The staff was truly inspired by the quality of the entries to this year's contest. The 20 artists whose works are included on the following pages exemplify the depth and breadth of exploration as well as the vibrant expression of ideas prevalent in our field right now.
There are years where one genre or another seems to dominate, but this year, we were impressed with the diverse investigations presented by the artists. We saw a high level of achievement in figurative and abstract sculpture, functional tableware, community-focused works and installations. We also noted that entries covered everything from low-fired earthenware to mid-range and high-fired porcelain, as well as atmospheric-firing techniques.
We hope the creativity demonstrated by all of the artists who submitted work will energize and inspire you. —Eds.
Andrea Denniston, Floyd, Virginia
We can all use a little pomp and celebration added to our everyday life, and that’s just what Andrea Denniston is after. Her pots make users more aware of our surroundings, as they engage us with bright glazes and inlaid, repeating patterns and motifs referencing a range of sources, from quilt blocks and Art Deco patterns to 16th-century Iznik tiles, architectural ornament, and stained glass windows.
Unexpected details extending to the feet and handles of her pots, as well as the flair added by a hollow handle and lobed foot, show the extended conversation Denniston has with each object. Combined with the handmade quality that is evident in each pot from line quality to form, these details help the viewer to pay attention to the moment and learn more about the person who made the piece.
Shiyuan Xu, Houston, Texas
Drawing her inspiration from nature, Shiyuan Xu handbuilds open porcelain compositions in an attempt to create vastness with minimal structure. The criss-crossed lines form a chaotic web, which ultimately generates a unified mass. Animating each skeletal structure, Xu has mastered both her glaze recipe and her firing to develop a series of frozen glaze tentacles mimicking growing stems or grasses reaching for the sun. The tension created between the gripping web and the pulling glaze holds the viewer's attention while drawing them around the form.
Kirk Jackson, Missoula, Montana
We choose the tools we use to make our work for many reasons. Kirk Jackson found that the pursuit of ceramics, and more specifically, the repetition and rhythm of throwing on the potter’s wheel, satisfies his internal need to organize and precisely manage processes. Spending time working with the clay, paying attention to the details, and going through the multiple steps needed to complete a piece inspire new ideas.
Jackson’s precision in procedures results in forms that, while controlled and succinct, generously invite interaction and use. Their personality and warmth is conveyed through the solid proportion of rims, feet, handles, spouts, and knobs, as well as the decorative elements like the concentric rings added to the shoulder of the teapot and the holes in the colander, both of which are accentuated by the soda-firing process.
Travis Winters, Baltimore, Maryland
It is Travis Winters' humor, in addition to his deft skill with material, that draws the viewer in. He gives his viewers only parts of the narrative and asks them to fill in the blanks. This requirement of participation allows for open interpretation and ultimately more engagement and enthusiasm of those intrigued by the actions and environments of the figures.
His characters, stubby, naked, bald men, often have a bewildered or sardonic expression as they passively exist in ridiculous scenarios—riding exotic animals, floating in children's rafts—where scale shifts are deliberate contributions to the narrative. The soft fleshiness of the small-sized figures equipped with adult male faces, is yet another suggestive element in Winters' story. One viewer's interpretation will certainly differ from the next, which is exactly what Winters is looking for.
Lindsay Scypta, Rossford, Ohio
From the outset, the first thing a viewer notices about Lindsay Scypta's work is the dominance of pattern. Foot to rim decoration conjuring notions of Victorian fabrics, circumnavigate her functional forms. Additionally a combination of cool colored glazes pool in the deeper recesses of the repeated stamped pattern, allowing yet another set of patterns to emerge.
Scypta's interest in historical architecture, in particular Gothic cathedrals, can be seen in her choice of the quatrefoil stamp generally used to accentuate the wider bellies of her pouring forms. Finally, a nod to still-life genre and ornate table settings is ever present in dutifully stacked sets. Each element works in harmony with the piece next to it to exude strength and extinguish tension and fragility.
Kyle Johns, Northbrook, Illinois
Kyle Johns' brightly-colored, porcelain vessels explore the cross over between functional and sculptural forms. To create his objects, Johns responds to the possibilities and limitations of his chosen process and materials. He makes and deconstructs plaster molds, which are reassembled in a new way and used to create variable forms that are slip cast with colored porcelain.
Renee LoPresti, San Marcos, Texas
Daydreaming in color with clouds and swooping paper airplanes is one’s immediate observation when seeing Renee LoPresti’s work. Grids of colored shapes and areas of repeated pattern are bisected with the whimsey of the paper planes’ dotted path. The carefree flight carries the viewer’s eye around the pot. The viewer is greeted with patches of opaque clouds allow the eye to rest as it ingests the surrounding surface activity. Mellow and relaxed scenes of play and fantasy are often abruptly halted by a pile of fallen planes, conjuring notions of failure and despair.
LoPresti has great skill at fitting her surface decoration to her forms. She works with feet for lift, and curved bellies and cinched waists to direct the viewer’s eye. Color and pattern allow for a cohesiveness between sets and also act as an environment for play and dreaming between sky and land.
En Iwamura, Helena, Montana
How much space do you leave between yourself and another person, or between you and an object that’s about your size? It probably depends on the moment, the context, relationships, and the size of the room you’re in. Assessing and gauging the meanings of this distance is part of the Japanese philosophy Ma (which is also a word meaning gap, space, or negative space), and it’s integral to En Iwamura’s work. He investigates how viewers’ experiences can be influenced or altered by direct interaction with site-specific installations. Do people choose to get close to the pieces to observe the details, or hang back and view them from a distance?
Through his installations, viewers can recognize their own ma, and start to deconstruct exactly what that comfort zone is based on, starting a conversation about content, preciousness of artwork, our perceptions of the formality or informality of space, or familiarity or unfamiliarity of the objects presented to us.
Lauren Karle, Watrous, New Mexico
Lauren Karle’s observation that showing openness and genuine appreciation for others leads to mutual respect and cooperation has led her to use functional ceramics to connect people from different cultures and within communities. Karle organizes interactions, like the one shown to the right between military spouses of different generations, to facilitate communication and sharing of experiences in order to strengthen community ties.
The work that Karle makes is central to this experience in formal as well as conceptual ways, as the designs, patterns, and colors used are inspired by people she has interacted with. The surfaces are layered with meaning, and through use, this layering process continues as they influence experiences.
April D. Felipe, Albany, Ohio
April Felipe’s mixed-media sculptures featuring masked figures in landscapes of layered (and dripping) patterns and swirling tresses open up a dialog about the ways identities are constructed, communicated, and perceived. Fabric and tile patterns, masks, and hairstyles are all used as badges and markers of identity and belonging.
What happens when you are connected to multiple cultural groups? Felipe unpacks this question with references to tales like The Ugly Duckling (which explores themes of identity and belonging based on visual stereotype), along with brightly colored floor patterns used in the Caribbean (where her parents are from), and the cultural significance of hair length, type, and style. Integrating different media reinforces the interplay between physical objects and constructed identities.
Chris Chaney, Naperville, Illinois
Over time and with exposure to the elements, all things degrade. The surfaces of Chris Chaney’s vessels explore the ways that weathering and other environmental factors could work over time to reclaim discarded remnants from armed conflict.
Chaney investigates this by applying razzle-dazzle patterning, a type of camouflage used by early- to mid-20th century Allied navies, to utilitarian pots and then exposing them to wood and soda firings. The resulting surfaces, with their eroded patterns, allude to the passage of time. The disorientation caused by the scale shift of these patterns, normally used on massive surfaces but now adorning utilitarian pots, creates an open-ended dialog.
Lisa Belsky, Columbus, Ohio
Even though Lisa Belsky’s sculptures are fired porcelain, they still look as if they could be collapsed and folded up to be put away in a dresser drawer. Belsky’s porcelain sculptures begin as either hand-knitted or crocheted fabric and are manipulated and shaped into refined forms before being dipped into porcelain slip. In the firing process, the organic materials and fabric burn away, and the stitches, or what was once the negative space of the stitches, become the structure and texture of a new and more permanent object.
Knitting and crocheting have impacted Belsky’s life since the generational skills were passed down to her in childhood. In her artist statement, Belksy shares that “the act of knitting and crocheting provides me with a strong sense of nostalgia and a connection to family. I view this body of work as a metaphor for embracing change while preserving memories and traditions.”
Jacob Foran, Edmonds, Washington
Jacob Foran’s dreamlike narrative sculptures, with their references to outer space and underwater exploration, evoke feelings of curiosity about and discovery in environments that are very different from our own. The reflective glazing distorts the details of the forms, adding another level of mystery and ambiguity, while also making viewers more aware of themselves in relation to the pieces.
There is a resemblance to trophies—in the stylized forms and heroic stance of the figures, the use of the ceremonial vessel as a base, and the thick, platinum glaze that covers the forms—that leads one to think about achievements above and beyond the usual, as well as childhood dreams and goals.
Max Seinfeld, Danbury, Connecticut
Max Seinfeld uses clay and glaze to create sculptures that address line, color, and texture, which are often used as contrasting elements in a single composition. Through curiosity and material exploration, Seinfeld creates objects that highlight the subtle movement of solid materials and examine the interplay of relationships between soft and hard. The tension caused by contrasting opposites continues on from the material textures to the interaction of artificial and natural colors, which Seinfeld compares to the relationships observed from natural and contrived environments.
Stuart Gair, Hudson, Ohio
Subtle beauty and quiet purpose share equal value in Stuart Gair’s functional vessels. It is as important to him that the user appreciates a pot’s utilitarian qualities while in use and also relish in its pleasing aesthetics while not in use. A piece should not only pour well, but should also enhance the shelf it sits on once cleaned and set aside at the end of the day.
Influences of form and surface hark to an in-depth studying and cross referencing of Asian ceramics with British and Scandinavian restraint. Particular attention is paid to balance and a sense of lightness, while a reserved surface texture is accentuated only by the color blanketing the exterior of a pot where it was wrapped by the fire in the kiln. Gair clearly pays attention to the world around him and how he lives his life and these qualities are best observed in his pots.
Charity White, Chicago, Illinois
Charity White places hauntingly realistic unfired-clay and fired-ceramic figures into both everyday and abandoned spaces, inviting us to explore social issues like inclusion, exclusion, and privilege. She effectively engages the wider community through the temporary, site-specific installations of her work.
White situates her life-size, bisected figures on divided city benches in Gainesville, Florida, to put a spotlight on policies meant to deter homeless people from congregating in certain areas.
The unfired figures she makes are installed in abandoned spaces—like a swim hall in Indiana once used by the person that the figure is modeled on—as a way to investigate how changing patterns of use and disuse reflect our values and needs and to ask us to consider why certain public spaces are collectively abandoned rather than renovated or repurposed.
Zak Helenske, Seattle, Washington
As a potter, Zak Helenske investigates form and pattern to create utilitarian vessels that use geometric language to convey ideas of space, proximity, occupation, and structure. Helenske’s earthenware forms are highlighted by porcelain brushwork patterns that are layered on top of each other and help define or bend the pot’s visual language.
When discussing the importance of form and pattern in the work, Helenske explains that, “These two priorities drive one another; pattern responds to form, and, in turn form hones to the strength of the pattern. When they fit, it is very clear, and the work progresses this way.”
Naomi Clement, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
As artists we ask ourselves many questions. Naomi Clement’s work explores two main questions, which she states in this way, “how things fit together and how they do not.”
When making and designing work, there are many decisions that need to be made and the possibilities at times seem to be endless. Where does the glaze meet the clay on a form? How does a visible seam or a soft/contrasting/meandering line of color affect the work? What opportunities are presented by considering the edge of a handle or the end of the pot in different ways? How can a composition develop and change (or be changed by) a curved surface?
Clement hones in on these crossroads and uses points of transition in her work to create utilitarian vessels that have a visual record of her questions, decisions, actions, and intents.
Stephanie Galli, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
When looking at Stephanie Galli’s work, one can’t help but want to touch it. Galli has found a way to create the perfect marriage between form and surface that seduces the viewer to further investigate the work. Although not always an exact representation, there are many formal references to human anatomy in Galli’s abstracted sculptures. When discussing inspiration for the work in her artist statement, Galli explains that: “Looking at modern commodities that use the sexualized human body as a design feature, each sculpture is developed from a visual lexicon of forms and surfaces derived from automotive, fashion, and product design.”
Mike Stumbras, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Mike Stumbras’ deft ability to combine references to historical production ceramics with contemporary studio practices means the work appears both old fashioned in form and design while also having cutting edge style and surface. The work is also a marriage of ornate 18th–19th century pouring vessels with the brute force of atmospheric firing, which creates a truly unique handmade vessel. This blending of ideas and practice produces a form that has a very artifact-like feel. The cone 11 soda firing causes the glazes to flow and pool, masking the decoration beneath it, while the addition of soda to the firing imparts a tarnished look, creating a beautiful worn effect.
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