Andy Bissonnette, St. Louis Park, Minnesota

Ceramics Monthly: What techniques do you use to make your work and why?

Andy Bissonnette: All of my forms start on the wheel. Throwing is what initially attracted me to making pottery and it continues to be one of the more fulfilling parts of my process. It may appear that the lines and patterns that embellish the surface of my pots are the most recognizable aspect of my work, but starting with a strong form is of the utmost importance. The shape of the piece will be noticeable before a viewer interacts with the patterns, so establishing a well-crafted pot takes priority over the line work that adorns the surface.

1 Andy Bissonnette’s two-tiered vase, 22 in. (56 cm) in height, carved and burnished stoneware, terra sigillata, fired to cone 06, reduced in sawdust, 2019.

After the pot is thrown and trimmed, I begin the carving process by dividing the surface into 6 to 30+ sections, depending on how large the piece is. Horizontal bands that frame certain areas of the pot establish hierarchy. These bands also provide some breathing room, which is important to balance out the busy surface. Parts of the piece that aren’t carved will be brushed with terra sigillata and polished. The dynamic between the velvety carved surface and the polished clay creates visual interest and guides the viewer’s eye around the piece.

The blackened clay body is achieved by submerging the pot in a bucket of sawdust after the piece has reached 1800°F (982°C). While technically American Raku, I choose not to use the flashy or metallic glazes that many people may associate with this process, and focus more on the atmospheric effects that are attainable as the pot cools. The interaction between the terra sigillata and sawdust can create silver or copper hues that add some spontaneity to the tightly thrown and carved pots.

2 Andy Bissonnette’s flat-top jar, 13 in. (33 cm) in height, carved and burnished stoneware, terra sigillata, fired to cone 06, reduced in sawdust, 2019.

CM: What do you think is the role of a maker within our current culture, and how do you contribute to furthering that role?

AB: Throughout history, artists have been responsible for documenting the struggles and achievements of society. Whether providing a critique on the political or economic issues that we face today or a source of inspiration and beauty, artists play a pivotal role in our daily routines. Pottery, though, has often straddled the line between craft and fine art, and I think the work I’m currently making continues to blur that line. I want my pots to be able to bring a moment of solace or contemplation into people’s lives—whether that be turning on one of my lamps as you sit down to read a book, or simply pausing to look at a piece as you pass by after a stressful day. I want this work to instill a sense comfort and beauty that is often overlooked in our chaotic lives.

Topics: Ceramic Artists