Maxwell Mustardo, Pittstown, New Jersey

Ceramics Monthly: What do you do to push yourself to stay engaged with the field of ceramics, evolve, and develop new forms? 

Maxwell Mustardo: Making work makes work—once engaged, evolution and development are simply inevitable, and deeper engagement follows, and then more complex evolution and so on and so forth. Personally, like a pig in filth, I could not be happier playing in the studio, and I find a similar reckless abandon there. My practice involves continuous making, and each piece becomes a multi-headed hydra of potential options for each subsequent piece. So, one issue tends to be in synthesis and deciding when and where to impose limitations. Periods of aggressive, mindless production that bring forth new ideas with awkwardness in execution are followed by more measured and confident making of familiar forms. Allowing awful and truly embarrassing experiments to remain within view in the studio often enables, and is probably necessary for, solutions to eventually present themselves. New forms do not arrive immaculate, but undergo generally slow and gradual evolution, with the occasional devastating asteroid of random inspiration causing a new cycle of production to arise. In the end, like the pig, I would like to remain immersed; allowing for and encouraging change is critical to keeping that engagement fresh and lively. 

1 Group of Pots #5 (one stack, one pitcher, one bud vase, one shot glass, one toroid, one mug, two anthropophorae), various sizes, stoneware, porcelain, glazes, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, china paint, pigments, plastic, 2021.

CM: What roles do color and texture play in your work? 

MM: Half of the time, I don’t think about these elements separately: the color is the texture is the material is the form. Other times, color is applied arbitrarily as a cosmetic veneer that can confuse or clarify a form’s associations. For example, a study of a Roman amphora can just as easily be coated in smooth and frosty blue-and-white glaze as fuzzy and punchy fluorescent orange plastic. Both options push the piece into different directions, one toward ceramic history and the other toward contemporary material culture, aposematism, etc. I rarely pursue the original or one primary reference, preferring a more convoluted web of associations: like a Wikipedia paragraph hyperlinked to 20 other pages ranging from dermatological diseases to the noble diner mug to topology to Yagi Kazuo. 

Texture is usually focused on in verb form, as an index—what actively points to the physical history of interactions between maker and material. Common pursuits here involve pushing a material to its most unctuous, either by working tenderly and in line with a material’s own wants and needs, or in sadistic opposition to them. In short, color and texture are marshaled to a variety of ends, often of primary importance in refining the role of the work itself.

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