SOFA 2013 The Next Generation: What's New Under the Sun? by Hayne Bayless
I was puzzled when I saw the list of 16 names due to present at Arrowmont’s Utilitarian Clay conference last year. In the past, the names were so familiar they conjured immediate mental images of iconic pieces. This time I recognized only a handful. “Who are these people?” I wondered. “Why go?”
Then it struck me. I should go, precisely because it is these younger makers, and many others of their generation, who are what the world of clay is becoming.
Our SOFA CHICAGO 2013 special exhibit, The Futures, focuses on the work of eight past residents of Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts. All are artists in the process of responding to challenges in the material and the making, as well as the influence of technology, a digitally connected community, and the changing face of the marketplace. They represent both the consistency of tradition and the voice of tomorrow — at once iconic and innovative.
Striving for excellence, celebrating and challenging tradition, finding one’s own voice, taking risks and working beyond failure – these are all inherent in the making process. Watershed, as a residency program committed to providing artists time and space to work in clay, witnesses this process during each two-week residency. The residents create a community that builds on shared experience and interests, yet still allows for diversity and individual perspective.
In bringing together this particular group of artists for this special exhibit – Sam Chung, Molly Hatch, Bryan Hopkins, Dan Molyneux, Jill Oberman, Stephanie Rozene, Shawn Spangler, and Arnie Zimmerman – Watershed is, in a sense, creating a new community in which we all have a place. The underlying thoughts of the makers, responding to current art and life issues each in their own way, brings us into the conversation: one that will resonate differently within each of us.
Craft, Art and Design in the Digital Age
Stephanie Rozene believes the increased speed by which culture is created and passed on has made a difference. “We see and learn so quickly with the digital age and rise of social media that the work being created comes from and for a different place,” she says. “We stand at a crossroad where nationalities and localities intersect. It is because of this global cultural environment that identities and boundaries converge. I also think that we are making work at a time when work for the sake of form may not be enough, in that there has been such a shift culturally about the idea of commodity, that the value of the handmade has gone out the door with the over industrialization of goods.”
Rozene says she began by trying to respond to the work her teachers – Walter Ostrom, John Gill, and Linda Sikora, among others – were making. “At a certain point, I needed to start asking my own questions and find a place within the critical discourse of craft, art and design.” She feels her work now combines those principles “in an attempt to re-teach my audience about the power of ornament as a visual language, which I feel has been lost over the last century.”
The effects of technology on culture have also been on Sam Chung’s mind. “It seems to me that the greatest change from the preceding generation is the influence of technology on our experience as makers,” Chung says. “This can range from having an online presence through individual or gallery websites, the ability to do business more easily but not necessarily more efficiently, the ability to digitally generate ceramic decals, and the use of 3-D modeling and CNC [computer numerical control] milling to create objects. I’m not sure if these things have developed into a clearly defined, overarching aesthetic for this generation, but the field of design has had an impact not only on my work, but on that of many other artists, mostly younger generation makers but some ‘old guard’ makers as well.”
Shawn Spangler is of a similar mind. “Ceramic is tied to ideas of culture, technology, art,” he says. “Our means of producing functional vessels is evolving. Technological development has always defined a boundary, of old and new, what is considered traditional methods and the introduction of new tools. Ceramic vessels have served as cultural indicators throughout time. We bestow these objects with the power to narrate our experience. They may guide us through stories of our past, remaining as cultural signifiers to help us locate where we once were and where we are going.”
Others reject notions of old and new, preferring instead the idea of a continuum. Bryan Hopkins feels that while he may have different concerns than previous generations of makers, “we are all doing relatively the same activity, and finding a need to express ourselves visually in clay. I am a process junkie, and the processes I employ are part of the content and context of my work, and relate to a ceramic history more than design or art history.”
With a downbeat assessment on the new economics of being an artist, Hopkins says selling work is now more of a concern than ever. “The only generational shift I see is a need on the part of my generation to develop new ways to market our work,” he says. “Retail craft shows are boring and expensive. Brick-and-mortar gallery shows are fewer due to the success of online only shows, as the public is willing to buy without touching – something I have never done.”
Hopkins points to the rise of studio tours such as the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour in Minnesota and the Art of the Pot in Austin, Texas, as ways artists can “lower our overhead, increase public awareness, generate sales, and create a greater sense of community.”
Has anything really changed?
Arnie Zimmerman, for one, sees generational differences as insignificant given the long view of art history. “As far as pottery and sculpture are concerned, the last 30 years have not, in my opinion, produced any sort of paradigm shift when compared to the staggering amount of human activity with clay starting way back 6000-7000 BC. Makers have been telling stories with clay from day one. So what has really changed?”
Zimmerman echoes Hopkin’s concern about the increased financial struggle makers now face. “It is harder economically now to be an artist who works with clay than when I got out of school. It’s always hard to be an artist no matter what generation or time one lives in.”
If there is a technological aspect to it, Zimmerman sees it as a double-edged sword. “The use of the computer coupled with 3-D ceramic printers will change our lives for better and worse. Better – precise production of ceramic bone for reconstructive surgery. Worse – a huge increase of ‘dead on arrival’ sculpture and objects cluttering up our daily lives.”
Dan Molyneux feels his artistic roots go back more than one generation. “I have more in common with the early ‘old guard’ — the artists of the 40s and 50s — artists who came from diverse backgrounds, careers, wartime experiences and were harbored by new avenues in education.”
Molyneux considers that period more encouraging to a broader spectrum of makers. “[It was] a more modern academy that was inclusive of many walks of life regardless of gender, social status, and bolstered by the introduction of the GI bill. These artists and craftspeople brought a lot of real life experience to the table. I believe the academy only strengthened the experience of our artists until a point came, after many decades, where formal education just may have become a crutch to the new generation. Any artist who can translate genuine experience into their work strikes me as a modern, relevant artist.”
As a designer as well as a maker, Molly Hatch is part of the forefront of clay artists who aren't just content just to stay in the studio and make pots. I have found my career is in a pattern of crossing over and back again between the worlds of academia, art, craft and design,” she says. “Being open to the opportunity to shift my career focus from studio pottery to licensing my studio pots to industry for manufacture and effectively becoming an artist-designer has allowed me to develop a career that is somewhat indefinable. I wonder if it’s because of this generational shift? Is it how my generation shops? I believe we spend money on the things we value – is my generation valuing my design/manufactured work over my pots?”
Residencies: Creating Community and Looking
to the Future
As academic institutions continue to scale back craft programs, or eliminate them entirely, it is critically important that residency organizations like Watershed continue to serve as catalysts for the development of young ceramic artists, such as the eight represented here in The Futures.
I had my first Watershed experience in 2002 as part of a session organized by Woody Hughes. I already knew several of my fellow invitees, some I‘d only heard of, and others I got to know very quickly. Whatever we did in our artistic careers and whatever divisions or distinctions we arrived with at once melted away and we became peers; Watershed was a hierarchy-free zone. It turned out to be one of the most profound, rewarding, and transformative experiences of my life. I work alone in my studio, by choice, but sometimes the insularity can get in the way of creating. Working all day, every day, with other potters and clay artists opens things up, blows the dust out, and puts your head back on a little straighter.
Regardless of the differences in the intent and form of the artists in this exhibition, they all share a common tie. They have all spent time at Watershed, away from the demands of daily life. Whether they came at the beginning of their career or took a break at some more recent stage, whether they met at Watershed or not, they have all contributed to an experience that we can all share. We are honored that they chose to share their work and their thoughts. We look forward to what comes next.
Hayne Bayless is a potter living and working in Connecticut. He is a past resident of Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts and currently serves on the Board of Advisors. He exhibits extensively across the United States as a maker and leads numerous hand-building workshops at clay centers and guilds.
Dan Molyneux: Informing Space
About three years ago, in a group show at the Gustin Studio Gallery in Dartmouth, MA, I spotted a tall, green, twisted, rectangular vessel by Dan Molyneux that intrigued me. I did a double take and kept returning to it as I ambled through the show. Few ceramic pieces had ever grabbed my attention so completely, and subsequently, I was fortunate enough to acquire it.
Several months later, at an unloading of Gustin's Anagama wood kiln, I saw Dan carrying a new piece to his table, and the same thing happened again. The vessel drew me to it and engulfed my attention, and over the next several weeks as I studied it in my home, I came to think of it as a three-dimensional preliminary for a Picasso desmoiselle. Those impressions tend to stay in one's head.
For me, Dan's work is thrilling to experience. I can see in it such influences as analytical Cubism and the sculpture of Jacques Lipchitz, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Alexander Archipenko, and the Futurist sculpture of Umberto Boccioni. The movement and animation within Dan's compilations of planes and forms owes something to Italian Futurism, the more minimal aspects of Art Deco, and both Asian and Arabic calligraphy.
The elegant sweeps of the intersecting sloping planes of his vertical pieces climb and sometimes curve sensuously from off their feet to their peaks, with varieties of green and earth-tone glazes that cascade down in veils, and the occasional drips and puddled creases that accentuate and illuminate both form and structure. These vertical works especially project a monumentality, majesty, and grandeur that can pause one's breath, like looking up at the Matterhorn, or the faceted and fissured face of a glacier when calving icebergs. Occasionally, these surging forms are topped with crescent and boat-like forms that resemble those atop a cresting wave.
Molyneux's sense of defining and describing space with clay and glaze has evolved in this newer work with passageways, windows, corridors, and inlets. Unexpectedly, these take the eye through the bulk of the overall form, and narrow or broaden one's focus of that view. Nearly any opening offers an unlikely visual surprise and induces curiosity, yet holds it at bay, as to how these pieces were built.
For me, the smaller, more horizontal ewer-and-tea-pot inspired pieces look best at eye level, so the planes and forms allude to visual narratives that silently bespeak of expansion, architecture, and organic crystalline growth. Molyneux creates wonderful variations on natural forms, bending, twisting, and abbreviating empirical formulas to suit the needs of the work.
Given the exceptional experience Dan has gathered in his global travels, his probing and curious intelligence, and the facility of his vision and technical expertise, this ceramic artist will undoubtedly continue to make remarkable art, and I intend to watch his evolution carefully with bated anticipation.
by David B. Boyce