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Review: Mungyeong Traditional Tea Bowl Festival

Article by Shamai Sam Gibsh & Stephanie Young
Published in Ceramics Now Magazine Issue 2

A movie set, created in the style of a sixth century village, within forests and farmland, cherry blossom and azaleas, in valleys and mountains centrally located in South Korea, is the stage for this amazing Mungyeong Tea Bowl Festival. The City of Mungyeong and the South Korean government sponsor the festival, now in its eighth year, and focus on reviving Korean Tea ceremony traditions, as well as the ceramic ware made for it.

Bongam Temple, Mungyeong Traditional Tea Bowl Festival

Ceramic artists (28) from all over the world were invited this year (2012) to participate in this festival, and to display their tea bowls and demonstrate their techniques, as well as to join local artists in various activities related to the traditional Tea Bowl ceremonies. Our tea bowls were available for show and sale, and some selected tea bowls were entered into a competition and are now part of the Mungyeong Tea Bowl Museum’s permanent display, alongside the local artists collection. The museum also includes a large studio and teaching center and an impressive traditional Korean Noborigama kiln.

There were many buildings filled with about 50 local masters and potters, selling traditional or modern artistically interpreted Korean wares. There were of course many buildings holding traditional tea ceremonies, for the casual afternoon sip or a more extended, fully traditional affair.

We watched artists fire a Noborigama kiln as it has been fired for thousands of years. Local clay and raw materials transformed into wares of the same timelessness as it has been done for centuries. The Mungyeong area is the center of tea bowl making in South Korea and there are many very talented masters, each with his own studio and at times a large display room and even a museum.

One such artist is Oh Soon-Taek, a self taught ceramicist who originally began his creative endeavors as a painter; he learned the nature of the medium “from the world”. Some of the most striking pieces among his collection were the very small, almost miniature tea sets, each executed with perfect craftsmanship. We were fortunate to join Oh Soon-Taek for tea ceremony on a number of occasions, to see the inherent beauty of his work as it fulfilled its function. He masters a variety of glazes and forms in his collection, leaning more to simple aesthetics, so one can admire the form and function of his meditative work, and appreciate his respect to traditional ware, in spite of the adaptation to modern life. Oh Soon-Taek makes his own clay and glazes from the nature around his house, and he built his own kiln. He sells his work only from his house and workshop and has a solo exhibition once every 10 years.

Han-Bong Cheon - Intangible Cultural Treasure, Noborigama kiln

Our hosts went to a great effort to bring us to a number of potteries and kiln sites further spread through the countryside. One such visit was to the studio of Han-Bong Cheon. Our busload of international artists came upon a small, slight man of 80, stocking an enormous Noborigama kiln with the ferocity of a teenage apprentice. Han-Bong Cheon, who became an Intangible Cultural Treasure in 1996, and his daughter Kung Hee Cheon have been making tea ware at their home outside of Mungyeong for 64 years. Tea ceremony has been historically conducted by monks in the Buddhist temples, where Han-Bong Cheon learned and mastered it. Han Bong’s mission was to reintroduce to South Korea the know how of the old Koryo tea bowl tradition, that was at its peak production during the 17th century and was lost during the introduction of mass production.

He is also considered today as the artist who revived the Maksabal - “Bowl for Anything” - made for all purposes. Koreans use Maksabal as a bowl for water, soup and tea, appreciating its endless and enduring value. In addition, in order to perfect it, he traveled to Japan to learn the making of tea wares from Mr. Tokuro from Setto Mino. Han-Bong Cheon’s work masterfully explores the reserved aesthetics of Korean tea ware. His daughter Kung Hee Cheon displayed and sold both hers and her father’s wares at the festival. Her work adds a feminine touch and an additional dimension to the traditional male craft.

Another, of many, amazing places we visited was the home, studio, and gallery of Professor Tae-Keun Yoo. Professor Yoo, as we call him, teaches ceramics at the local university, and at most times was accompanied by a group of devoted young potters-students.

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  • 7 Ceramic Art Competitions and Fairs Where You Should Participate in 2014

    Ceramics Now comprised a list of 7 ceramic art competitions and fairs where artists can apply to participate in 2014. Be quick, the deadlines are approaching fast!


    1. INTERNATIONAL CERAMICS COMPETITION MINO, JAPAN

    The competition is the main event of the International Ceramics Festival Mino, which is held with the aim of supporting growth of the ceramics industry and the enhancement of culture through global exchange of ceramics design and culture. The first festival was held in 1986, and this will be the 10th edition. The last edition gathered 2777 entries from 57 countries. It is considered the largest event in the world entirely dedicated to contemporary ceramics. Read more

    Apply online / Download application procedures / Application form: Individual or Company

    Deadline: January 10, 2014 / Dates: September 12 - October 19, 2014
    Total prizes: ~ USD 130.000 / No entry fee
    Entry categories: Ceramics Design, Ceramic Arts


    2. INTERNATIONAL CERAMICS FAIR OLDENBURG, GERMANY

    Situated around the noble Schloss in the city-center of Oldenburg, the International Ceramic Fair which includes a ceramic market, presentation of professional prizes, special exhibits and artist showcases. The fair ensures that collectors and enthusiasts alike are offered an exquisite range of works from artistic creations to high-quality tableware. Based upon strict criteria a jury of professionals within the field chooses over a hundred workshops and ceramic artists to present their current work. This event attracts more than 60.000 visitors annually. Read more

    Download application procedures and terms / Application form

    Deadline: January 11, 2014 / Dates: August 2-3, 2014
    Entry fee: EUR 240 (includes 3x3 meters stand)


    3. CLAY? V EXHIBITION, UNITED STATES

    The fifth installment of Kirkland Arts Center’s biennial contemporary ceramics exhibition, Clay? V, is juried by University of Washington, School of Art Professors Doug Jeck, Jamie Walker, and Akio Takamori. Clay? V explores the versatility of clay as a medium of artistic expression. Showcasing a range of sizes, scales, subject matter, and techniques, the artwork of this exhibition is both a testament to the enduring legacy of clay and future of the field.

    Read more / Apply online

    Deadline: January 17, 2014 / Dates: March 21 - May 17, 2014
    Entry fee: USD 25


    4. WESTERWALD PRIZE 2014 - EUROPEAN CERAMICS, GERMANY
    Competition open only to European citizens.

    The Westerwald Prize was first awarded in 1973 to present outstanding ceramic art and craft work in the framework of a competition and exhibition at the Keramikmuseum Westerwald (KMW). This remains a priority of the administration of the Westerwald region for the 13th Westerwald Prize in 2014. A further aim is to promote the dialogue between ceramics and art in the region and to support cultural exchange within Europe.

    Download application procedures and form

    Deadline: January 19, 2014 / Dates: September 26, 2014 - February 1, 2015
    Total prizes: EUR 24.000 / No entry fee
    Entry categories: Saltglaze (stoneware and porcelain), Design (serially produced ware), Vessel / Form / Decor, Sculpture / Installation, Talent Award (below 35 years old)


    5. INTERNATIONAL BIENNIAL OF VALLAURIS, FRANCE
    Competition open only to European Union citizens.

    Since 1966 the Town of Vallauris Golfe-Juan has organised a biennial with the aim of promoting and rewarding artistic creation in the field of ceramics. For this edition, it has been decided to use the expression ‘Contemporary Creation and Ceramic’ to stress its intention of making ceramic creation part of the world of contemporary art. The competition is intended to encourage and publicise European talents using the reputation of Vallauris, the town of ceramics, as a springboard facilitating their recognition around the world.

    Apply online / Download application procedures / Application form

    Deadline: December 30, 2013 / Dates: July - November 2014
    Total prizes: EUR 25.000 / No entry fee
    Note: You first have to apply online, then to send the required documents by mail (post).

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  • Yô Akiyama exhibition / ARTCOURT Gallery, Osaka, Japan

    Yo Akiyama exhibition, ARTCOURT Gallery Osaka

    Yô Akiyama exhibition / ARTCOURT Gallery, Osaka, Japan
    December 3, 2013 - January 25, 2014

    Yo Akiyama established his signature style of sculptural ceramic creation while still in school. His creative mind lies beneath the awareness by facing the nature and energy of clay, expressed through large scale works. We are excited to introduce Akiyama’s new works in this exhibition showcasing the roots, that is the artery of Akiyama’s powerful creation as well as Akiyama’s now as his next step in his career.

    Akiyama’s early works were mysterious objects created through black pottery. His student works done in black pottery show influences from primitivism that he was interested in, modern sculptors such as Brâncuşi and Arp, and his professor Kazuo Yagi, but yet to discover his own expression or concept through clay. Those early pieces are gone; however, Akiyama recalls that he can see the presence of Akiyama that has lead to himself now. This discovery lead him to the new set of works, in which the artist re-creates his early black pottery works with his current skillsets and by revisiting his own 1970s. Akiyama titled this new challenge of regenerating or redeveloping his roots “Incubation” (or Houran no Katachi in Japanese) and introduces about 10 new pieces in this exhibition.

    Akiyama developed several series of works that express the ever-changing shape of earth with unique creative challenges such as nature vs. human, birth vs. decay, internal vs. external by fusing the phenomenon of soil and thoughts on creation. The series titled “Metavoid,” which began in 2003, puts focus on an enclosed space where objects intervene and how we perceive such space. Akiyama would make a large bowl on a potter’s wheel, then reverse its inside and outside. This act brings a change in spatial relation of the bowl and the space it holds within (the void). The artist would then place this bowl in an even larger vessel – an exhibition space, the other void. Akiyama uses clay as a vehicle to explore physical shapes to his pursuit ranging from multi-layered texture in motion to human perception of space. We are introducing 5 new large scale pieces ranging from 100 cm to 180 cm from the series “Metavoid.”

    Akiyama began making a series of slabs with prints of spider webs as his side work around 1993 where the artist began to depart from his signature black pottery works. The series captured the natural beauty of spider webs Akiyama found almost every morning around his home from early summer to fall. About 50 creations from this series will gather in our gallery for public viewing for the first time. They can be seen as an organic map that connects the roots and current of Akiyama’s creation.

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  • Uku Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku and beyond / Whangarei Art Museum, New Zeeland

    Uku Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku and beyond, Whangarei Art Museum

    Uku Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku and beyond / Whangarei Art Museum, New Zeeland
    November 11, 2013 - February 16, 2014

    Whangarei Art Museum is the first venue to host this ground-breaking touring exhibition after a highly successful show at Pataka Art+Museum in partnership with Toi Maori. Uku Rere features contemporary ceramics by the five principal members of Nga Kaihanga Uku: Baye Riddell, Manos Nathan, Colleen Urlich, Wi Taepa and Paerau Corneal. Both Colleen Urlich and Manos Nathan are from the Te Tai Tokerau region and this important exhibition is the first major survey of contemporary Maori ceramics and showcases the strength of Maori ceramic art in New Zealand’s contemporary art scene. The exhibition is displayed in the Younghusband Gallery and accompanied by an extensive catalogue available at the art museum.

    The exhibition also features Manos Nathan’s unique sculptural work Kaitiaki, which stands to welcome visitors at the Whangarei Art Museum’s entrance. This is his largest work to date and was commissioned in 2002 by the Whangarei Art Museum with assistance from Te Waka Toi – Creative NZ Arts Council. The artist chose the concept of ‘kaitiakitanga’ as the theme of the art work, portraying both welcome and guardianship.

    The exhibition coincides with Kokiri Putahi – the 7th International Gathering of Indigenous Artists, organised by Te Atinga the Contemporary Visual Arts committee of Toi Maori Aotearoa in which both Colleen Urlich and Manos Nathan are members of. Since the first gathering in 1995 the committee has worked to develop Maori contemporary art practice for both emerging and established artists working in a range of media, and next year the gathering will also coincide with the January 2014 Ngapuhi Festival in Kaikohe.

    The concurrent exhibition held in the Mair Gallery, Salon to Marae – first glimmerings of a Maori Modernism will feature works from the 1950s-1970s by artists Ralph Hotere, Clive Arlidge and Selwyn Wilson. A selection of Wilson’s early ceramics from the family’s private collection adds a unique dimension to the story of Maori ceramic artists. Selected works from Ross T Smith’s two photographic series Hemi Tuwharerangi Paraha (1998) and Stillness Falls Gradually (2000) will also be on display, adding to the significant development of Maori contemporary art practice.

    Uke Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku illuminates the strength of the contemporary Maori ceramic movement in New Zealand. From Taepa’s chunky, rugged pots full of personality to the refined elegance of Nathan’s sculptural pots, the exhibition showcases the remarkable vitality and diversity of the individual practices of the five influential artists. Over the last twenty-five years these artists have redefined and expanded ceramic art - imbuing it with indigenous concepts and a deep commitment to Maori culture.

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  • Mud and Water exhibition / Rokeby Gallery, London

    Mud and Water exhibition, Rokeby Gallery London

    Mud and Water exhibition / Rokeby Gallery, London
    December 16, 2013 - March 7, 2014

    ROKEBY‘s inaugural exhibition in its new gallery space looks to the history of British studio ceramics and the Modernist rhetoric used by figures associated with the movement. Including work by a selection of British Studio Potters alongside contemporary artists working across media, the exhibition investigates a current interest in process, materiality and truthfulness to medium.

    Exhibited artists: Jack Brindley, Clive Bowen, Jane Bustin, Michael Cardew, Edwin Beer Fishley, The Granchester Pottery, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Bernard Leach, Janet Leach, Kate Newby, Chris Prindl, Gideon Rubin, Nicola Tassie, Jesse Wine, Mizuyo Yamashita

    Despite a recent tendency to see ceramics and the modern British art movement as separate disciplines the two are closely interwoven. The approaches of artists working in clay such as Bernard Leach, considered the father of the British studio pottery, and Michael Cardew (1) mirrored the Modernist ideas gaining currency in Britain in the early 1920’s in both painting and sculpture. Post war art in Britain drew upon - amongst other things - the tradition of the handmade. This is especially true in St Ives where Bernard Leach chose to set up his first pottery. Leach united the classical pottery traditions of Asia (2) including their taste for imperfections with those of English slipware potters to define the modernist vernacular revival.

    The exhibition brings together a group of cross-generational artists all of whom are experimental in their approach. When Leach and Cardew looked to the history of slipware in Britain they were never nostalgic (3). Rather they combined pre-industrial techniques with a Modernist spirit; combining raw materials with the performative act of making and inherited forms with a simpler more direct language.

    No straightforward link is suggested in bringing the artists together in this exhibition, but an inheritance of concerns and a shared interest in the handling of material and unpredictable processes can be perceived, regardless of their chosen medium. It is the principles and values of heterogeneity, destabilization and irrationality that interest them all, a questioning of the distinctions between art and craft and a concern for the physical - and especially the human body - in the making and viewing the work.

    (1) Cardew was a pupil of Leach’s in St Ives from 1923-26.
    (2) Leach was born in Hong Kong but spent his first years in Japan. He attended the Slade, London and in 1909 arrived in Japan for a second time.
    (3) The earliest work in the exhibition is an earthenware slipware mug by Edwin Beer Fishley from Michael Cardew’s private collection. Cardew had a particular affinity for Edwin Beer Fishley and counted the rural potter as one of his most important influences.

    With thanks to Timothy Taylor Gallery and David Bowie for loaning work to the exhibition and Simon Jones for providing exhibition furniture.

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  • HYPERCLAY: Contemporary Ceramics / Gladstone Regional Art Gallery & Museum, Gladstone, Australia

    Roderick Bamford at HYPERCLAY: Contemporary Ceramics exhibition, Gladstone Regional Art Gallery Museum

    HYPERCLAY: Contemporary Ceramics / Gladstone Regional Art Gallery & Museum, Gladstone, Australia
    December 13, 2013 - March 2014, 2014

    RoHYPERCLAY: Contemporary Ceramics investigates the field of ceramics, focusing on new attitudes, techniques and technologies that are being embraced by artists in the 21st century. Walter Auer, Roderick Bamford, Stephen Bird, Jacqueline Clayton, Andrea Hylands, Addison Marshall, Pip McManus and Paul Wood all ignite the imagination with the potential of clay through their work. As the prefix ‘hyper’ suggests, HYPERCLAY presents clay-based work where the medium has been amplified, extended and intensified to produce work that will delight, provoke and surprise. New technologies, the process of making, and the re-purposing of materials to create new forms are the delicate threads that bind the works in HYPERCLAY together.

    A collection of 35 short videos have been produced to accompany the work in HYPERCLAY. These include interviews with the artists, curators, academics, collectors, gallerists and students. All videos are available to view through iPads in the exhibition space, offering the viewer different perspectives on the works as well as deeper, richer connections to the artists.

    Roderick Bamford explores the process of additive fabrication, creating a series of ceramic sculptures using a modified rapid prototyping printer. Bamford sourced the parts for his 3D printer online, gradually building a machine that could print with clay. The result is a device that affords Bamford an expanded making process that incorporates both analogue and digital techniques.

    Stephen Bird, better known for his satirical figurative ceramics, presents two works that also play at the intersection of the digital and the handmade. Wanting to reveal the sequence of events that takes place when transforming raw clay into a finished sculpture, Bird spent several intensive weeks in his studio creating the stop-frame clay animation What are you laughing at?. The work is a re-telling of the Creation Story through the lens of the post-industrial world. It also documents Bird’s making process, capturing it as performance. Similarly, I Just Don’t Believe in Ceramics elevates ceramic surface decoration from static and permanent to evolving virtual design.

    New Warriors by Andrea Hylands captures the performance of material itself. Her fragile forms are the product of bone china slip poured into a mould and then removed at varying durations. This process is a balance between the spontaneity of movement and material, and the precision of the artists’ hand.

    Ceramicist Walter Auer is interested in the transformation and preservation of objects through a petrifaction process that he has been experimenting with for nearly 10 years. Auer soaks discarded soft toys in watered-down clay (terra sigillata) for weeks – even months - before submitting them to a grueling firing process.

    Similarly, Pip McManus is interested in transformation. Combining clay, video, sand and water, McManus has created a video work entitled Watershed 2 that engages with ideas of permanence and organic forms. In Watershed, the ancient medium of clay is effortlessly in conversation with the contemporary medium of video.

    Paul Wood scours op shops, thrift stores and neighbourhood gardening centres for pre-loved ceramic objects that he then re-fires, melts and slumps to create dramatic new sculptures. For Guardians of a Goddess Wood has crafted an ode to the ornamental water features that proudly sat in the neighborhood gardens of his childhood.

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  • » Michal Fargo

    Michal Fargo Ceramics

    Michal Fargo's profile on Ceramics Now - View the works

    "In my work, I am driven by textures, materials and non-traditional working methods.

    The main subject I deal with is the thin line between imitation and interpretation - My work portraits the contrast between an urban lifestyle and a remote admiration of nature. When I work, I use the most naive and (sometimes) barbaric techniques while facing industrial materials. I try to capture a longing for authentic nature and at the same time to celebrate its progress and many benefits, and perhaps combine both emotions into one.

    If I had to sum my main ambition in my work I would say that I seek authenticity that comes from a personal aesthetic perception. The fine definitions of art, craft and design seem to me unnecessary in relation to my work. While working on a piece, it is not so much a ‘narrative’ that I’m after, but rather, visibility and the abstract feelings that may be summoned by viewing the form. 

    As an artist I would like to think that I am a highly individual maker searching for an aesthetic vision that would be completely my own.” Michal Fargo

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  • Michal Fargo: Else, 2013, Porcelain, fired mold technique, fired to cone 6 electric, Variable dimensions. Photos by Mel Bergman.


  • Michal Fargo: Else, 2012, Porcelain, fired models technique, fired to cone 6 electric (Bronze Winner of the China Kaolin Prize 2013, part of Jingdezhen’s Ceramic Museum’s Collection), 23x18 cm. Photo by Mel Bergman.

  • » Ceramic art competitions, biennales, festivals and fairs in 2014

    View the list of international contemporary ceramics competitions, biennales, contests, ceramic festivals and fairs recommended by Ceramics Now in 2014

  • Interview with Els Wenselaers, Belgian ceramic artist

    Interview with Els Wenselaers / Spotlight
    By Ileana Surducan
    Published in Ceramics Now Magazine Issue 2

    What made you choose ceramics as a way of expressing yourself?

    Clay is as good as any other medium, it is a material with lots of possibilities but it doesn’t influence my personal perception of art. Sometimes because of its limitations in format, in height, due to the measures of my kiln I have to find other solutions than I used before, but that are technical issues. I have also used other materials like papier maché before but the outcome of my figurines would be the same.

    What is for you the importance of figurative representation?

    It’s the essence of my work. It wouldn’t be possible for me to make work if my thoughts and feelings are not involved. All of them have a meaning and reflect my personal view on society. It’s not necessary for the public to understand it, you can enjoy them without knowing the background, but I need to be able to make them. Some of my works have a spiritual dimension. Love, understanding and insight, the meaning of existence - of evil, the happiness of life and the tragedy of death affect us, but are by themselves invisible. You can see it as a spiritual quest in which I will not flee, but indeed want to decompose and play with. The human figure in this case is the most suitable.

    Els Wenselaers Contemporary Belgian Ceramics - The brain controller

    Els Wenselaers: The Brain Controller, 2009, Ceramics, used materials, 25 x 29 x 16 cm.
    > View more works by Els Wenselaers


    Art no longer has to be “beautiful”, since the beauty of an object is derived not only from its appearance, but also from it’s concept and use. Tell us more about the aesthetic categories embodied by your work, and your motivation in choosing them.

    The followers of modernism only repeat a trick, a cheap shock effect - desecrating the beauty. It has been repeated so many times and now it belongs to the popular circuit. An authentic artist is always looking for new styles, new forms to express himself and will not be guided by expectations. The emptiness of existence can contrast strongly with its beauty and vice versa. Beauty, ugliness, two sides of the same coin. It’s the perception of it that counts; something very beautiful can be experienced as ugly when you discover the essence, the inner side of it. Art exists in many layers, for those who want to see it. My work can be considered as superficially aesthetic, but the deeper meaning is of a different order. There isn’t much beauty in the emptiness of an existence as in the Sisyphus series. “L’existence précède l’essence”. Existence precedes essence. (Jean Paul Sartre)


    The Human Hybrids series emphasizes a new twist of an old idea. Humans with animal characteristics have been a constant presence in many cultures since thousands of years ago. Compared to their traditional representation, what do you want to express with your works?

    Indeed, one of the oldest known is an ivory sculpture, the Lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, Germany, a human-shaped figurine with a lion’s head, determined to be about 32,000 years old. Anthropomorphism is assigning human (behavioral) characteristics to animals. After reading an article about genetic engineering, I started on human hybrids. You can make goats, produce cobwebs or grow a human ear on the back of a mouse, etc. These techniques don’t stay within the walls of a laboratory. Since a number of years, you can find genetically manipulated fish in the aquarium trade. A familiar example is the glowfish: a gene of coral polyps was implanted in a zebrafish so that the fish has become luminous. Wherein ancient civilizations, men thought that they could get the spirit of the animal at their sides in the hunt by performing rituals, men now literally attempt to change certain qualities or appearances of people through genetic modification. Currently one is allowed to blend DNA of humans and animals and keep this hybrid alive up to 14 days, and this with the purpose to investigate the study of human bred organs for organ transplantation. There are both positive and negative elements to this evolution, but you can wonder who will eventually be the freak in the future: modified or unmodified humans. I want to start a dialogue about it with the Human Hybrids.

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  • Interview with David D. Gilbaugh (The Tectonic Method)

    David D. Gilbaugh (The Tectonic Method)
    Author: Ileana Surducan
    Category: Techniques
    Published in Ceramics Now Magazine Issue 2

    The objects you create realistically mimic the texture and look of wood stumps, roots and branches. What is your connection with this natural element, and why did you choose to investigate it in ceramics?

    Human emergence is the overarching theme of my sculptural work; as metaphors for that I use the aging tree as well as the natural land features of the earth. My life connection with trees and land extends from childhood when I remember exploring the woods and mountains of Colorado with my older brother and friends. Today I continue my fascination and exploration with the woods and mountains here in Southern California, where I live a short walk from the local foot trails of the San Gabriel Mountains. Ceramics is the most appropriate medium for me because clay seems to know what I want and interacts with me in a very agreeable way. The characteristics and behavior of clay seems to have a common goal with me as if it wants to behave in a way that yields a pleasing result. Clay naturally takes on the characteristics of wood and earth.

    David D. Gilbaugh Ceramics - Interview for Ceramics Now Magazine

    David D. Gilbaugh: Racemosa, 2011, sculpted teapot, 4”(W) x 11”(H) x 8”(D), hand-built slab, B-mix stoneware paper clay with grog, cone 10 reduction, black stain brushed in crevices, water washed iron and rutile stain. Permanent collection of the American Museum of Ceramic Arts.
    View more works of David Gilbaugh


    In order to make your work, you use a special process called the Tectonic Method. Tell us more about this technique. How did you develop it and what are its characteristics?

    The Tectonic Method is a sculptural technique that utilizes the same tectonic forces that shape and texture the surface of the earth’s crust. These forces include stretching, compressing, and twisting. I begin with an idea of the sculptural object I am going to make and the pieces that will make it up. I then cut a piece of clay from the block that is roughly in the shape of what I want. I then use specialized wire hand tools to pre-texture what will be the visible surface. Next, I “naturalize” the pre-textured clay by tossing, slamming, or dropping the clay against the table top in a way that distorts the tooling of the pre-textured surface. The textured surface is not touched by the hand or tools from then on. The result is a dramatically textured form that is very natural looking. I call this a “tectonic form.” I then use specialized techniques to join together numerous tectonic forms to create a “Tectonic Sculpture” like “The Imaginist” or “The Bearded Ghoul.”

    Early in my ceramic studies I began developing The Tectonic Method when I was laying them out on the table top to stretch them out. I could see that stretching clay gave it beautiful patterns of cracks and fissures. I soon discovered that cutting the surface of the clay before stretching it resulted in natural patterns that are easy to reproduce and incorporate into sculptures. The method developed very quickly from there. Since those early experiences stretching clay I have found numerous applications by other ceramists who used stretching as a texturing technique and even a throwing tool designed to apply patterns to vessels thrown on the wheel called the “Steve’s Tool.” A bit of research reveals that stretching clay to achieve decorative textures in clay is a very old tradition. What distinguishes the Tectonic Method from other stretching methods is that it includes specialized techniques for pre-texturing the clay, numerous tossing methods for naturalizing textures, and construction methods for building large clay sculptures that can be prone to slumping to the side during firing. The Tectonic Method is a start-to-finish method of forming and constructing both small and large clay “Tectonic Sculptures.”


    Many of your objects are made from paperclay. What are the paperclay’s properties and why did you choose to work with it?

    Paperclay is extremely versatile clay that works well with my purposes, especially the Tectonic Method. It remains workable even when it is dry. At bone dry it can be drilled, sawed, and even rewetted. Many ceramists try paperclay and find it difficult to use so they go back to what they were doing. This is unfortunate, and I believe it is because it is the change itself that is the real challenge, not the clay. Paperclay is not difficult to work with at all; it is only different and takes getting used to. Before I began throwing with porcelain I was told it was much more difficult than stoneware to throw. However, it is not more difficult, it is only different in its properties, so the artists must be able to adapt their skills and learn new ones to work with it successfully. I also find paperclay is more economical because it can be very easily reconstituted and go from dry to plastic overnight. If a piece is broken it can be reattached even if it is dry - instead of going in the trash, and the list goes on. However, the primary reason I use it is because of the dramatic textures it produces when it is “pre-textured” and stretched.

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