Industrially Inspired Ceramics

Tim See’s Oilcan Three from the Dragon Wells Steam Works Series, 10 in. (25 cm) in height, wheel-thrown wood-fired stoneware, stain, acetate, glass bezel, watch hand, 2013.

Man-made objects, including those found in industry, are often collected, kept, and referenced because of the aesthetic interest artists see in them. Industrial forms not usually associated with art frequently serve as inspiration for contemporary artists and force viewers to consider a new aesthetic from the world around them. 

Industrial objects, such as oil cans, pipes, paint rollers, and machine parts, provide ceramic artists Pedro Centeno, Tim Kowalczyk, Andrew Massey, and Tim See with a plethora of ideas for their ceramic work. At first, these contemporary artworks appear as artifacts or treasures that one might find in an old barn, a workshop, or a construction site. Upon closer observation, viewers discover that through the manipulation of materials, scale, and form, the works were created with clay. The malleable quality of clay allows ceramic artists to combine techniques—modeling, casting, throwing, and stamping—to simulate rusted rebar, a rivet, a steel elbow pipe joint, or a coiled spring. The fragmentation and reconstructed collage of clay results in endless design and surface-treatment options, including the imitation of those frequently found in industry. Glazes, stains, and oxides offer an unending array of textures and colors, resulting in visual harmony and a celebration of these industrially inspired forms.

1 Andrew Massey’s Industrial Canister, 11 in. (28 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and handbuilt brown stoneware, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2018.

Depth Through Narrative and Experiences

Tim See’s functional vessels are story driven, depicting moments in fictional narratives. Stories are told through hundreds of pieces of work that become scattered through sales to different owners spread far and wide. In his Dragon Wells Steam Works series, See combines wheel-thrown bodies with handbuilt pieces to create teapots, storage jars, and oil cans that represent the handiwork of See’s own fictional character named F. Emeril Carter, a machinist trapped in a New York City factory collapse. “F. Emeril creates functional objects from the factory’s detritus for his personal use as well as to keep his mind and hands occupied, and his sanity intact,” explains See. After firing, some of these pots are adorned with metal and/or glass. In another adventurous story, See’s Oil Bottle provides a family of robotic characters with a needed essential for their travel to Mars. Using layered stains and underglazes, See illustrates the wear and tear of the bottle through discoloration and faded shades of blues, greens, and reds.

2 Andrew Massey’s flask, 7½ in. (19 cm) in height, handbuilt brown stoneware, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2017.

Tim Kowalczyk describes himself as a “collector, picker, and poet who sculpts, forms, designs, and constructs sculptures with [a] sense of purpose, priority, and preciousness.” He is drawn to found objects that are oftentimes discarded after use—from dried-up paint stir sticks, brushes, and rollers to cardboard boxes, and industrial foam packing materials. Using clay to replicate any form, texture, or surface, Kowalczyk provides viewers with three-dimensional trompe l’oeil experiences that fool the eye via a portfolio of both functional work and non-functional sculpture. In his functional cardboard mug and tumbler series, Kowalczyk combines bare clay with clear glaze and ceramic decals to whimsically replicate used cardboard. While enjoying morning coffee in a Kowalczyk mug, one might imagine the original contents of an industrial box labeled “Handle with Care.” His sculptural work mimics the beauty of simple objects found in an industrial workshop or a home garage. In Leaning Brush Orange, Kowalczyk recreates the visual movement of a loaded paint brush, bristles slowly flowing across a freshly painted surface. His Walls-Chartreuse Roller instantly forces us to remember the paint roller we failed to clean, only to find it days later stiff and no longer functional.

3 Tim See’s Oil Bottle from the More Mars series, 8 in. (20 cm) in height, stoneware, porcelain slip, underglaze, gas fired to cone 10, 2016.

4 Pedro Centeno’s Textured Vessel 2, 17 in. (43 cm) in height, wheel-thrown brown stoneware, textured slab additions, terra sigillata, oxides, stains, fired to cone 6, 2019.

Inspiration from Deterioration and Aging

Pedro Centeno is no stranger to industry and tools. He grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, nicknamed the Hardware City and home of Stanley Black & Decker, Inc. His love for old wood and rusty metal influences each of his functional ceramic wares. Using wheel-throwing and mold-making techniques, multiple glaze applications, and firings, Centeno creates ceramic works that commemorate the aging and history of building materials. “Often we don’t consider how these materials were made or why they’re used. As years go by, the surfaces deteriorate, colors fade, and layers of corrosion build up due to the elements and the passage of time. I use these harsh surfaces as inspiration, layering them onto the surface of classical forms and making the entire piece visually pleasing.” In Textured Vessel 1, Centeno reinterprets the classical Greek amphora as a modern-day industrial antiquity. Terra sigillata, colored slips, and stains offer him the perfect color palette as he mimics aged wood and rusted rebar. In Centeno’s tall Textured Vessel 2, surface textures are once again juxtaposed, imitating a diamond plate, rebar, and wood.

5 Tim Kowalczyk’s Leaning Orange Brush, 7½ in. (19 cm) in height, handbuilt medium-dark stoneware, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2017.

6 Tim Kowalczyk’s Walls-Chartreuse Roller, 13½ in. (34 cm) in height, handbuilt dark stoneware, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2017.

Drawing from his interest in machinery and his studies in mechanical engineering, Andrew Massey throws, extrudes, cuts, and assembles clay to make industrial-like functional and sculptural forms. His teapots, flasks, and lidded jars incorporate an aesthetic of industrial components that has “melded perfectly with the process of assemblage and interest in detailed carving.” Using slabs, Massey reinvents the 19th-century hammered copper flask into an intriguing functional container constructed from mixed materials including clay, high-temperature staples, and a steel chain. A historically clandestine container, Massey now brings the flask out in the open, elevating it from a handy drinking accoutrement to an intriguing functional container never again to be concealed. A yellow oxide wash coupled with intentional surface cracks tell the story of a used, yet well-loved drinking vessel. In Industrial Canister, Massey skillfully engineers a ceramic pipe with elbow fittings to serve as a lid handle. Varied layers of underglazes, glazes, and oxide washes result in intentional color changes. Differing surfaces supply a multiplicity of textures, remixed and combined, to create an unexpected visual harmony. 

Centeno, Kowalczyk, Massey, and See use their personal interactions with industrial forms as inspiration for their ceramic work. Collectively, their work reminds us of things that we have seen, even triggering memories from the past—a grandfather’s tool shed or a moment from times gone by. Individually, their unique approaches force us to take a closer, second look and consider a new aesthetic from the world around us. 

7 Tim Kowalczyk’s Fragile Mug, 5 in. (13 cm) in width, handbuilt and press-molded dark stoneware, silkscreen-printed underglaze transfers, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2017.

Pedro Centeno is a practicing studio artist and teaches at his studio in West Hartford, Connecticut. Learn more about his work at www.junkpotstudio.com. Tim Kowalczyk’s studio is in Minonk, Illinois. He teaches at Fieldcrest High School. To learn more, visit his website, http://timsceramics.com and follow him on Instagram @timsceramics. Andrew Massey is a member of Clayspace, a co-op studio/gallery in Asheville, North Carolina’s River Arts District. Learn more about his work on his website, www.andrewmasseyceramics.com. Tim See’s studio is in Bridgeport, New York. He teaches advanced throwing at Clayscapes Pottery, Inc. in Syracuse, New York. To learn more, visit www.timseeceramics.com.

the author Cassandra Broadus-Garcia, PhD, is an associate professor of art at Central Connecticut State University where she teaches art education and curatorship. As co-director of the University Galleries (www.ccsu.edu/art/galleries), she promotes the gallery as an educational space and offers programming that engages visitors with works of art.

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