they address the outside of the vessel on shelves.
For me that is an abstract story but it's a little bit like the Greeks who wanted to paint a story around the outside of a vessel, so I'm just doing it to mention, kind of a sculptural language but the one on the outside of the vessel with a sculptural language.
ND: Your glazes are beautiful there's a lot of depth to them, you want to talk about that, the surface and your process of glazing the moon jars?
TM: And the crucible too even more so. Yeah, I do, I mean I'm happy to - I've had to think about it a lot and engage it to make it meaningful and I feel like especially if you're older and have done something for a while in a certain kind of territory, you get very good at it, and for me just speaking for me, virtuosity, the ability to do something extremely well is sends a signal that things are no longer- the better I get at something, the stiffer it becomes the less alive it is. I have to ﬁnd ways to subvert my virtuosity with a certain set of materials or skills you know, techniques or whatever.
In order to do that is I stop taking notes as to what I was putting on a surface, I'm highly intuitive, I'll take the commercial glaze and I'll just add something to it to subvert it without measuring that thing but just try it and make adjustments maybe, I don't keep notes, I layer things extremely deep sometimes. I'll alternate ﬁrings between gas and electric kiln, I'll reduce, I'll ﬁre without cones and I don't take notes you know, so I don't, I can't always remember the sequence of events, I could remember it ﬁne I'm not going to go to notes and retrace my steps and reproduce something just to get a similar effect if I can help it, or I won't do it for very long so I like that actually because it keeps me in the state of discovery, like every time I open the kiln, I am like yeah.
ND: Happy surprise.
TM: It's the woodshed you know, out to the woodshed for what you just did and so I like it though, yeah, when it’s really interesting it is just spellbinding, open the kiln, it's like, my god, the transformation of materials, they co-mingle and move with heat and atmosphere, it's magical to me because, those crucibles, they're the same materials that the crust of the earth is made out of and like the crust of the earth was at one point in time subjected to a lot of heat and things fuse and then they move, gravity causes things to move and interchange and stack and ﬂow and so if you look at those vessels, they're almost always, not always but almost always straight cylinders and all that topography, all that dimension is frequently glaze, it's stacking up and I ﬁnd different ways to work with it, I come back and do very odd things in between ﬁrings. I'll have big loaf of glaze fall off on the shelf, I've got powder down there, so it doesn't stick, I pick it up, I take serra set and slap it back on the side of the piece, put a stainless pin through it, put glaze on it and fire it at a lower temperature. It becomes conventional, it's kind of an interesting way to create shape. Were so geared to create shape of the plastic material clay, and I'm just making a straight walled cylinder and creating all this dimension with glaze, so I kind of like it because it's the mild thumb in the eye of how things are supposed to be made and I kind of like, I kind of like being in mild arguments in my work with the history of how thing should be done, sometimes it's a serious argument, but I like it, it helps me to kind of go against the grain a little bit in terms of how things have always been done or supposed to be done. I use gravity by firing a piece upside down, but when you ﬂip it back after the ﬁring the glaze appears to be flowing up.
I like to open a kiln, see something and not really quite understand how I got there, that's what I like about it because I don't want to trade party tricks too much, and I really like the idea of being in the position where I see something and I really love it, it's ﬁlled me full of desire and then but I don't know how to reproduce it, so I've got to dream into it and try things and try other things that may take me somewhere else and I'm really like a thirsty artist out in the desert looking for water again, can't ﬁnd water or if I was in Italy trying to ﬁnd some vino. Yeah, so I like that, I like it a lot, it works for me, I get excited.
ND: Yes sir, deﬁnitely! Getting new and interesting results is exciting. To change direction a little. You are father, a teacher and artist, you're on the board of the Archie Bray Foundation and director of the CCC, how do you manage to do everything?
TM: Grandfather too.
ND: Grandfather as well, of course.
TM: Well I can't say, I've ever done everything in my life well you know, it all sounds great, when you lay it out like that but I don't know that I've been that good at everything and I feel like you're really only able to do so many things in life really well and that's a small number, and then the more things you try to do the more diffused it gets and the more one thing will suffer, to the advantage of another. But I like all those roles because it makes me feel like life is full and rich and it's like juggling raw eggs sometimes, which they don't want to drop a raw egg, there's the things I usually take up are important to me, I mean it's not just the CCC, I've been running a travel program here for 25 years, visiting arts program for 25 years, making my own work and teaching full-time and developing a facility for 30 years, I've had a lot of help recently, Chris Miles has been great, he has come on board in the last ﬁve years but up until then it was probably just me doing stuff and so it makes me feel like life is rich, but like I said I didn't do all the things terribly well, unfortunately.
ND: Yes, I can imagine, it must be a lot juggling everything, I know I have trouble keeping on top of everything.
TM: I think I can say that I have one thing that helps is, if you can- in life if you can direct yourself towards things that you are devotional to, like I could never believe they pay me to teach, Id teach for nothing, it doesn't feel like a job, I come to work and have a lot of fun and I do have to work hard on it but I don't, it doesn't feel like drudgery like this horrible job room, counting the days to the weekend, and then counting days to my retirement, I can't wait to get out be free and so I pretty much do things that feel rewarding, and I think that it can give you a lot of energy for getting things done.
I like running a travel program, it never rewarded me monetarily, I never took a penny out of it, I paid frequently to travel with students overseas, but I felt like the internal rewards were really rich, the kind of things that I saw happened for students, given I know who our students are and the kind of sacriﬁces they make. In the educational history of their families were frequently, they're the ﬁrst person to go to college in their family but, when I can see how lives are changed, that's truly what I'm in the business of, when I can see that, the internal rewards for that kind of stuff are tremendous and that's all I need, that gives me a lot of energy to persevere.
The same thing about being creative in the studio, I think that's why I like the sense of discovery, where it's not just the same old predictable stuff coming out of the kiln, that there's a lot of tremendous internal rewards and discovery, and it's helping people and be of service in teaching, I think it's a lot of internal rewards, so I think those are the things that really motivate me, it's the sense of internal reward and yes I do get paid to teach, I do need to make a living but I don't do it for money, I really don't.
I mean, it's funny story that the checks that we got for the artist’s fellow award, it is a serious amount of money, and I forgot my check, I didn't even pick it up, I didn't- I was so enthralled by the people there talking and sharing that I forgot. So, everyone needs money, I'm not always entirely motivated by money, I mean I need money and I appreciate it, I am thoughtful with it and all that but I'm really kind of motivated by other things that give me a lot of energy. Even if all things fail around me, so if I make a body of work, it's a total failure in the marketplace or in the galleries, I kind of don't care, and in a certain sense I do care to say that but I in a certain sense, I have a great time making my work and I really enjoy it, so whatever happens after that, it's gravy if it does work out, but that doesn't detract me from my engagement I had with it, making it.
If I hated making my work and then I got torn up by the critics and didn't sell, no one cared then it's a total failure. But I try to make sure that my engagements in making are very satisfying and rewarding, so that's a long way to answer your question, all those things that I try to do are, I do them because they're rewarding to me internally.
ND: Love what you do and never work a day in your life. I'd like to ask you a little bit about the Center for Contemporary Ceramics.
TM: My dear colleague, Chris Miles started it, he did all the heavy lifting, to get the name and recognized on campus, as a center. I think there are 31 centers of all different stripes on our campus that serve different purposes but there hasn't been one in the School of Art and so Chris put all the paperwork together and asked me if I wanted to be part of it. He ran it through, got it signed off and made it official. He asked me to be the ﬁrst director because the CCC is based on what's been going on here last 25 years, even before I got here. We try to bring interesting people to campus always, we need interesting teachers , we need interesting artists. It's been my inclination that was important, so almost the ﬁrst day I was here, I've been inviting painters and I think 1985, when I was part-time here, I invited a painter from San Francisco to come down and stay with me for a couple weeks, organize a show in clay, and so I've always seen the need for it because no matter how spectacular a curriculum is.
I've always felt like that the curriculum never gives enough, that wouldn't give them what they need and in total, especially undergrads they have to go out and face the world after they finish their program here and be armed the way I feel like they need to be armed, when the world confronts them, so I try to plug gaps, in holes in education and certainly to have a non-academic model here for someone who's just making their work, the students can engage in different ways but not as a teacher in the classroom who's giving them grades and giving them assignments and giving them lectures but just working and really trying to get a lot of really diverse artists here, so they work in lots of different ways, the same with part-time faculty, always hire interesting makers, hired to make and give them studio space here so they're making in the building, full-time too, full-time teachers are making in the building, then we're bringing artists in to make in the building, then bringing other artists in just to give lectures.
So I felt like that complement of all those different voices and in a given two or three year period of study for student here was, it's like that the P90X, it’s muscle confusion because the exercise just different muscle groups. I felt like thats what I wanted to do when I saw the infomercial, I thought, yeah, that's right I want to do P90X in the studio and give people muscle confusion and give them all kinds of voices in their time here and not just to be run based on the model of my work or my ideas about art. But that they would be exposed to lots of different voices, really diverse voices and then say we have to sort it out, of course try to help but I felt like that was really a quality education, and plus as time has gone on, we've got more and more serious artists here and so they have had professional engagements and we pair them up with students and then students can help them make their work and that work frequently goes into exhibitions, actually all over the world now and help them make it, help them ﬁnish it and sometimes they get to deliver to the gallery and sometimes there is a pre-opening night dinner with the gallery director, patrons or collectors and things like that. They get to attend that dinner and so that's a tremendous insight and conﬁdence and the building of skill-sets, and the upping of a trajectory of vision for students and what they might want to try to accomplish and a little money in their pocket, that they get paid by professional artist.
It's not academic, it's not run by a class syllabus and a series of lectures and grades and things they have to do, it's just a real life experience that complements the actions of academia, or academia is better at dealing with abstractions, instead of dealing with some of the realities on the ground, so I wanted to kind of ﬁll that gap and ﬁll a gap with travel, so those are the kind of the two branches of the extracurricular activity we've done here and it's just been my inclination to do that, I think Chris wanted to institutionalize it because, I've been here 30 years, this will not go on forever, it's run by a personality and if it's going to continue, it can't, it's not going to be run by a personality.
As much, so we're trying to raise money now to create the endowment and leave the center in really good shape so that the next person that takes it over, the next director takes it over can actually fund programming, we've always done really well, we've done well without any money really but it will take money and so that's what we're doing.
Just building a facility here has been fascinating for me because when I got here, everything was indoors, this place was built by the founding faculties, they were all educated back east and, so back east ... you got everything inside. So, when I got here the kilns, raw materials, glazes, clay, clay mixers, all the kilns, everything was in doors, slowly we have been getting it outside, it opens up the inside for studios and workspaces, classrooms, gallery space for the presentational work and then the outside a lot of space out there, we just ﬁlled it up with kilns, you know, we have 30-plus kilns here, we just got another car kiln. I'm sorry you’re not here to help us Jr because it's a lot of fun.
ND: Would love to be there to help!
TM: We picked up a big car kiln from a school that was getting rid of it, so we grabbed it as we've done many times. With this kiln, we are converting it into a downdraft form an updraft kiln, we are also extending the height of the kiln to be our biggest kiln yet. It's going to be devoted to the CCC so that ambitious artists can create. So, for me I'm just continuing to do what I've always done but I'll help Chris build something that will last when I'm gone.
ND: I saw the CCC account on Instagram, it's exciting to see all the progress of the CCC and the visiting artists that are there.
TM: Yeah, yeah, very excited, I like it.
ND: Yeah, deﬁnitely and then how do you select artists to come and participate in the CCC?
TM: Well it goes back to- well, a lot of things, it's not formal, it's just me meeting people and having a sense about what I might mean to bring them here. I travel a lot and I keep an eye open, I meet somebody, I drag them back. A few decades back I was invited to go to Alfred, to give a talk and while I'm there, of course I want to meet all the grads and there's like 16 grads there. So, I am going space to space and Kristen Morgin was a grad there at the time. I was absolutely immediately stunned by the quality of artistic vision that she had, and I just knew, I felt this, I saw this amazing artist, and so I invited her to come back and she was in residence for a year or two. She wanted to teach, so she taught, we were able to hire her. She retired after ten years, but making huge difference here.
So frequently when I'm traveling, I'll meet people and I'll invite them to come back. I want to be surrounded by talented people here, I think that's been essential for my own kind of scene a well-being, I want to be surrounded by really talented people, I like it, so that's been my inclination and then as we become more and more well-known, there are people of course that will apply. I get emails and texts and things like that, Instagram messages. People are asking how can I apply, how can I be a resident there, but it's really, it's based on a couple things, these days I am more interested in bringing people here that were not raised in the ﬁeld of ceramics. I don't want people that ran all their degrees through ceramics programs from AA to BA to BFA a to MA to MFA, you know ,straight went through in ceramics.
I'm more interested in people that either maybe have no formal education or they grew up as painters or sculptors and now as mature artists they are turning to clay because it is a very interesting material. They bring mature artistic ideas to ceramics but they may not have a place to do it and so I try to ﬁnd people that are talented, mature, not raised in the ﬁeld of ceramics and are naturally ambitious and then we bring them in and we try our very best to help them do that, we support them in every way possible, I don't charge them for anything really as much not charge people for ﬁring or space. I want them to come here and raise their game, I don't want to come here to make stuff they have always made. But so we can help them elevate their vision and their ambition and make things they never thought they can make, that's what I like to see because it's serves our students to watch artists do that, it serves the artists to do it in a certain ﬁeld, it helps to grow the ﬁeld and I think that the think that is really interesting these days about the ﬁeld is that you've got all these people participating now, they've always been there but not in these kind of numbers and this kind of visibility.
But people from outside the ﬁeld, visitors and just bringing artistic ideas to the ﬁeld, they're not coming to it thinking of it that they have to quote ceramics or the vessel, pottery or anything. They just bring mature ideas to a very kind of fascinating material base and they come work and I feel like, it's my job to never say no, I don't want to say no you can't do that. There's a lot of craft Dogma, that kind of dictates the kinds of things you think you can do and can't do, is like no you can't do that, no you should do this or this won't work, there's a lot of that, and I don't like it per say, I don't want it. We can't ruin equipment here so certain things we have to abide by. I want to listen to what an artist, when they tell me I will listen to what they say about what they think they want to make and then I want to help make it, I don't care how hard it is, we've got some pretty good challenges, but that's part of the excitement and if they can put up with a little bit of failure sometimes, then we'll get it right most of the time, so I don't know if I rambled on there.
ND: No, that was good, I think you started to touch on my next question. How do you deﬁne contemporary ceramics and what is unique to contemporary ceramics that we haven't experienced in the past?
TM: Well contemporary, I mean if I'm going to be flip with you, contemporary ceramics is deﬁned by the fact that it should be contemporary, made now, it should be largely ceramic. If it is not ceramic then you get into tricky semantics, like Kristen Morgin. You can't call her work ceramics technically by textbook. She makes beautiful work as far as ceramics but she doesn't ﬁre her work, she stabilizes it by other means than ﬁring, which is how you stabilize it traditionally, so her work is sculpture, it uses clay, it’s a misnomer to call it ceramics.
So, I mean that's the broadest deﬁnition I can give you, largely made out of ceramics and made in the moment. Did you ask me what's new in the ﬁeld?
ND: Yeah, unique or new, that we haven't experience in the past?
TM: Well, history is not dead to me, I fear history is a little bit dead, but not to me, I'm not a scholar, never claimed of being a scholar, I am interested, very interested in history of ceramics.
So certainly, it's not new, there have been artists, who have been trained in the ﬁeld of art, back into the 19th century and probably before that who worked with clay and made stuff and didn't make it according to the kind of the rules of craft. So, there have always been artist doing that like Picasso. So, it's not new that artists are working with clay but they're kind of working with clay in more numbers now, I think than we've ever seen.
It has become very popular for a lot of reasons, one is because the market for it, because you got all kinds of artists, maybe they make paintings for $100,000 but some make a piece of ceramics for $25,000 that helps open up marketplaces for artists and for galleries and so they like it on, just on economic terms but a lot of artists like working with it because it's so anti digital, so much about the hand, so hard to control, so immediate, such a recorder of the moment. And its reversible, if you don't like something in the moment wedge it up. It's very very unique and I think it's very fascinating for a lot of artists to work with and I think that and so there are a lot of mature artists and immature artists working with clay and kind of bringing a new kind of a voice and understanding to it in the moment. That is something that the field is taking note of that craft, the appearance of craft, it may not be as important as a lot of people think. That's very upsetting to some people and very liberating to others.
I had another point that was interesting but I forgot it sorry.
ND: So, this dialogue with other artists that aren't particularly trained in the field of ceramics, having those kinds of conversations you believe that's furthering the ﬁeld of ceramics?
TM: Well yeah, I feel like there's an impact- for one thing like I wanted to say, I just remembered is that for one thing the quote-unquote kind of high crafts movement, that ran across a lot of boundaries and craft materials, clay, ﬁber wood, metal. That really went on from probably, had its seeds in the 60's, 70s, 80's, into the 90's and then kind of done, when that went and things really changed. It's when most of the medium speciﬁc galleries, kind of stopped being medium specific, they started picking up different kinds of art or they went out of business or something and so when the medium specific galleries, for example the Garth Clark or the Frank Lloyd. When those people were done and ceramics didn't have a place to hide, it didn't have a natural home in the gallery world anymore, with all the media specific galleries and it didn't have a place to hide either and so now because those galleries don't exist. I think this is really the big shift and really actually fairly important and kind of a wonderful thing, a new day but most artist, most ceramists or artists that work with clay, even if I say exclusively clay, have got to go out and just compete with other artists or for a voice in the contemporary dialogue. They can't go hide in the ceramics gallery, medium speciﬁc gallery and so they have to go compete with art and artists and I think that's just fantastic and most galleries now, it didn't use to be the case but most galleries are willing to entertain one or two or three or four people that work with clay, it's become kind of an equal art making material now to everything else and so I think that's a huge shift and that's just a kind of a level of acceptance now that I don't think is going to change and a lot of artists, particularly clay, almost every gallery showing some kind of clay art, that's talking about LA or New York. If you're going to approach a craft gallery for representation, that's a different kind of culture, if you're joining and you know, your behavior merits it, if you're going to go to an art gallery though, you're going to have to think differently, behave differently and so I think that's going to have some kind of importance on how the ﬁeld gets shaped I believe.
ND: That was very insightful. What do you envision for this CCC and other any immediate future plans or goals that you're working towards?
TM: Well, we're trying to raise money, we've got one very generous, extremely generous anonymous donor, it was half million dollars on the table as a matching grant, so we're working hard to try to ﬁnd money. Five thousand dollars was donated this morning so that becomes ten thousand, it goes into an endowment and then the endowment will be used for operating expenses eventually, when we draw on it. That's the big thing we're trying to expand the facility and draw up all the protocols, how we operate and raise money to ensure success of the CCC.
We've done work intensive in the summer, we don't schedule classes, we try to bring in a lot of really interesting artists, so I let them take on life at home, work together, eat together during summer months and we got students coming in from China and Korea. I like the choices that are win-win-win and that's where the program wins, if someone comes here and works the program wins, the artist wins, your students win, everyone's done it personally, so those the kind of people I like to have here.
We're going to continue to bring in people and with an orientation ever so slightly to people that were not reared in the ﬁeld, so educated in the ﬁeld and also if we can help them produce work for exhibition, we like that a lot, that's real, that's put it online, we like that and so those are the kind of proposals that we will continue to entertain. Otherwise we're going to fundraiser things like that but I don't think you're asking about that, it's just to continue to do what we've been doing for a long time actually and try to do it really well and in such a way as the students beneﬁt.
ND: When are the work intensives happening this summer, what are the dates for those?
TM: The work intensives this summer is going to be June 1st to August 15th and we have all kinds of sort of artists coming in from all over actually, I keep inviting more people, groups from Asia are coming and going but this is not open to the public, so I don't want that to be published, so you can't sign up for a workshop, we've done that in the past but we're not doing that now, it's really for the beneﬁt of our students, it goes back to the muscle memory thing, I want all kinds of interesting makers here that are not structured, they're not giving formal demos, they are not giving formal critiques and they are not giving assignments, they're just working, if you want to join them, great.
My fear after watching the enterprise of higher education, being part of it and then watching it, participate in it, my fear is that, I see not just higher education but I see some of the young people that come to us and they're far too passive, it disturbs me a little bit and I feel like the system kind of creates passivity, it's like you just sit there and wait until I tell you what it is, how it works, how to do it, how to get it right and then after I tell you, oh yes then you can go out, take a shot at it but you better not, you better wait, I'm going to tell you before, I don't like that it's too passive for me, I think if you want to know something, go learn it you know, I don't say, I never thought you were passive in your education, I wish more students went about their education the way you did. So that's why I don't like to structure everything for everyone but I want to put them in position where they can succeed.
ND: Yeah, thank you Tony, the time I was at Long Beach, it was a beautiful experience, I mean being part of the travel program going to Italy, working with the visiting artists, it was deﬁnitely a life changing experience and I do thank you for that.
TM: Yeah, you're quite welcome, I feel like the whole things just been an adventure, I think if a teacher can go on an adventure with a group of students, I think it's better that everybody learns, it's not stillborn, where everyone, the teacher knows what's going to happen before it happens. I feel like this program is always a little bit on the edge, just an adventure, good, bad maybe, but mostly good.
Nick Dison is a first year MFA student at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. He received his BFA in Studio Art from California State University of Long Beach.
More info on Tony Marsh: www.tonymarshceramics.com
It was a chilly night, February 13th. Much colder than what is usual for Fayetteville Arkansas. Lucas J Knowles, a University of Arkansas graduate student, decided to take his research to the next level – to the level of real-life necromancy…
Throughout Lucas’ undergraduate experience at Florida State University, the same art history lessons were crammed into his brain – over and over. One prominent figure mentioned repeatedly was Michelangelo Caravaggio – a renown European figure whose reputation for violence was second only to his artistic prowess. Was Caravaggio a mistaken savant, whose personal life turned tragic – or was he really the lawless savage that contemporary books recall him to be? Was his hair really the luscious, windswept nest his portraits show? Surely it could not be of higher quality than Lucas’ loose and quaffed-but-not-too-quaffed silky “man-bun”. Lucas was hell-bent on bending the laws of Hell just to find out once and for all.
After several workshops on conjuring the dead through an independent study with UArk’s one-and-only Black Magick Master-Wizard Linda Lopez, Lucas found himself well enough equipped to make his own attempts to connect with the dead…
Lucas J Knowles, Amateur Necromancer: “As I sit in the center of this pentagram drawn with salt, I, Lucas J Knowles call upon my dark energy to demand that the gates of Hell break open and allow the passing of the spirit of Michelangelo Caravaggio!”
*Lucas pulls a rusty ceremonial blade from a leather pouch filled with various witching tools. The bag is marked playfully with a handwritten script: “L. Lopez”. He grasps the knife and, without any hesitation, saws a deep gash into his palm. As it bleeds profusely, Lucas squeezes and wrings out his sanguine ichor into a small brass bowl set in front of him.
Lucas: DEMONS OF THE UNDERWORLD, I OFFER THIS BLOOD OF THE LIVING FOR AN AUDIENCE WITH THE DEAD. HEAR MY INCANTATION AND ALLOW THIS RIFT TO OPEN.
*An undulating and twisting cloud of deep-purple explodes into existence, hovering a few feet above the floor. A violent shockwave blasts through Lucas’ small (but quaint and tastefully decorated) apartment. A deep, guttural voice roars from the freshly opened portal.
Disembodied Voice: “EGO ANTE TE BIBENDUM”
*The brass bowl containing Lucas’ blood drags clumsily across the floor and is pulled into the portal.
A short pause passes.
Disembodied Voice: “QUOD HOMO POTEST HABERE NOSTRI PUERUM”
*A blinding flash of light pulses from inside the rift. Out walks a human-shaped silhouette. The disheveled hair and confident gait is unmistakable. The entity’s image becomes clear – it is the ghost of the legendary Michelangelo Caravaggio... The portal closes, and a heavy hush settles on the room.
Lucas: Michelangelo, thank you for being here.
Caravaggio: Thank you for having me.
L: Before we get into any of the hard-hitting questions, I thought I’d start off by asking something easy just to break the ice… Can you talk a little bit about death, the afterlife, and any interesting things that you may have discovered regarding the purpose of existence or etc. while you’ve floated through the ether as a disembodied spirit?
C: The food in Hell – it is despicable. The drinks however, they are forever overflowing and ripe with flavor.
L: I see. Any advice for living, contemporary humans?
C: Live without order. Take what you want. Allow no man to sully your name – lest you boil their balls in oil.
L: Thank you for sharing that.
L: So, let’s get personal for a moment. You led a rather tumultuous life. You were well known for being an aggressive partier and fighter-
C: Do you want to know how I killed Ranuccio Tomassoni? He was a pitiful man. Ranuccio had the audacity to challenge me, Michelangelo Caravaggio. I cut off his genitals and let him bleed to death. Officials in Rome did not understand that he was weak and dispensable. I became wanted for murder.
L: Wow. No doubt living as a nomadic outlaw you were exposed to some interesting culture.
C: “Interesting” doesn’t even begin to describe the sexual adventures that I encountered throughout Europe. No woman - nor man - could deny the tantalizing body and utterly unmatched, beautiful hair of Rome’s championed painter.
L: Well, the hair part is debatable.
*Lucas pulls his fingers through his hair, pulling back his curly bangs before they bounce gently back into place.
C: I’m sorry?
L: - So, you’re a rather well-known artist who has a prolific portfolio of both secular work and religious work. Both have been massively influential to the art community. Do you mind sharing if you have a preference between the two? Perhaps you find one to be stronger?
C: The epitome of skilled painting is celebrated through the rendering of human flesh. Many wealthy patrons made requests for religious work – but if I was able to paint the human form I was satisfied.
L: Well, it’s apparent that rendering the figure was very important to you – considering that you’re historically one of the greatest masters of figural artistry.
C: One of the greatest? *scoffs*
L: Speaking of your big head - you’ve painted a lot of severed heads, haven’t you?
C: *Laughs* Yes, I have.
L: Is it difficult to render a human face lifeless without having a physical reference staged in front of you?
*Caravaggio lifts his head high in arrogance as he studies his fingernails.
C: I used real heads.
L: …So, what are some difficulties you’ve had to cope with while staging models and animals for your works?
C: My piece titled The Conversion of St. Paul, which featured horses, proved to be quite the challenge during staging.
L: I imagine it was difficult setting this up. Were any of your models trampled while you worked on this painting?
C: Many people died. Have you ever seen what happens to a man who has his abdomen crushed by the weight of a horse? It’s quite like the imagery that follows when one accidentally steps on a pig’s bladder holding Vermillion paint. A wonderful, explosive display of brilliant reds and-
L: *Cutting him off* TENEBRISM... You’re widely credited as the father of tenebrism – a style of dramatically rendered chiaroscuro that-
C: I know what tenebrism is.
L: … Yes. Well, what brought this style into your work? Why do you think dramatic lighting became such a foundational element to your paintings?
C: Your questions bore me, churlish plebeian.
*The ghost Caravaggio’s patience appears to be expiring. He grows restless.
*Lucas begins flipping through his notes desperately while chuckling nervously.
L: Ha ha. Okay. Um. Well. How about your predecessors? Your style was so influential that an entire movement was created based on your stylings. The “Caravaggisti”. This included people from all over Europe – some even became rather famous emulating your style. Van Honthorst, the Dutch follower of Utrecht, the Flemish legend Rubens, and many others grew rapidly in popularity while replicating your tenebrism. What are your thoughts on this development?
*Caravaggio’s brow furrows. His spirit trembles with passionate anger.
C: I am Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, MASTER artist, lover, and Rome’s champion. What fool would dare steal from ME?!
L: Well certainly these artists had tremendous skill of their own or else they wouldn’t have –
*The apparition begins to glow bright red as it oscillates and transforms into a non-human form. The room quakes. Books, plates, and assorted items begin crashing to the floor.
L: Look, Mikey… Do you mind if I call you Mikey? I’m sorry if I –
The spirit bursts with violent energy, a loud and piercing shriek is let out as it lunges towards Lucas. He darts for his bag of tools and fumbles with it before pulling out a tarnished, crudely shaped golden cross – Lucas launches into a standing position, raising the relic high above his head.
L: LORDS OF THE DARK AND LORDS OF THE LIGHT: I DEMAND YOU TO GRANT ME PROTECTION! PURIFY THIS SPACE AND BANISH THE ANGRY SOUL OF MICHELANGELO CARAVAGGIO BACK TO THE SHADOW REALM FROM WHENCE IT CAME! I NEED HIM NO MORE!
*The furious ghost breaks through Lucas’ seal of salt without losing momentum and continues its charge towards him. A claw-like shape quickly juts out from the strange form and winds back. Lucas, terrified and helpless, recoils and tries to guard himself. A blinding and deafening eruption breaks. An overwhelmingly bright-white portal cracks open and the spirit is violently whipped backwards. The newly opened rift creates a powerful cyclone and tangles the evil spirit in its grasp – like water circling a drain. It releases one last bone-shaking scream. Some of Lucas’ beautifully and artfully modified furniture begin to slide across the floor as they are also pulled into the rift. The roof caves in, the floor boards crack and shatter as they’re torn from the foundation. Lucas dives away from the rift and curls up in a fetal position. A blaring hum grows louder and louder as the same thunderous voice from before is heard one last time.
Disembodied Voice: TIBI GRATIAS AGO TIBI, QUIA SPECTANT ILLUM
*The rift grows brighter as the cacophony of destruction crescendos. The tempest fold in on itself over and over until it becomes a singularity and pops.
*An awkward calm and quiet settles into what’s left of Lucas room. He takes a moment to collect his wits before standing up and brushing himself off.
L: *Clearing his throat* Ahem… Well thank you so much for your time Mikey. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
Lucas J. Knowles is a second year MFA student at the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville. He received his BFA in Studio Art from Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Future Retrieval is the studio collaboration of Guy Michael Davis and Katie Parker. They utilize three-dimensional scanning and digital manufacturing of found forms that are made into molds and then created in porcelain. Process is very important within their work and research, with emphasis in the conceptualization, discovery, and acquisition of form. These processes and discoveries are evident within their time spent at the Smithsonian Museum and in their travels abroad to places such as Jingdezhen, China, and Stockholm, Sweden. Future Retrieval has an interdisciplinary approach to making, with a desire to make historic objects relevant today.
Anthony: Is there a way that you specifically assign hierarchy to material in any way? I know that you use paper, wood, fiber, porcelain, all of these craft-based materials, I’m not sure if that’s exactly the right word but that’s how I’m thinking about it.
Guy: Oh, assigning a hierarchy?
Katie: Yeah, initially I would say no. I think the materials come from circumstance, like where we are determines what we are making. Interests, what we’re interested in at the moment or what we have the facility to do, sometimes it’s the ease of installation or packing. I don’t know, I feel like we’re pretty flexible with how it happens. I’m thinking specifically about this summer, we were in Stockholm and we didn’t have access to ceramics, or we didn’t try to seek it. We were there for 3 months so we made work out of paper, wood, and yarn the entire time and that was perfect. I feel like I didn’t need ceramics or that guidance, and I feel like those works are just as strong as a vase we would make here or somewhere else. Right now we’re working with wood, because we have a studio assistant who’s really skilled in woodworking. I’m really interested in weaving right now and that could be a fluke, but that seems to be happening. (All chuckle)
G: Yeah, you’re right, it’s place that determines a lot, I think Katie nailed it all. Sometimes the clay thing is because we’re trained in clay. That happens to be working with a malleable, flexible material that you can add, take away from, and manipulate to be the right thing for the occasion.
K: I don’t know, we make tons of prints at school on really cheap paper just to have a big color print, and the other day I paid the real money to have it printed per inch with nice ink, and I was like ugh, it’s the same! I just wasted all this money and it’s the same! So yeah, I feel like materials isn’t something we initially worry about in the plan.
A: That’s really good to hear, especially when you don’t have access to all the facilities that ceramics usually needs, to be able to use other materials to do what you need.
K: Yeah! Sometimes it’s like, Great! I don’t have to deal with this clay.
G: How nice to not be dirty!
K: We’re all clean and don’t have to fit anything into a suitcase.
A: So, in terms of historical periods, I know that you have paper collages and cutouts of porcelain Sevres pots on your website, and I’m wondering how you pick your specific historical periods?
K: Mmm! Those pots were from the Smithsonian Fellowship in 2016. I was at Cooper-Hewitt and Guy was at the National Museum of Natural History. I’ve always loved Sevres pots, I believe they are the height of perfection, they are like an unobtainable thing. Cutting and pasting them out of paper is the closest I can get to recreating them. I am looking for things that can translate when I am picking imagery: pictures, or photographs that have that thing that I can see in paper. So those prints were old prints from the factory that showed the product line. The way they were printed were really flat, so it made sense for me to translate them out of paper. Sometimes I’ll take Guy’s photographs of taxidermied animals and I’ll cut those and I’ll make the photograph into a paint-by-numbers style cut out, but when I see something that already has that inherent image quality, then I think it’s easy to snap it up and add it into the mix.
G: You know, if we work with something Sevres, we’re not specifically trying to talk about Marie Antoinette, or Versailles, or something like that. I think there are a lot more formal considerations, process considerations like what Katie is talking about. Maybe sometimes we are aware of all the other layers of how these things came to be in regards to royalty and so forth, and we research and learn about all of that stuff, but a lot of it is quite formal I think.
K: Yeah, I want that pot but I know how much it will take to make it out of ceramics, and I’m not into that right now. And I like the scale shift, that’s always a part of our work, translation: how to take this tiny image from a book and make it large. How to take the white mark that’s the shine and translate that in paper and get that same kind of one to one.
G: I think that scale shift is a big thing particularly as we are trained in ceramics and have this urgency to go out of it. This shifting in scale just keeps happening over and over again, such as with the digital work and being able to shift that scale. Because of the limitations of porcelain, you can only make those vases so big, if you’re not in this big factory that invented a process to do that, so [different materials and scale shift] enables us to have what we want at the size that we want, and sometimes we have to move toward to another material. I think that this talks about Stockholm and the decision of why we made those pots that are collected from museums, and the shapes that were carved out of wood came from. Also, we were at the Smithsonian so we were absorbed in this expedition idea and we were into this big project about exploration and expedition and then going to Stockholm and realizing that they had all of these collections based off of these expeditions to Cyprus, so I was wrapped up in this romantic idea of discovery, and within that I could pick and choose formally the most interesting shapes.
A: Yeah I think it’s really interesting looking at process images on your blog of how you acquire these images at the Smithsonian. There are so many accessible images online (in the Smithsonian) as well, and when I saw these images I kept thinking of Fred Wilson and “Mining the Museum” and I was curious if there is any other way that you go towards this approach of curating meaning through your installations by going through these archives? You just mentioned that you were interested in approaching this through a lens of discovery, is there any other way that you approach this?
K: I’m thinking about for instance, in 2011 we had a big show at the Taft Museum of Art here in Cincinnati and the idea was to be inspired by the Taft Museum of Art. So we went in and ended up 3D scanning, which was a big deal in 2011, a bust of Alphonso Taft, the father of William Howard Taft, and then taking that bust, casting it in porcelain, making an edition of 10, and then hand-painting it with patterns found throughout the museum. So it was this way to get this little museum that’s in Cincinnati that everyone who grew up here went to as a kid and never went back to again, and we’re plucking these small highlights that we find in patterns and imagery that we can translate and then obliterating the Taft bust with these patterns, and the museum ended up using this as a way to get people to come back to the museum and re-look through the collection to find where these patterns and images came from. That wasn’t our intention, but for them that was a way to engage viewers back into the museum scenario.
G: It became kind of didactic.
K: And I think like that’s always what we’re going to love to do: going to museums, going to antique malls, looking through old books, find and pluck these special things and try to bring them back and get them into our studio or take the part of them we love and figure out how to make it ours.
G: Another interesting thing about the Taft as far as the presentation of that project is that the Taft is a non-collecting museum. It has a special collection that has been collected by Hannah Taft and so that’s the only thing that’s ever on display there, except for this one room where we had the opportunity to do a contemporary show. We approached it in such a manner that it appeared that the work in the show was part of the original collection. So people would even walk past it, and the idea of bringing this back, you know we went to this historical museum, deeply rooted in Cincinnati and American history with the current political connections, and hit it with this weird process, and then brought it back in and presented it on furniture that was from the original house. We were homogenizing our process and integrating that within the museum’s collection and their display process and methods.
K: Yeah, and we did a show at the contemporary art center here, the CAC, which is this Zaha Hadid building that’s really cold, and the show we were curated in was called the “Living Room”, so we worked with wood and built this fireplace lighting and a bear skin rug, and essentially created this living room for the museum that visitors could sit on the rug, sit on the couch, sit at the dining room table, there were performances, so again how do you warm up a cold space in a museum? And then we did a grand-theft project where we used our phones and through photogrammetry stole pieces we really liked from museum collections all over museums in the country and used that for a photo biennial. So I think that there are a lot of ways to interact with museums and collections, from literally taking something to taking the idea of a collection and riffing on that.
A: That’s awesome, are there any other specific institutions that you would like to work with? Is there something that you haven’t currently had access to that you want to have access to?
G: Yeah, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. We’re also looking here in Cincinnati at the Lloyd Library, it’s a medical library.
K: Like, from the Civil War.
G: There’s this interesting thing of eclectic medicine, and I’m trying to think of when that ended, but essentially the last school of eclectic medicine was here in Cincinnati. There’s some alchemy involved and there are some cult followings and stuff like that but it’s about a method of practicing medicine where you can pick and choose from any particular source. So they were using Native American methods of treating people and some alchemic things, and some more traditional pharmaceuticals and doing a lot of weird experiments and things like that. All of those documents are there, as well as a tremendous amount of illustration and they travel the world and see eclectic plants. So it’s like the largest collection and medical library I think in the country. We’re on the edge of wanting to do something in there. Can you think of anything else?
K: Yeah, the Isabella Stewart Gardner is like number one. Anyone knows anyone who works there.
G: I think this is on the eclecticism too that we’re starting to get a little more interest in.
K: Yeah, to have access to those letters, there is so much writing that she was doing to heads of states, presidents, artists, musicians, aristocrats, that you can’t walk into the museum and then read that.
A: So I have a final question about collaboration: I really enjoyed the piece you had at Spring Break with the photographer Jordan Tate, the blend of his photography, the 2D facade of the bush, with the figure and the pots, and I’m wondering how that process of collaboration was with him?
G: Way different! The main thing we keep talking about when we are asked this question is that he is a primarily appropriating things from the internet. The theme of the Spring Break show was literally “cut and paste”, and all his photography work at that point was from low-resolution images that he was able to photoshop and make into his own. He has a body of work where he photoshops his work into every major museum in the world, and claims that he has had shows in these museums, and you can’t tell. Even the work he put into this show isn’t his work, it’s crazy!
K: It’s like not that nothing truly matters, but it’s like nothing really needs to truly exist for him. Existence isn’t a problem, it doesn’t hold it back. For us, we need a thing, the materials, the objects needs to exist. So when working with Jordan the idea was to take a faux-European garden, hedge-maze, Versaille-esque world and take everything that Jordan does to make things fake and make it real, and take everything that we make that’s real and eventually fake it, to state it broadly. So we took an image of a hedge from the internet, repeated it, then printed it onto fabric. This made a portable, collapsible hedge maze, and with the fountain we took an image of a fountain, which we made into a cardboard cut-out and then made again into a functional water fountain. And then Guy threw the pot to match the pot that the woman was holding. It was funny because things don’t need to exist for Jordan.
G: Everything is instantaneous, and he knows all of these controls. So he wanted to destroy the work just to see what would happen. And we were like “Jordan, there is no undo for the sculpture, there is no ctrl+z here! We spent 3 weeks making this statue and if we smash it then that’s not what we’re looking for." But what was good, is that we were still able to meet in the middle. We were still able to put things together in a way where he was content, we had come to new realizations that we have different outlooks and ways of looking at things. Within this collaboration we learned that there are opportunities to let go in decision making, and that would then lead to things that we would never be able to make in another situation. We also think the weirder it gets and the more we don’t understand, the better it is.
K: That’s what talked to Jordan a lot about. Looking through the photos that we had taken, let’s print the ones that make us uncomfortable, and he did not want to print them because they made him uncomfortable, and that’s why I told him that’s why I think that’s the one. It was interested to land on something that none of us were sure if it was the “thing”.
G: But that’s the thing about collaboration, you’re each splitting up your own thing. It becomes this other thing that is owned by more than one tperson and you can separate from it and be able to self-critique.
A: That’s really great to hear, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve seen on your website. One of the photography professors here at Arkansas went to school with Jordan Tate, and I have admired his work a lot. That’s all the time I have for questions, but I want to thank you for taking the time in talking to me and doing this interview. I heard you’re from Fayetteville, if you’re ever in the area stop by and say hi!
K: Yeah, totally! Thanks for calling us!
Anthony Kascak is a first year MFA student at the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville. He received his BFA in Studio Art and a BA in Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The following is an interview I conducted a few weeks ago through email with artist, Kathy Butterly. I am endlessly inspired by her work. Butterly is constantly challenging clay as a material to produce vessel based forms which provoke conversation and reflection from the viewer through communicating many messages from materiality and composition to history and current events.
Katie McColgan: The vessel can be a bit limiting in that it has a lot of preconceived notions. How would you say you manipulate the idea of the vessel to live on the cusp of both out of this world yet relatable in reference to the world we know? How do you work with the idea that the vessel desires interaction while utilizing fragility and precariousness?
Kathy Butterly: Well, I think the vessel has historically been used as a stand in for figure, but somehow it goes beyond figure because of the void. The void area adds depth of meaning to the form. Preconceived notion? Yes, but it’s our jobs as artists to break these notions, to either care about them or not and to strengthen or support them or break them, however the artist feels. I don’t feel limited at all with the vessel. As an artist you really can’t worry about fitting in, even if you are using the age old vessel as your form. You need to figure things out for yourself and not worry about where you fit and hopefully you don’t fit and you clear out a new space.
KM: What is it about the vessel that captivates you other than just being a canvas?
KB: Sometimes I don’t have clear answers to things. It’s a form that I gravitate to and a form that I feel I can work both formally and intuitively with. It has meaning for me and is very versatile. It makes sense to me.
KM: You consider yourself a painter who happens to work with clay. Do you think you will be captivated by the properties of clay in your work forever or are there other mediums that you’ve considered as a substitute?
KB: I never say never and if I found something that satisfied my needs the way that clay and glaze does for me then I’d be open. There is so much that I keep finding to be interested in with this medium. I do feel that by ‘limiting' myself to using clay and glaze that I keep pushing the materials and keep finding interesting ways of working and finding new meaning and understanding in its materiality.
KM: Do you utilize the wheel as a tool for creating your forms?
KB: I don’t use the wheel at all.
KM: Do you typically work on more than one piece at a time? If so, do they often become a collection that you’ll show together?
KB: I typically work on 7-10 at a time but currently I am working on 23. I do like to show them all together and rarely show a piece without the others. They have influenced each other and when shown together make a statement or speak about an idea that has developed in their making. A past show ended up being about the weight of color. The next about the quality of line, and the current body is about chaos or chaos meets grace and that makes sense not only with what is going on in this country and world right now but also with what is going on in my studio. Working on 23 at one time is chaotic and a reflection of the outside world. Each piece is unique and each piece demands a different point of view and has specific challenges so it is never dull.
KM: You have a signature that works and it doesn't seem to keep you cornered in a box. How have you navigated this and still remained true to your “style”?
KB: I think some artists think about this but I also think many do not think about this. I don’t think about style at all. I just make what needs to be made. I work intuitively.
KM: For having worked in clay for so long now, do you find yourself experiencing much loss of work due to the unpredictability of the medium or would you say you have a good sense of control over the material?
KB: I don’t really lose work due to technical issues. I lose work if I realize it isn’t clicking with me anymore and I abandon it.
KM: It has recently been suggested to me to create a sort of visual language dictionary regarding my own work as I use many recurring motifs. Would you say that the recurring visual motifs in your work carry the same sort of meanings while moving through each piece such as your use of beads, drips, handles, ruffles, and color combinations or do the meanings behind them vary from piece to piece?
KB: Their use changes. They all serve as problem solvers.
KM: Do you collect anything? If so what do you collect?
KB: I collect color: glazes and pigments. A few questions for you: where did you come across my work? Have you been able to see it in person?
KM: I was actually handed a show catalog of yours maybe 4 or so years ago give or take. This was in my undergrad at MassArt which was right around the time that I was able to see your work at the MFA, I believe. Ever since then, I’ve been following your work closely. Are you going to be attending NCECA this year and will any of your work be there? If not, where will your work be heading to next?
KB: I was just in Boston two days ago...I love Boston. I was in a really interesting show at the ICA Boston a few years back called “Figuring Color”. I was in Boston because my daughter is looking at a few colleges there. I don’t really do NCECA stuff. I try to keep myself more in the art world at large. Nothing against it, just not my thing. I will have a big show in NYC this September at my new gallery, James Cohan Gallery.
Katie McColgan is a Post-Baccalaureate student at the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville. She received her BFA in 2016 from Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Kristen Morgin is a sculptor from Gardena, California, creating trompe l'oeil objects with unfired clay. The scale of items range from life size automobiles to garage-sale-bound children's books complete with the wear and tear of many hands and years. Kristen Morgin has shown solo exhibitions across the nation at Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, Greenwich House, Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Zach Feuer Gallery. Kristen has also been featured in groups shows nationally and internationally including the 12th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey, The 3rd World Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, South Korea, and the Denver Art Museum. She is represented by the Marc Selwyn Fine Art Gallery and her work is featured online at www.marcselwynfineart.com.
Brant Weiland: What decision prompted you make finished work with unfired clay?
Kristen Morgin: I went to graduate school at Alfred. Alfred is a very traditional kind of school and to be quite honest I wasn’t the most technical person. I initially had this thought of making work that was more abstracted. At the time, I was making fired and stained work, mostly figurative. I was influenced a lot by a painter(Jay DeFeo). She made paint look like it was dirt or cement. So, I began making these abstracted clods and I began to see certain shapes. I started to think if I defined the object a bit more, that might be interesting.
I made a violin that looked like it had been buried in a box of dirt. I had plans to fire and glaze it but I couldn’t figure out how. It looked delicate and it was delicate, so it seemed fairly honest to leave this piece unfired.
It wasn’t a popular decision. My teachers weren’t happy with my choice and I had a lot of opposition when I was in school. It taught me to justify the kind of work I was making, which in the long run, was good for me. I could better see what I wanted in spite of outside opposition or nudging in any particular way, but it was painfully difficult to get through grad school.
BW: What do you think of the addition of Walter McConnell to Alfred, mostly due to the push back you received when you were in graduate school for working with unfired clay.
KM: Walter McConnell was being interviewed right as I was leaving Alfred. By that time, I was so embittered, I could care less about who they hired. In the years since, I’m very thankful for the experience, even though it was really difficult. I have since met him and our work is frequently featured in survey shows together.
BW: Do you have a specific composition in mind when you make objects or do you make a lot of small pieces and rearrange them into different compositions?
KM: Most of the time I have the original objects in my studio and I spend my time rearranging them into different still life compositions. Over a period of time I will look at them, change them, take pictures, and rearrange them again. When I decide on an arrangement I like, I will very slowly begin making everything in the arrangement. Sometimes I have a very specific idea and it doesn’t work out. Sometimes I don’t find places for all of the things that I make. These things pile up in my studio. So there have been some occasions when I build compositions with these unplaced objects.
BW: What artists would you link your work to?
KM: I’m influenced by a lot of folk artists. Folk art tends to speak to me louder than contemporary art. As far as contemporary artists, it changes every day. There is an artist, Conrad Bakker, he and I have a real crossover in our work. He makes objects out of wood and then paints them to look realistic, though the painting on his objects is very painterly. He and I tend to gravitate towards similar objects such as books, records, and toys. His work makes commentary on the value of objects and how the value of things can change depending on where they are sold.
BW: I saw in an interview you had looked into the origin of the word nostalgia which came about at the start of World War 1. I didn’t realize that it had a traumatic beginning to it. Generally, it is thought of as warm and fuzzy.
KM: I had read that nostalgia was originally used to describe the intense fear that soldiers felt before going into battle, the fear of never returning home alive.
BW: Okay. I encounter this question a lot in my own work and I’m curious how you deal with it.
KM: I’m sure you probably do this too, where you sort of cringe every time someone wants to call it nostalgic. Nostalgia isn’t the only thing that is compelling in my work. Often time I feel nostalgia is a way for people to begin to pay attention. Once you get them there you can talk about more complex things.
BW: What has been the major differences of being able to work in your studio for the past ten years versus coming up through the academic model?
KM: The thing that I miss about teaching is engaging with students. Teaching is really difficult. It’s really difficult to feel like you are taking care of all your student’s needs. There’s human chemistry involved. It is a job that I worked hard at and I always wanted to find ways to improve my teaching.
Being an artist requires that you be devoted to your studio time and that you be selfish about it. When you teach, you have to be completely generous with your time and energy. I really felt like, for me at least, the one thing I’m good at is making things. The things that I make are what I have to offer the world. With teaching, my intentions were always good. Sometimes I really helped my students with the advice I gave but other times things didn’t work out as well. I felt bad about that. When I quit my teaching job it was a relief to not worry about giving bad advice.
In the ten years since I’ve held a teaching job, I’m constantly preparing for shows, I don’t have any time to experiment. I can’t make big mistakes. Because of constant deadlines it is risky to investigate things that I’m not sure will work out.
For years while I was teaching, I held the commercial aspect of art at bay. I worked with a gallery for a few years before I quit my job, but I was very cautious about what I would say yes to because I didn’t want to change my work to make it more marketable. Make it not so fragile, more colorful, make it whatever, I just didn’t want to have those kinds of obligations.
BW: They would guide your practice more than you’d be able to at that point.
KM: Right. So, I deal with that more now. There are times where I allow myself certain liberties to make what I want to make and there are other times that I try to cater to certain demands. I try to please everybody; I try to make myself happy, and I try to make my gallery happy.
BW: This has been fantastic, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Brant Weiland is a Post-Baccalaureate student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
This interview was conducted with Chicago based artist William J. O’Brien. He has exhibited at The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago (2011), The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas (2012) and has had a major survey exhibition, curated by Naomi Beckwith, in January 2014 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
His more recent exhibitions include solo shows at the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts (2017), Marianne Boesky Gallery (2017) and Reliquary at the Shane Campbell Gallery. Mr O’Brien is faculty at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was lucky to be able to speak with with Mr. O’Brien over the phone.
AG: I think I think we're recording, so if you're ready I'll just jump into my first question!
WO: All right here we go no pressure...
AG: I was first introduced to your work by a painting professor in undergrad and since then I've been inspired by your work through your use of material and through your ideas on form, colors, and through your fluidity working between media and materials. Who or what inspires your work?
WO: Oh god! [laughs] I would say the most honest answer is that my work is inspired by the people in my life and my experiences with those relationships, and the good or bad things that have happened in those relationships that have either created joy, or happiness, or pain in those situations and so the inspiration for the work, I think, most often comes from contending with difficult circumstances, or feelings and then looking for a way to understand and make meaning from them. Or on a very practical level, my practice is one of getting it out of my body and transforming it into something just outside of myself, and sometimes that comes out in beauty, and other times it comes out in chaos. But I'd also say, I'm inspired by being surprised -- and early on I think I struggled strongly to try to fit in, or to figure out what I was doing that was the way I was supposed to be as an artist, and I think I've discovered that my path towards being myself has been frequently one of -- sometimes I say to my students sometimes you figure out your influences, not by people you feel you identify with, or you're attracted to, but sometimes you figure out who you are as an artist by saying “I know I'm not this” or “this just doesn't feel like me” which would mean maybe that's like a reflection of the fact that I didn't really feel like I had a lot of role models or artists who I identified with early in my career, and so I had to sort of take choose and pick my influences and also rebel against somethings too but I probably didn't answer your question but…
AG: No, you absolutely did, it sounds like what a lot of your inspiration is through your personal relationships and that sort of leads to concepts which turn into your work. Is that what you think?
WO: I think part of it has to do with -- I would say my early work strongly had to do with conflicts I had about who I was as a queer person and then who my family wanted me to be. I'm actually William J O'Brien the seventh, and so I'm not going to have children, so there was a lot of, I think, conflict there between -- I thought it was going to be a mathematician, but then I also was gay, and so there's a spiritual upbringing I had, so I think there's a thing that goes on in my work that has to do with logic, and rules, and movements, and systems, and then also there's a part of me that's all about magic, and movements, and being spontaneous and I think that's why I gravitated early on to ceramics and drawing -- is because they both are materials that you can do that with. It's not that I don't have a concepts for my work, I would say that for me, what I've been doing the past several years has been continually working off of bodies of work that lead to more work bodies of work so I would say the way that I start my work now is usually based on what happened what I've been doing before and if there's something that I like or don't like about it, and continuing that is a way to try to figure something else out.
AG: In your drawings, are you influenced at all by any quilts like the quilts of Gee’s Bend or other artists that work with quilting influences such as Miriam Shapiro?
WO: Um… I don't know Miriam Shapiro, but I would agree. I grew up in outside of Ohio in like, you can say a rural Amish enclosed community, and so there was a lot of crafts I was exposed to, but then I thought I was going to be a mathematician and I'm really attracted to the sound of color and the music of form and material, and so there is a certain thing that exists influenced in the drawings that I think has to do with sounds and music, but then also I kind of look at them as those being like a formal quilt, but also maybe being about recording my life a little bit and those drawings for me actually I never thought I'd make so many of them because there's a lot of things about them that are -- I've gotten different feedback on, but for me what's most interesting is that I am attracted to color, movement, and line. I'm always surprised and inspired by that. I think there's some identity stuff in there too, with a queer identity with aids quilts, but I also have been trying not to force a read on things.
AG: Do any of the materials you work -- do they all have different sort of contexts, associations or maybe hierarchies?
WO: I would say -- I think like early on in my career I first was a ceramic student and I really really enjoyed making ceramics, but then I was frequently told there is no way I would ever be taken seriously as a real fine artist if I used clay. So, I felt that there was a little bit of tension with that and I also really became very interested in. I actually didn't have a lot of money when I was starting off as an artist, and so I really actually became attracted to artists that used cheaper materials because it was just what I had around and could afford. I think part of me also has chosen the materials that I use because they are more accessible to an audience outside of an art context, but then also by using those materials it does I think does create a conversation about why we consider other materials more valuable than others and then that also could lead into a conversation about who can afford to make certain types of art, and who can't, and why we consider those things more precious than others. But really-- I really just like experimenting a lot and so I have chosen materials that are cheaper because I really like experimenting, but also the main thing for me was that I really like line, and I like time, and I think drawing and clay is really great in terms of being able to do those things well.
Someone said to me that you can't take yourself really seriously as a ceramic artist -- I think you can, but I think clay and drawing in general are materials that are more open and less serious so there's a relaxation that can occur more than other materials. I don't say -- I was really uptight when I was younger, or I did have a lot of anxiety and I was really uptight when I was first started making work in undergrad. There's like a lot of anxiety about it, so I think I was attracted towards clay and drawing because it wasn't that big of a deal to make a mistake, and so I think those things are things that I'm attracted to because it helps me make just -- someone said a creative mind is a relaxed mind and I think that's true. But you can make actually art out of any state of mind, but I think for me there was always a struggle to really believe that what I was doing was valid, so I think I gravitated towards more accessible materials because I one thing that I never want anyone to feel with my work is stupid, or isolated, or that they don't belong. I think art is a way of very quickly doing that to people, and I think the materials you use really matter in terms of how they'll make the participant looking at it feel or react.
AG: Your work definitely feels accessible, and fun and also like serious. I have kind of a question that's a little bit off off base but I'm curious -- I read in your artist statement that--.
WO: You know god I need to take that down -- I'm kidding [laughs] because people really like it though I mean go ahead. Oh my god…
AG: It's like you sort of wrote it the way you wanted to and not the way everyone else is writing theirs.
WO: I think I did that on purpose because I don't think people read artist statements anymore. I really don't know why they exist, and they like -- artist statements also again isolate people, so I felt like I wanted it to be real, and some people have given me feedback that it's too real, but I was like well better that then I don't know… I think I can be… I think I'm not saying I'm not a art snob, or that I don't have standards, but I do feel like there is this thing about art that these people feel like they're not good enough, and I don't like that at all.
AG: I think that's why I really like your artist statement because it just -- it feels like, from reading it, I can sort of get to know you as a real person. For example, in it you mentioned that you were homeschooled and I was was also homeschooled and I know like I have had very different experiences, and you also mentioned growing up in rural Ohio, and I was just wondering if you feel comfortable talking about it what your experience was like and if it has any influence on your practice?
WO: I grew up in a very religious, like conservative Catholic home. I was home-schooled and I feel like my mother wanted us to home-school-- I think she wanted us to be outside of like a system that she thought was maybe influencing us us in the wrong way, but for me, I was actually not like a high school student, and I was rebellious and I -- someone had burned down the boys bathroom from smoking, and although I had been caught smoking in the bathroom, I actually didn't burn the bathroom down, but I was asked to leave high school at that point. So for me, I felt like I didn't really have like a good connection to that school, so I actually got my first job while I was being homeschooled and it was like a really difficult period in terms of figuring out who I was, but I also was able to take my first art class because they wouldn't let me take art classes because I was so bad in high school. It really was a good period in terms of me figuring out who I was and it is a little bit of a strange things to be homeschooled, I mean I feel like it was good, but also I don't know if it was there's something sad about like in Pretty in Pink like you're supposed to go to your high school prom and I did go to a prom, but I think there was some social things there that were hard, but I am a home-schooled person. I mean, I don't know what homeschool you've had but like it was my sister and me, so it was like definitely when I did it, it was very radical, it wasn't like a thing people were doing, right? I think it was fine to those in high school and I already had a set of friends that I knew outside of school, I mean I think it kind of -- like I was talking to someone today I think all these things kind of made me embrace who I was and be a weirdo and be okay with it and I think there was a positive thing about it where I was sort of doing something that wasn't the way you were supposed to do it. So I think now I'm more comfortable with not following along, or standing on my own when not everyone-- like not doing what everyone else is doing, but I think those are good qualities for being an artist just sort of sticking with what's good for you.
AG: That totally makes sense especially with your work. So my last question has to do with being surprised--which you talked about already. You've mentioned it in this conversation and also it's in a section of your artist statement and other places online. What has surprised you most recently in your studio?
WO: Oh, that I make the best work when I don't think I'm doing it. I mean that happened yesterday, I just finished a drawing, and when I was making it I was like oh my god I fucking hate art and making art! I'm sick of making drawings, and then I finished it and my partner was like “that's the best drawing you've ever made” and I was like “really?” I would say most recently, I would say I'm really surprised by how things change when you'd least expect them to. When you're doing something and even if you feel really bored, and that you're sick of making something you actually might be making the best work because you're not so self-conscious about it. I said that to my students-- sometimes you make the best work when you're bored because you're not so obsessive, trying to do a good job. You're just relaxed. You know when you're like obsessed with making something really good-- and it has to be good, and like obsessed with it. It's kind of like, when you learn how to drive a car you're very aware of everything you're doing and there's like a tension there, but once you kind of make, and you learn something and you become relaxed, you actually-- there's more flexibility to make better work because you're not so self-conscious of everything you're doing kind of like dance, or with sports it takes training to be able to relax. So usually for me, it's like the sixth drawing I'm doing I'm finally like okay I think I'm surprised. Also probably by how some of the early pain I have that still is there somewhere, but there's still something sad about -- like Louise Bourgeiosis has talked about this, there's just early stuff that we have that's the impetus for the art, and that's not bad, it's good. You know it's like our gold. I think for everybody, in my opinion the very good artists have difficulty and that's the gold that makes their work so good. They go back to that when they need to really-- it's like Sally Fields, you know, I don't know you go back to it when you need to really feel things. I also think there's this idea that like strength and masculinity is supposed to mean that something is good but truthfully feeling vulnerability is where the real strength is. It's not-- real strong people feel a lot and some people can disqualify them as seeming like they're weak, but actually they're not. Artists really are strong because they feel and process a lot of the world kind of like a barometer. Artists are barometers, you know?
I mean, so that's a hard question I'm like what am I surprised by? Okay well, I think maybe because I'm just working a lot and sometimes feel it's hard to feel surprised when you're really just working, you know? So I thought are you finished with your school now or no?
AG: I finished my undergraduate degree and I'm finishing up a Post Bacc at the University of Arkansas.
WO: Are you gonna go to grad school?
AG: I am, yeah, I keep putting it off but it's it's on the horizon. Do you have any advice?
WO: Because school is hard, I mean it's just one of those catch-22 you know? Like when you're in it you don't want to be in it, but then when you're in real life you don't want to do that. So it's like I don't know… I think it's better to go-- I don't know how old you are, like late 20s early 30s I think is a good time. I feel like you have to like in fall in love, have a terrible breakup, have like the worst job ever, maybe have a drug or alcohol problem, get sober and then you're like “oh my god this is the last thing I can do to get out of this life” and then you go to grad school. So you kind of have to wait until you're like, oh my god, it's like the magic, using it when you really you're like okay I need to use this-- because if you go too soon it's like people don't -- not that they don't know what to do, but it's kind of like inventing stuff to do.
Abigail Grix is a Post-Baccalaureate student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She received her BFA in 2016 from Penn State.
Arts+Leisure will be presenting Infinite Infinite, an exhibition of new work by UARK Ceramics alumni Aimee Odum. Melding video, ceramics, and fragments of a variety of sculptural and technological materials, Odum forges a dialogue between nature and technology, juxtaposing physical tactility with the conditions of the digital screen. If you're in NYC, make sure you stop by! For full details, and a link to the press release please visit the Arts+Liesure website.
March 17 – April 15, 2018
Opening reception: Saturday, March 17th, 7-10pm
Pop Up Exhibition on THURSDAY, March 15 at 6-10PM
21st Street and Smallman Street, across from the Society for Contemporary Craft - Look for the nine Uhauls!
Nine Uhauls displaying work ranging from installations, objects, and interactive works will be will be open to the public in the parking lot across from Contemporary Craft Thursday night. Come see work by artists Richard Peterson, Sam Mack, Chris Rodgers, Lucas Pïzza, Nicholas Dison, Anthony Kascak, Abigail Grix, Katie McColgan, and Brant Weiland
Take a selfie at the show using the hastag #uarkuhaul and stop by the Uark Ceramics table in the convention center to be entered to win a ceramic work donated by faculty members Linda Lopez, Mathew McConnell, Jeannie Hulen, Adam Posnak, and Benjamin Cirgin.
UARK RAFFLE Guidelines
1. Visit our UARK Booth in the Resource Hall and join our mailing list
2. Follow our instagram @uarkceramics
3. Take a selfie at the Uark/Uhaul opening and #uarkuhaul
Winners will be chosen Friday, March 16 @ 9am. Winners will be contacted via instagram/email and items must be picked up by Friday @ 5PM from the UARK booth.
I was recently reading John McPhee's new book, Draft No. 4, and a there was a passage that struck me about how he uses a dictionary in his writing process. McPhee says, "I spend a great deal more time looking up words I know than words I have never heard of—at least ninety-nine to one." He then gives examples of how looking up very common words leads him to much more compelling and accurate language in his final drafts—citing examples of definitions he has utilized. Simple enough, to be sure. However, the language McPhee presents in his examples felt far richer and more nuanced than what I typically find when I perform a dictionary search on, say, my phone. My immediate thought was, "What dictionary is he using, and how do I get one?!" Call me naive, but until that moment I just hadn't thought it could matter so much.
As it turns out, I'm not the first to be so enamored with McPhee's attitude on dictionary usage. James Somers, who often contributes to The Atlantic wrote a fantastic blog post back in 2014 (shorty after McPhee's chapter had been published by The New Yorker) that not only locates the Webster's edition McPhee prefers, but goes one step further in showing you how to set your digital devices to offer that exact edition. Somers' accompanying article serves as a tidy introduction to Noah Webster and the many dictionaries that followed in his wake. Somers elegantly illustrates why these early editions have never been bested. If you want to peruse some 1913 edition definitions, you can find a website with its entries here: https://www.websters1913.com/. You can find Somer's post here: http://jsomers.net/blog/dictionary
Got Art? Show Us! | Honors College Blog
Deconstructing Art is a week-long, pop-up art gallery hosted by the University of Arkansas Honors College. The gallery will run from February 19 – 23, 2018, and will feature a panel of arts professionals followed by a reception on the evening of February 22.
- What we’re looking for: Undergraduate student art that will help frame a conversation on the nature of art and the role art plays in society. We welcome any type of art—funky, traditional, modern, serious—to be installed for a week in Gearhart Hall. If you think you have something to offer, and you know you can install it with either your own supplies or our limited offerings, fill out the form below and let us see your work! We are looking for artwork for students from all disciplines, whether you view art as a hobby or a career.
- Need to know: If selected, you will be in charge of installing your work in Gearhart Hall on Sunday, February 18, 2018. The Honors College can only offer a limited amount of supplies – basically, hooks and a hammer.
- Submit your work here: Deconstructing Art Submission Form
- Final deadline: February 1, 2018
Adam Posnak and Mathew McConnell were recently featured in the spotlight section of Ceramics Monthly for their innovative "Pots as Textbook" approach to Wheelthrowing (here is the original pdf of the printed feature).
Ceramics Monthly: Why do Introduction to Wheel-Throwing students at the University of Arkansas buy a handmade pot in lieu of a textbook?
Mathew McConnell: I had been bringing to my classes portions of my personal collection that were relevant to each assignment. After some time, I realized I was articulating something far beyond the technical aspects of a successful pot when talking about these distinct and well-known characters that inhabit my daily life. I was speaking in a very personal, even emotional way about them. I show my students the first real cup I bought and talk about all the phases of my life it has followed me through. I talk about the pots that I know are bad technically, but that always sit at the front of my cupboard. I also gently upwrap the shards of a piece that has been broken for years, but I can’t bear to throw away. These pots don’t simply serve as anecdotes for me. I truly feel connected to them, enriched by them; they have sensitized me to the world in ways I can’t fully express. I desperately want my students to know those feelings, too. And, I’m not sure you can make good pots if you haven’t been affected on a deeply personal level by them. So, what to do? The answer seemed pretty obvious: force them to buy great pots and live with them!
Adam Posnak: I instituted this practice after observing Mathew’s teaching. I thought it was such a sensible thing to do, and pure genius.
CM: How do students react when you tell them?
AP: I have found students to be fairly enthusiastic. Though a minority of students have some prior pottery-making experience, they have not typically engaged in an in-depth discussion related to the experiential and visceral facets of interacting with pots. I often tell them that for most people without specialized training, knowledge of pottery would be comparable in the realm of painting to only being familiar with paintings of dogs playing cards; the lowest common denominator (not that I have anything against paintings of dogs playing cards).
MM: I must assume that every student thinks we are trying to lure them into a cult of some sort! And, to be fair, I guess we are. Most are happy to join—it’s an unexpected and welcome departure from the well-worn pedagogical paths they are accustomed to traveling. Some have prior experience with handmade pottery, but almost no one has been asked to concentrate so fully on absorbing the intricacies of its making, handling, and aesthetics—and, in turn, how to translate those observations into language and form. CM: How do experiences using the pots inform students’ learning?
AP: Again, I think it comes down to the interactive aspect of pottery. Students are often surprised by the profundity of their feelings toward pots, which begins to develop almost immediately upon acquiring and using their cups. They often remarked upon the manner in which a pot continually reveals itself over the course of time. Opinions and assumptions about a particular pot evolve over time and through use as well, and sometimes a student may actually come to dislike a pot in use that she/he was attracted to visually, and vice versa.
MM: Agreed. I also like that it gives them a standard to strive for that exists beyond what any student could accomplish in a semester. We ask them to purchase pots from vendors that only have works by highly esteemed potters, so the students have the best shot at experiencing what excellence truly means. Being able to own, hold, and live with this kind of excellence ultimately propels more sophisticated work from the students. Even when they don’t achieve what they are after, they have a far better chance of understanding where they came up short. Suddenly, they’re not looking to their instructor to explain why; they know why.
CM: What is the most unexpected outcome of this approach?
AP: As a teacher I am always taken aback by the intuitive way students take to pots. Sometimes I think of an appreciation for pottery as a relatively rarified, acquired taste, but in practice students naturally possess a sophisticated, instinctual bond with pots. I love the enthusiasm that ensues when they begin to use pots, and realize the potential of working with a form of expression that engages literally all of the senses. I point out in a class introduction that no matter how much you love a sculpture or a painting, the chances are relatively low they will ever touch your lips; a simple statement that seems to resound.
MM: What I find most rewarding is the way a student’s purchased pot unfolds to them as they progress through the skills covered in the course. When they receive the work they may feel an immediate connection, and they may even be able to articulate some pretty sophisticated analyses right off the bat, but there’s nothing like watching a student connect the dots between an action they have just performed and a similar action taken on the pot they have been studying. There’s a real kinship developing in these moments, and an understanding between maker and maker that is wholly unique.
*Originally published in December 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly, page 72. http://www.ceramicsmonthly.org. Copyright, The AmericanCeramic Society. Reprinted with permission.
After last year's hiatus, we are once again hosting a NYC intersession course in May. It's going to be great—it's New York! There will be an informational session on January 30th in the ceramics studio if you are looking for more details.
Friday, January 26, 2018
Lecture 4-5pm @ Ceramics (326 Eastern Avenue)
Exhibition Reception 5:30-8PM @ sUgAR (1 East Center)
Worth a read... link below the image.
FOUNTAINHEAD FELLOW CALL FOR APPLICATIONS
The VCUarts Fountainhead Fellowship in Craft and Material Studies is a 9-month residency for recent MFA graduates. Fellows are provided with the opportunity to concentrate on their work, build community, gain valuable teaching experience, and participate in a vital, progressive community of artists at Virginia Commonwealth University. The Fountainhead Fellowship is a joint project of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, the Departments of Craft and Material Studies, Painting + Printmaking, and Sculpture + Extended Media as well as Fountainhead Development Services. The residency is sited in a newly renovated complex built to eco-friendly, EarthCraft standards. This mixed-use community includes artists’ studios, apartments, a café, an outdoor swimming pool, a dog park and other amenities.
The fellowship program runs mid August 2018 through mid May 2019.
2018 DEADLINE: March 15th, 2018
Sad, sad news in ceramics today.
Artist Betty Woodman, a sculptor known for ceramic works that are playful yet rigorous combinations of, among other things, Etruscan sculpture, Egyptian art, Sèvres porcelain, and Henri Matisse, has died.
Woodman was born in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1930. She described her first encounter with clay in a high school art class, according to an interview with Priscilla Frank in the Huffington Post, as “sort of like magic . . . We were given some clay and using our hands we could just make it into a shape. The first thing I ever made was a pitcher. As far as I was concerned that was what I wanted to do. It fell into my hands.” She studied pottery at Alfred University’s School for American Craftsmen, graduating in 1950. In 1952 Woodman traveled to Italy, where traditional forms of earthenware, such as majolica, made a deep impression upon her. Since then, she had spent a portion of every year living there with her husband, the artist George Woodman, who died last March. (The Woodmans are a famous artist family: Their daughter, the late Francesca Woodman, was a photographer; their son, Charles Woodman, who is still living, is an electronic artist. A documentary about the clan, The Woodmans, was released in 2010.)
Betty Woodman has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe, including “Florentine Interiors” (2017) at Galerie Hubert Winter in Vienna; “Theatre of the Domestic” (2016) at the ICA in London; “Interior Views” (2014) at Galerie Francesca Pia in Zurich; and “Of Botticelli” (2013) at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi in Berlin. Her last New York solo exhibition was in 2016 at Salon 94—the gallery represents her—and was titled “Breakfast At The Seashore Lunch In Antella.” “The Art of Betty Woodman,” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006, was the artist’s first retrospective in the US.
“Unfussy but remarkably erudite, her pottery comfortably foregrounds ceramics’ conventions and place within (or outside of) this erstwhile art-historical canon,” said Suzanne Hudson of Woodman’s show at LA’s David Kordansky Gallery for the April 2015 issue of Artforum. “The rigor of Woodman’s engagement with the medium was here belied by the visceral convolutions of color and runny streaks of paint that turn the surface of her vessels into canvaslike grounds.”
Each semester, we present an exhibition of works from all students enrolled in ceramics courses, from intro-level undergraduates to grad students. It's a great way to cap off the semester, and also gives us an opportunity to invite the public into the studio and share what we have been up to. Here's a sample of this year's exhibition:
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas is pleased to announce a transformational $40 million gift to Campaign Arkansas from the Windgate Charitable Foundation that will create the new Windgate Art and Design District in the heart of south Fayetteville.
The Windgate Art and Design District will expand on the School of Art’s Hill Avenue sculpture complex that opened in 2016.
The district will be developed close to campus, near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Hill Avenue. It will feature several new buildings for art and design classrooms, labs, studios and potentially a public gallery space. The district will bring together art, design and education, while serving as the central hub for the student and faculty artists and designers at the University of Arkansas and beyond.
“This is a tremendous step forward,” said Chancellor Joseph E. Steinmetz. “Through this partnership with the Windgate Charitable Foundation, the University of Arkansas will be able to achieve nationally competitive standing in the arts, which will in turn place the state of Arkansas on the map as one of the most innovative leaders in the global arts community.
“As a land-grant institution, we are charged with serving the public interest through outreach,” he added. “Thanks to the Windgate Charitable Foundation’s generosity, we will now be able to do this for our community in an unprecedented way. We thank the Windgate Charitable Foundation for this amazing gift.”
The Windgate Art and Design District will further expand the reach and scope of the university’s School of Art, which was established in August 2017 thanks to a $120 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. The School of Art in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is the first and only accredited, collegiate school of art in the state of Arkansas.
“The Windgate Foundation is proud to partner with the new School of Art and to help it and our state's entire arts community continue to grow,” said John E. Brown, executive director of the Windgate Charitable Foundation. “Our board strives to develop and support the arts in many states, and the Windgate Art and Design District will be an outstanding example of the foundation's highest ideals for the arts and education. In fact, this commitment is the largest single grant awarded by the foundation in our 25-year history."
Robyn Horn, board member of the Windgate Charitable Foundation, said she also believes the spaces in the Windgate Art and Design District will provide the opportunity to engage the community with programming that is free, open and accessible to the public.
“The studio and design space will serve as key components to the Windgate Art and Design District and will invite the community to engage with School of Art faculty, students and international arts programs,” she said.
The Windgate Charitable Foundation has already made a significant impact on the School of Art, said Todd Shields, dean of the Fulbright College.
“In 2014, the Foundation gave more than $2 million to the former Department of Art, providing crucial funding that enabled faculty to expand curricula, improve teaching techniques, fund opportunities for student travel, enhance technologies and procure new equipment,” Shields explained.
The school used $500,000 of this gift in combination with $8 million from the university to build the School of Art’s sculpture facility. Architects from Modus Studio in Fayetteville and El Dorado Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri, designed the building, which houses studio classrooms and shops for sculpture, the school’s wood shop and advanced technology lab, graduate student studios and classroom space for the school’s freshman foundation classes.
Shields said that as a result of the opportunities and new facilities these funds created the number of art history, art education, graphic design and studio art majors increased significantly.
“With the Windgate Charitable Foundation’s help our students achieved higher levels of performance and became more competitive,” Shields said. “We are incredibly grateful for the continued support and cannot wait to see the amazing impact this next phase of our partnership will have.”
All of this growth directly contributed to the department’s natural evolution into a school, said Jeannie Hulen, associate dean of fine arts for Fulbright College and former chair of the department of art.
“Thanks to the Windgate Charitable Foundation, we were able to give sculpture a state-of-the-art, nationally competitive facility,” Hulen said. “By providing art and design students with the resources necessary for synthesis, as well as guidance from invested faculty, the School of Art is able to cultivate creative thinkers and leaders committed to inventive problem solving through art and design.”
Hulen said the creation of the Windgate Art and Design District will free up space in the university’s Fine Arts Center, which will help the School of Art develop planned graduate programs in art education and art history.
“The Northwest Arkansas region, as well as the state and nation, require significant investment in arts education, so this latest gift from the Windgate Charitable Foundation will help the University of Arkansas become a catalyst for that change,” Hulen said.
Additionally, Hulen said the school plans to capitalize on the growth of the visual arts in the region to further enhance the university’s partnership with nearby Bentonville-based Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
“Together, we are establishing the groundwork for future growth that will directly empower the local and national art and design community and have a resounding positive effect on the culture of the entire state,” she said.
For more information about the Windgate Art and Design District or the School of Art, please visit art.uark.edu.
About the Windgate Charitable Foundation: The Windgate Charitable Foundation is a private grant-making foundation established by an Arkansas family in 1993. One of its principal goals is to fund significant educational programs in the visual arts, as well as to provide funding to K-12 and higher educational institutions to develop and support the arts, scholarships and effective instructional programs.