Thursday, February 23, 2012

Featured Artist - Tracey Broome

Tracey's work is featured in the upcoming House and Home exhibit at MudFire Gallery.  When we unpacked her houses... we needed to know more!
Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I am an only child, I grew up in Myrtle Beach SC, hanging out on the beach a lot and skateboarding every day. My dad worked in a furniture plant and at night reupholstered furniture in a tiny barn out on a friend’s farm. He would take me with him and I hung out in the barn ripping fabric, nails and staples off of furniture frames for him. He drove a truck and to this day, I love to see an old Chevy or Ford truck pass me on the road. My uncle was a painter and my mom always thought I would end up being an artist like him. My dad worked for a lot of interior designers and I decided that was what I wanted to do, so I went to school, got a degree in design, met my husband, and spent the next twenty years as a designer married to a photojournalist. I worked for furniture manufacturers and retail furniture stores, traveled all over the country and later designed sets and props for the theater. I found clay in my 40’s and took a lot of classes and workshops before I decided to make it my full time profession. I am still married to the man I met in college, he is a staff photographer for the Associated Press and we have a daughter in film school at UNC School of the Arts in Winston Salem. She is studying to be a screenwriter, and we are like most parents, very proud of her!
What is your typical day to day like?
I don’t have typical days. I am not a good planner. I don’t sit down and say, ok, today I will make this and this. I walk into my studio, mess around with the piles of found objects I have and see what inspires me. Deadlines and orders can loom in front of me and I will get distracted and make something completely off track from what I should be doing. I make two or three pieces a day with lots of distractions in between the making. I will never be a production potter. I take a long time with each piece and I work very slowly. I know I should speed up my production and increase the number of pieces I make, but I am a slow southern girl. I once had a boss that called me “speedy” because I was so slow and methodical with everything. I make what I want to make at a pace that I like, that’s the best I can do!  At least once a week, I try to check in with other friends that are artists. We will meet for coffee, lunch or dinner and a movie, but it always inspires me and keeps me in touch with others who are doing the same thing I’m doing. I also like to visit a gallery or museum a couple of times a month just to feel the presence of other artists out there.                                
Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
For years, my husband and I were rock climbers. We climbed a couple of times a week, we had canoes and paddled whitewater a lot. Then he got this job with AP and I found clay and now there is little time for that these days. We still like to be outdoors, camp, hike, he climbs when he can, I don’t climb anymore, but sometimes think I would like to get back to it.  Now, I enjoy time with my friends and family, really good coffee, really good food, good films, art, all the good stuff we need in our lives!

Describe the moment you fell in love with clay. 
When I was a little girl my grandparents liked to visit Jugtown and Seagrove and they would take me there when I stayed with them in the summer. My grandmother had a great love for pottery and I loved those rides through the country to visit the potters down in Randolph County. I remember walking into the shop at Jugtown and feeling such a sense of history there. But I truly fell for clay at the State Fair in Raleigh. There was a potter in the Yesteryear pavilion with a wheel and he was shouting out at the crowd as he made pieces, telling stories and talking about what he was doing. I can’t tell you a thing he said, but I can still remember the sight of that clay on that wheel. I looked down at my daughter who was very small at the time, and I said to her, I am going to do that! Soon after that, I signed up for pottery classes and never looked back. I would love to know who that man was that influenced me so greatly!
Who has been the most influential instructor in your life, and what was the most important thing you learned from him or her?
I have had many amazing instructors and I have taken many many classes and workshops. They include: Meredith Brickell, Ronan Peterson, Susan Filley, Adrian Arleo, Debra Fritts, Steven Forbes deSoule, workshops with Amy Sanders, Po Wen Liu, Hitomi Shibata, Blaine Avery, and there are more I’m sure that I am forgetting. I picked up so many techniques and tips from each of these artists that I use in my work every day.
But the two instructors that have helped me the most are Deborah Harris and Barbara McKenzie. I took classes from these two potters at Claymakers in Durham when I first moved to Chapel Hill. They taught me above all else, the importance of a well crafted piece. They taught me to take the time to do things right. They also taught me that it doesn’t just come overnight, that you have to do the work, you have to not be afraid to try things and fail, and they helped me understand how to move on, not get attached to a piece that was obviously not working and just start over. They have both been endlessly giving of their time and knowledge as I have grown as a clay artist and they have both become very great friends.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Most of my inspiration comes from old discarded objects, antiques and treasures that people give me from their attics and drawers in their homes. If it’s rusty, old or broken, it inspires me! I am inspired by the architecture of the rural south. I love old cemeteries, plantations in South Carolina where I’m from, barns, dilapidated houses out in cotton fields, old paint on weathered wood. I also like to wander around in flea markets and antique malls. I feel so nostalgic when I am in one, especially if they are playing really bad music on their intercom. I love the crazy people that run their stalls at outdoor flea markets. I like to just hang around and listen to the conversations. I hear some crazy stuff, let me tell you. For instance, yesterday I was in an old shop in Asheboro, NC and I heard these two elderly ladies talking about the way things were when they were young girls. One was saying that they didn’t have yard sales when she was a girl, when they wanted to get rid of stuff they just threw it away. She said “why we took a bunch of our furniture one time and pushed it over the bank down the road from us.” Now THAT inspires me!! Only in the south!

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
Jean-Michel Basquiat  and Andrew Wyeth, I know extremely different, right?! but I love them both. The Basquiat movie is in my head all the time. I went to the Wyeth museum in Maine last summer, I just stood in this room with Andrew Wyeth’s paintings and cried.
Do you ever get potters’ block? How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I do get blocks, I seem to reach these plateaus and I get to a place where I feel that I don’t know what to do next. I get moody, irrational, lack confidence in my ability, question why I do this. And then, like a flash, I get a spark of inspiration from some crazy thing, and I’m back at it. I have gotten more used to it, I can feel it coming like a tidal wave and I just wait it out. I know that it will pass and something will come, I just wait for it. Many times I get out of these funks from something that wakes me at 3am, some glimmer of an idea, and I will grab my notebook and write it down. Recently, a girl I blog with wrote about a note in her friend’s studio that said “just work”. How true is that? If I just go out to my studio and do something, anything, something else will follow. Just Work! When all else fails I call my artist friends and go have coffee with them or I call my daughter and something they will say strikes a chord and I’m good to go.

What book or movie have you read or seen recently that rocked your world?
Movies:  The Radiant Child, Basquiat, Harold and Maude, Stalker by Andrey Tarkovskiy, 2001 A Space Odyssey
Books: I recently read A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance and it changed the way I thought about a lot of things. 

Check out Tracey's wonderful houses the House and Home exhibit opening March 2 at MudFire Gallery.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Featured Artist: Shawn O'Connor

Shawn's unique wood fired work has everyone at the studio talking.  We decided to circle back around to find out more about our favorite Downeaster.
What is your typical day to day like?
I try to treat my studio as a normal job. I typically work Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm with and hour break for lunch. Many nights during the week I put a few hours in doing paper work or photographing work. I try to take weekends off from the studio, but frequently find myself working if I haven’t left town. I typically throw in the morning and trim and assemble in the afternoon.       

Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m an outdoor person at heart. I love to hike and camp, but pretty much enjoy any outdoor activity. I’m also enjoy music, of all types. I frequently go to shows and concerts.       

How much of your own ceramic pieces do you use in your own home?  
I try and use my own work often. I feel it is important to understand fully how my work will live out its life in other people’s homes. I will often make changes to future work I make, from the experience I have using it. I have a good collection of other people’s work that I typically use every day.     

Is there a ceramic artist whose work you most admire?
One of my favorite potters, and friend of mine, is Jennifer Allen. Our work is visually and physically very different, but we share some of the same artistic values that go into our work. 
Why is handmade better than mass produced?
The hand made offers the aspect of the human connection. Often the value of the maker is entwined in the object that they make. The user, or owner, of the object will often have a personal connection to the maker, adding significant emotional value to the object.  Mass produced objects are often sterile and cold void of human emotion and connection. The tactile qualities of my work are very important to me, as this is part of the experience I am creating for the user. My work is meet to be used in the service of food and drink, so it is important to consider all the senses when making these objects.      

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
Probably Richard Serra. I love his use of form and surface to create work that gives an experience to the viewer on a monumental scale. 

Do you ever get potter's block? 
I sometimes do have potters block, but find if I start working through a series of forms that I have already made, I usually end up creating some new one at the end.  

Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would like to have some roots somewhere in ten years. Hopefully before then but, you never know how things are going to play out. I’ve been moving around a lot the past five years, grad school, residencies, jobs. I’m starting to feel a lack of “home” or stability in this transient lifestyle. It’s not really an ideal situation for a studio potter.       

Visit Shawn O'Connor's solo exhibit at MudFire Gallery in Atlanta or online

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Best of Kiln - Ginger Birdsey's Pastel Pinch

This week's "best of kiln" award goes to the always fabulous Ginger Birdsey for her gorgeous cup and serving tray set in soft pastels.  Check out the way the glazes pool and interact in crevices, and don't forget to set your internet browser to "feelie" mode to get a sense of the luxurious satiny texture. This set is marvelous!

Ginger used a white stoneware glazed with 2-D blue and Apricot glazes.  The set was fired to cone 6 in oxidation.  2-D can be finicky, with a thick application resulting in pinholing, so test a bit, to get the right consistency on your work. Apricot, on the other hand, is a magic glaze that can make even your flattest glaze super-sexy variegated. Get down!

Custer Feldspar    44
Whiting               19.9
Flint                    10.7
EPK                    10.7
Lithium Carbonate    5.3
Talc                      3.1
Frit 3124              6.4
Rutile                   7.7
Bentonite             3.2

2-D Blue
Dolomite             21.8
Whiting               3.3
Nephyline Syenite    47.5
Ball Clay             24.1
Frit 3195             3.3
Cobalt Carbonate    0.5
Rutile                      4
Bentonite                1.9

Friday, February 10, 2012

Connected - Short Film

While I've come to think of YouTube as a complete waste of time, I was never really smart enough to think of it as a place to fill the void left by the absence of short film festivals at the Biograph on M Street in DC. Until someone recommended this to me. I have to admit to being quite excited to explore this side of YouTube.

Featured Artist - Andrew Massey

We met Andrew Massey in North Carolina last fall, by almost walking right past his booth...thinking the work was metal and we, of course, care for nothing in the world but clay... Luckily, a double-take, and next thing you know, we're buying stoneware wine cups (ultimately, everything is a wine cup!) that look like copper pipes with nails and rivets and threading.  We're very pleased that Andrew has a solo exhibit, aptly entitled Massey's Machines, coming up shortly at MudFire .  But first... we invite you to meet the maker!

What is your typical day to day like? 
Well I live and work in the River Arts District of Asheville so i typically wake up to the sound of the train coming through.  (I am by no means an early riser but would much rather spend time working late into the night)  I probably get up around 9 or so and have a nice leisurely breakfast while i deal with emails, website, scheduling and business related things, all while listening to some wonderfully classic vinyls.   On nice days I'll walk down to the studio (I've been loving the weather this winter).  When i arrive at the studio I make a list of the things i want to accomplish for the day, though i find that most of the time these lists are a bit over ambitious which leaves me with no shortage of things to do.  I will create most of the components for my work early in the day and try to start assembling late in the day or save them for the next day.  There is always a bit of fun to be had with my fellow resident artists throughout the day as well.  I enjoy working in the community studio environment.  The energy between the 6 resident artists as well as the rest of the studio keeps everything interesting and fresh.  We will often talk about each others work in little mini critiques which helps us to each keep pushing our work forward.  I don't typically get out of the studio before 10 or 11pm with many times being much later.  I find i am at my most productive late into the night.

Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
In the time between creating in the studio I love to just be outside.  I live in one of the most amazing and beautiful places in the US (Asheville, NC) and it is always a struggle to balance all of the many things that i love.  I have been climbing for close to 12 years now and i really try to take advantage of that as much as possible.  I live 30 minutes from several crags and i am really trying to get out once a week or so, even if its just for an afternoon.  I was sidelined by two separate shoulder injuries this past year and now that i am through it i'm trying to not waste any more time.  Besides climbing, I love to get out hiking, backpacking, biking, or even just floating down the river.  I love the culture here in this city where we can just be out on the mountain all day  or in the studio all covered in clay and go right down to the Wedge Brewery afterwards with no one giving the dirtiness a second thought.  One of the things i try to never miss, if i can help it, are the music, art, and beer festivals around here.  These are the times when you see the real asheville come out and play.  It is even better when these festivals line up with the end of a long hard push to get new work out for a show.

Who has been the most influential instructor in your life, and what was the most important thing you learned from him or her?
My most influential instructor has to be my ceramics professor in college, Nathan Cox.  I probably wouldn't be here and playing in clay everyday if it weren't for him.  I had just gotten into art with my hands just dabbling in a bit of clay.  I really loved working in clay but i would never have changed my major and really focus in without his encouragement.  I had many times where i would sit down with him and just try and figure out what i was doing with my college life and where i was going afterwards.  I really just can't say enough about how much he helped me focus in and believe that i could do something with this newly found passion.

What is your favorite food to eat out of your own pots?
Definitely my favorite thing to eat out of my own pots is a red curry dish.  A few years ago i was always frustrated by the store bought bowls i had just not quite being big enough for my curry dish.   I did the logical thing for any potter to do, I  made my own set of bowls at precisely the perfect size.  They have plenty enough room for all of the goodness i wanted to put in them.  Red curry is absolutely one of my favorite things to make.  I add chicken, green peppers, onions, red potatoes and a bit of basil to a big bowl of rice and curry sauce i have made and oooo.... it just hits the spot.

Where does your inspiration come from?
I take my inspiration from my long lasting love of mechanical objects and many of the things i see in and around old industrial buildings.  I have always been mechanically savvy.  From a young age i was taking things apart just to see how they worked and reassembling them.  I always loved doing all of the engine work on several of the old vehicles i have owned as well.  I can see that my process has stemmed from learning how to make a basic teapot and seeing how the different components all assembled together.  Just as every child loved to build with legos, I love to build with clay.  I also take much inspiration from industrial steam-punk objects and how each contraption is seemingly assembled from many random pieces taken and re-purposed from other objects.

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
I can never keep to just one favorite, but i can say that I have been recently very intrigued with Alexander Calder.  I recently traveled to the High Museum in Atlanta for their "From Picasso to Warhol" exhibit.  It was the first time i had experienced Calder's work in person.  I love his use of physical balance in combination with visual balance and it is something that i try to hold the same characteristics in my own work.  Another aspect of his work that i really love is the subtle kinetic properties.  His pieces are so balanced that they will move and change with the slight air currents from viewers just walking around.  I love kinetic sculpture in general, and it is something i am always looking at, but have yet to explore.

Where would you like to be in ten years?
Haha.... 10 years is a long time, but hopefully I will still be creating.

Andrew Massey's solo exhibit Massey's Machines, will open on February 24 at MudFire gallery and online.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Potter to Potter Interview: Shawn O'Connor

In this first of a series of Potter to Potter interviews, Christina Kwan recently spoke with Shawn O'Connor whose work is featured in Daily Conversations, a solo exhibit at MudFire Gallery.

I have to admit, the idea of speaking to Shawn O'Connor intimidated me at first. His pots are so robustly elegant and his artists statement so eloquent that I thought I would have to be at my most "on" to be on par with his conversation. Quite the contrary happened. Shawn is as casual and friendly as the potter on the wheel next to yours. And his genuine candor made me feel like I was talking to an old college buddy. I guess at the heart of it all, that's what his pots are truly about - an invitation to connect, an opportunity to nurture, and just a natural sincerity. I guess maybe all pots are just mini-me's of the potters who created them.

 CK - So just to start off, where are you from? In a nutshell, how did you get where you are now? 

Shawn - Well, I grew up in a small town in Maine named Minot, so Maine has always felt like home to me. After I ended a residency at Arrowmont, I really just didn't want to move back into my parent's house.

CK - Of course, no one wants to do that. So what are you doing now?

Shawn - Luckily, an opportunity just sort of fell into my lap - working for the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation. They pay for me to live and they fund my studio work. 

CK - Well that sounds pretty much like every artist's dream. You're very lucky. Is clay your primary medium? How did you first become interested in it?

Shawn - Yes, Clay is my primary medium. I was always into art growing up, so it naturally evolved from there. In college I was a sculpture major and in my junior year, I took my first ceramics course. I initially took the class in order to use clay as a sculpture medium and I just fell in love with the material itself. That eventually turned into learning throwing and then solely making utilitarian pots.

CK - I think that's how it happens for most people. It starts off as just a human impulse to create and express oneself and then you decide to take little steps here and there and before you know it... you're a potter! That's how I got interested in clay as well. As your career continues to develop, what part of the process are you most enjoying and what are you most surprised by?

Shawn - What I most enjoy doing is being in the studio and just making the work. What I'm most surprised by is how much work is needed beyond just making stuff. I'm always surprised by how much self-promotion is really involved in being a working artist; you really have to work to get your name out there and keep it relevant. It's funny how much that affects your business. Whether or not your work has true merit, if your name is "branded" or easily recognized, people will be more willing to purchase the work and consider it worthy. 

CK - Yeah, they never teach you that in college. The "real world" of being an artist is never a topic of discussion in art courses. So why is it that you make primarily utilitarian/functional pottery?

Shawn - I'm really interested in creating the experience of using the work. Of course the actual object and its aesthetic is important, but what I'm truly trying to do is create a connection; it's more of a sociological way of looking at pots. I like the idea of people using my pots day in and day out, with that experience becoming a part of their everyday life. 

CK - I completely understand that. I think that's actually an essential core of functional pottery making and most potters probably feel the same way you do. It's a way to build human connection through an object. What techniques do you employ that make your work different? Are they traditional or things you've invented? What makes your pots special? 

Shawn - That's a tough one. Right now I fire my work in a wood kiln, which is a method of firing that's been around for ages so it's pretty hard to "break new ground" in that discipline. I'm constantly experimenting in trying to break the traditional aesthetic and I actually just wrote an article regarding this very topic (Ceramic Technical Nov Issue).

CK - So do you think you've succeeded in doing this?

Shawn - I think I've succeeded in doing this in the sense that I'm continuing to find new ways, new possibilities to break the tradition of the past. I feel like we're in this period that's sort of like how Raku was in the 80s.  Woodfire is a real trend right now, but everything is looking somewhat similar. I'm just continuing to try to set myself apart from that. 

CK - When did you first learn to woodfire and why did you continue working in this type of firing?

Shawn - Well my first woodfiring experience was up at a residency at the Watershed Center in Newcastle, Maine. That was when I learned how to woodfire and I immediately felt a soulful connection to it because of my family background. Wood firing involves stacking and splitting wood and that was just something that was engrained in me throughout my childhood. I went back to Watershed the very next summer as a staff member and I just kept doing it. The more I fired, the more my interest (and love) grew for it. 

CK - Very cool. Not many people have that sort of background so it's great how strong of an affinity you have to working with wood. How much of your time to you devote to "making"? Are you also teaching or doing other things to supplement your craft?

Shawn - I am fortunate enough to just be making. I spend about an average of 50 hours a week in the studio. Sometimes it's more because, for instance, this past week I worked Monday through Friday just in my studio and then I spent the weekend wood firing. So if you count firing as part of "making", then it goes beyond 50 hours sometimes. 

CK - What accomplishments are you most proud of at this point in your life? 

Shawn - I'm pretty proud that I got my graduate degree, my MFA. I never would have thought I was going to get an advanced degree of any kind. When I was young, I hated school, so it was never a thought in my mind that I would do that. I also have had two articles published in Ceramic journals and that's another thing I never would have dreamed I would be doing. 

CK - What has been your motivation or your inspiration? 

Shawn - To be honest, my motivation is that I just love what I do. I'm really a maker of things and so it never feels like "work" for me. I love being in the studio. And as far as inspiration, I think it was one of my graduate professors who said it best; he said, "You're not a butterfly. You don't go through a metamorphosis; you evolve progressively." So I agree with him in that there's no overnight change or inspiration that results in any dramatic change in my work. There's a slow progression and evolution so as I learn and experiment, the work sort of inspires itself and I just continue to figure things out and move forward. Does that make sense?

CK - Of course. It's not always about eureka moments, but rather, development and growth that happens over time. So my last question is how do your collectors feel about your work and what kind of feedback has been the most memorable or most influential?

Shawn - Wow, umm.. you know, I don't really recall particular "collectors" per se, but I did get a memorable email recently from Jack Troy. He's a ceramics guy - a real figure in woodfire. I've admired Jack for a long time, both as an artist and as a person. He sent me this short email saying that he was using my cup and thinking of me. Though it sounds so simple, it really made an impact on me. To have someone I've really admired say that their using my work is a big deal because Jack truly understands what a good pot is. Knowing that he's using my pot on a regular basis is really… fulfilling. 

CK - Yeah, I can only imagine. It's sort of like your work coming full circle, to have someone you really admire admiring your work. That sounds like a really satisfying validation of everything you've been working towards. Congratulations on being awesome!
Check out Shawn's Solo exhibit online or in person at MudFire Gallery.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Featured Artist - Forrest Lesch Middelton

To say we're excited about Forrest coming to teach a workshop at MudFire this quite the understatement.

Here's why...

If this looks like fun on the screen, consider joining us! This is going to be a high energy, intensive, three-day workshop. As of now, there are a couple of spots left.  But probably not for long.  For more details or to register, please visit our workshop pages.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Best of Kiln - Lindsey Elsey for Blue Steel

Some things come out of the kiln and catch your attention like nobody's business.  This tends to happens a lot when 150 talented risk takers are constantly experimenting, mixing, blending and testing.  Crowd sourcing at its best!

The Esteemed Glaze Academy (Fair, Balanced and certainly not above Bribery), was formed on February 1, 2012, with a stated mission of sharing Best of Kiln results and glaze recipes. And so, without further ado... the premier "Best of Kiln" nomination goes to (drum roll please) Lindsey Elsey, for her crystal blue combination The Academy will henceforth refer to as "blue steel".

Check out the flowy crystals! Lindsey dipped the entire piece in Bright Blue Sky (from Ron Roy's and John Hesselberth's book on glazes), then dipped the piece in Jen's Juicy Fruit. The piece was fired on white stoneware in light reduction to cone 6. This has the potential of being very runny, but in this case, the glaze combo behaved.

Jen's Juicy Fruit   
Neph Sy         44.5
Silica               10.9
Whiting            10
EPK                9.1
Frit 3124         8.2
Lithium Carb    8.2
Soda Ash         9.1
Rutile                5.5
Red Iron Oxide 1.8
Bentonite          1.8

Bright Blue Sky
G-200                   20
Frit 3134               20
Wollastonite           10
EPK                      20
Talc                       11.5
Flint                      18.5
Cobalt Carbonate  1
Rutile                     6
Red Iron Oxide     0.5