Charles Stewart, Oakland, California

Ceramics Monthly: How do you come up with the forms and surfaces that are prevalent in your work? 

Charles Stewart: Yogi Berra said that you can observe a lot by watching, and I have taken that to heart. I am always looking at the physical beauty and interesting forms and textures in the natural world: plants, animals, humans, cellular life, and inanimate objects. Trees alone have an incredible wealth of shapes and surfaces. An old California live oak can be one of the most majestic sights. The bodies of animals are amazing to watch: the musculature when at rest, the fluidity and grace when moving. Humans with their noses, elbows, buttocks, and baby bumps are endless in their variations. Cellular life that underlies all life is fascinating and at times malevolent. I am influenced by all of these forms and try to integrate them into something growing and changing that catches the eye and arouses curiosity and thought. I draw and revise drawings and then work from the drawings. Occasionally, I have an idea and I improvise as the piece progresses. For the surfaces, I make wooden mallets, which I carve, score, etc., then I strike the surface of the clay with these tools to create texture. I also consider any kitchen tool, sewing tool, etc., for possible use in making interesting surfaces.

1 Birthing Bone, 3 ft. 4 in. (1 m) in length, handbuilt Dixon sculpture clay, fired to cone 5 in oxidation, 2021.

CM: What role do you think makers play within our current culture? How do you think you contribute to it?

CS: The role of creators in human culture has certainly changed over the centuries and from civilization to civilization. In our modern incarnation, people who are makers seem almost invisible, but are always influential in the realization of the physical world. Regardless of the object, human minds and hands make the world an unbelievable experience and are essential to basic life and the subsequent enhancements. I think most artists truly want to create something that connects to other people, quickens imaginations, reveals new ways of understanding, challenges assumptions, produces beauty and joy, and even comments on the unfairness and brutality of human culture.

2 One Thing Then Another, 3 ft. 9 in. (1.2 m) in length, handbuilt Dixon sculpture clay, fired to cone 5 in oxidation, 2020.

The art I want to make needs to speak to all life experiences in the natural world and man-made culture. Life is about circumstances and transitions. I want to deepen the appreciation and apprehension of life in what I make for myself and my audience. I am trying to make things that delight and stimulate people’s imagination and intelligence into realizing the beauty and terror of the world we inhabit.

Learn more at