2021 Emerging Artist: Brian Chen

Brian Chen, Martinsville, New Jersey

Ceramics Monthly: What do you do to push yourself to stay engaged with the field of ceramics and develop new forms?

Brian Chen: I am predominantly internally driven. There is a general fear of failure and a bit of wrestling with the inner critic, but once I start making, curiosity takes over. During making sessions, I aim to tweak one element of a form at a time. Because different pieces will always relate to each other, adjustments in one form will inform and promote change in another. Once I move on to a new batch, whatever change is taken from the previous form now has a new canvas, and I have a breadth of information to take in. Then, the process repeats. The biggest drive is going into each iteration of a form and knowing I can improve upon the previous version. I would generally describe it as a playful competition with my past self. This is probably where I am most comfortable in my making process.

1 Mug, 4¾ in. (12 cm) in width, wheel-thrown and handbuilt porcelain, wood fired to cone 10, 2020.

Occasionally, I will come across forms other artists have made that I see as potentially fun challenges. Key word: potentially. There will be plenty of frustration. My bowls, vases, and large pitchers started as forms I had seen that were made by mentors and friends. My first thoughts when exploring forms are how to round off the bottom or how I would handbuild the handle and foot in a way that balances utility and design. In all honesty, I usually dread feeling like a beginner when trying new forms. I will sit with an idea for weeks, designing forms on paper, cleaning my workspace, and finishing up all of my other projects before finding the courage to begin. I’ve found that it’s not quite as terrifying once I get going, and I’m still learning to become more comfortable with the feeling.

CM: What is the most valuable advice you’ve received as an artist?

BC: The first step to being good is being bad. I don’t remember when or where I heard this, but I like to keep it around. That saying, along with gentle nudges from the question “What if…?” let me explore with an inquisitive headspace rather than the inner critic. The second bit of advice came from Chris Staley, during a slide presentation. He encouraged pursuing the “What if…?”questions while making and shared a quote from American sculptor, writer, and filmmaker Elizabeth King, “Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.” This has encouraged me to begin projects in unfamiliar territories after the routine procrastination and fear. Somehow, I consistently underestimate how much better I feel when I am in the midst of making. During my apprenticeship with Simon Levin, I rephrased the collection of advice into being okay with making something look dumb. It’s allowed me to laugh and be less judgmental of my inexperience in something new. It’s fair to say that mental barriers extend far beyond being a maker. In a world where social media generally displays the better half of people’s lives, I’ve found these bits of advice incredibly helpful and reassuring.

2 Pitcher, 11½ in. (29 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and handbuilt porcelain, wood fired to cone 10, 2020.

To learn more, visit www.brianchenpottery.com.

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