Ceramics Monthly: You create two bodies of work—one sculpture-based the other commercial ware with homoerotic decals. Is one more important than the other?
Wesley Harvey: For me, both bodies of artwork are equally satisfying because they feed off of and inform each other. They both offer me what I need in my studio practice in regards to research and inspiration. The functional ware allows me to work in collage, which is one of my favorite mediums to play around with different ideas referencing my studies involved with Queer Theory. The sculpture-based body satisfies my need to work with the material of ceramics and still use my research in a three-dimensional format. At times, the collage imagery on my functional work can and will become a sculptural piece at a later date. Depending on deadlines/exhibitions, that is usually when one body of work will eclipse the other. Right now, I have two concurrent deadlines coming up: a solo exhibition of sculpture-based artwork and a group show of functional pieces. This scenario is actually my favorite, where I get to work on both bodies simultaneously, because they really do speak to one another in the studio during the making process.
CM: Who do you want these two bodies of work to speak to? The ceramics community, the LGBTQ community, both, or only you?
WH: I want both bodies of my artwork to speak to everyone. For the ceramics community, there is the connection of the material, whether or not someone enjoys or understands the imagery. For the LGBTQ community, the imagery/collage stands out above the material of clay. They are looking at the imagery first, because that is what is important, rather than the fact that it is a cup, plate, or sculpture. I think that, given our current social and political climate, this artwork, not only mine but also the work of other artists who deal with this subject matter, is more important than ever. As artists, we must express our views and individuality and we must do it now! In the words of the Queen of Pop, Madonna, “Express yourself so you can respect yourself.”
CM: Is there a time in the history of ceramics that you feel your work fits into or builds upon?
WH: I remember the exact moment when I was having a conversation with Malcolm Mobutu Smith as an undergraduate student at Indiana University. I was having a hard time figuring out what my artwork was about. He looked at me and said, “your work is about sex, so stop neglecting it and push it!” After that moment in the conversation, I knew what I had to do. I needed to use my voice as a positive force in the discussion of sexuality in ceramics and art. Sexuality in the history of ceramics is not new. I love to look at the forms from the Moche culture and the surface drawings from ancient Greece. Both cultures were dealing with deviant sexual acts in their imagery and started the discussion of Queer Theory without even knowing it!
My studio practice would not be where it is today without two very important ceramic artists who have had major influences in my artwork: Howard Kottler and Mark Burns. I love and respect both men as individuals and artists when it comes to sexuality in contemporary ceramics. I cannot thank both of them enough for the path they started and that I am allowed to continue on. Photo: Judith Baumann.