When I was in graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I had the opportunity to learn about the work of Thomas Hirschler, a German ceramic artist who had taught there the year before I arrived. Though we had never met, the sculptures we were both making at the time had a very similar aesthetic—think quirky, ad-hoc, or obsolete industrial vessels, architectural fittings, conduit, and pipes made using direct, simple construction techniques.
My sculptural vessels were inspired by the urban landscapes I experienced living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Richmond, Virginia, while Hirschler was referencing similar German sources. Despite this geographical divide, we were both interested in the fantastical possibilities of magical realism, of the seemingly unassuming, yet distinctly off-kilter object either installed in or recalling industrial settings. When I saw his wall-mounted assemblages of porcelain pipes, funnels, flanges, and cylinders, developed independently thousands of miles away, I felt the thrill of recognition, of the nature of art as a tool for communicating individual and universal experiences.
A few years after finishing graduate school, I was a resident artist at the Center for Ceramics in Berlin, Germany, which Hirschler runs along with his wife, Kaja Witt. Both of our ideas and objects had shifted in the intervening years, and Hirschler was using his direct, economical, and confident handbuilding techniques to create vessel forms in addition to sculptures. The porcelain sugar bowl and spoon shown below is an example of one of these vessels from the later time period. It now sits on my kitchen counter, and in addition to being an engaging piece to look at and use, it reminds me of getting to know Hirschler and Witt, and of how interconnected ceramic artists are via our materials and common realities, despite the vast distances that sometimes separate us.
Living in another country was fascinating and affected me profoundly. Everything from research trips and museum visits to navigating through the grocery store filled me with curiosity and made me more aware of the factors that shape people’s perspectives, from political and economic systems to shared language, cultural beliefs, history, and rituals.
Global perspectives on clay also develop based on regional history, politics, culture, geography and material availability, economic outlook, and other social factors. Artists who stay in one place, as well as those who travel widely, have unique perspectives, shaped in part by their experiences with and responses to these larger forces.
This issue features a number of artists who have been world travelers throughout their careers, as well as those who are responding to developments and backgrounds particular to the different regions in which they live. The collective list of where these artists are from or are currently living and working includes Australia, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Greenland, India, Japan, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, the UK, the US, and Zambia. If you add in the list of places these artists have had residencies, attended or taught workshops, or traveled to on shorter trips for research or fun, and the list expands even more.
These artists share their practice of making artwork in a variety of places, and how that changed based on their observations and what they learned about themselves in the process. They describe how their work responds to developments and realities particular to different regions. They also share universal problem-solving tips borne out of particular situations.
Luckily, many people have the chance to physically travel far from home. We also have the ability to travel widely in a virtual sense via experiences and information shared in books, magazines, online, in videos, and through social media.
As you read through this issue, consider what we can all learn about and learn from one another to find new connections, discover a broader perspective, get inspired, and see ourselves and the world more clearly. Just imagine how this understanding can translate into observations and reflections that lead to deeper analysis and insights on where your artwork might go from here.