Masters in Clay
I remember the first time that I looked at a piece by Ron Nagle and really started to engage with it. I was reading the book Color and Fire: Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics 1950–2000 by Jo Lauria, which accompanied a traveling exhibition of the same name. I had seen Nagle’s work before; however, when reading this book, I began to recognize the sharp wit, complexity, cultural associations, influences, and singular voice expressed by his work. The piece, called My Compliments, from 1988, was one of his series of small cup forms with a color-blocked surface and a vestigial handle or fin-like appendage (see related pieces, below).
I was struck by his sophisticated color choices (combining Josef Albers’ color theory with the amped-up airbrushed finishes on hot-rod cars) and impeccably considered details, the small, (even precious) scale, and the ways he revisited forms in a series. I was also more receptive to the ways that his work had influenced and opened up possibilities for contemporary artists. I started to recognize in a more personal way, how his work was also about the experiences of place as well as time. I had recently moved from the East Coast to Colorado for graduate school and in this new environment, felt first-hand the way that place matters in terms of the art someone makes. The physical and cultural surroundings, as well as the cohort of artists who work with and mentor you, propel your work forward on a specific trajectory in profound ways.
This influence of place, time, and mentors, can also be seen in Bruce Cochrane’s work from throughout his 40+ years as a potter. Cochrane credits his career-long interest in utilitarian vessels with the enthusiasm expressed by his teacher and mentor, Walter Ostrom. This stayed with him, both in terms of his own work, and his approach to teaching. Like Nagle, Cochrane has had a consistent, series-based approach to his work. While he has made a wide variety of pots, they always start with the wheel. Pieces are altered, cut, and assembled to create the final forms, which express his specific, distinctly architectural style. He’s investigated different clay bodies, firing temperatures, approaches to surface decoration, and more.
Ceramics Focused City Guide
Although I’ve never been to Minneapolis, I know it is a great town for clay folks, due to its institutional support for the ceramic arts, and concentration of artists in the area. This is based in part on the work made by artists living in that region and the online presence for exhibitions on view at places like Northern Clay Center, or shared on social media during events like the St. Croix Pottery Tour. It’s also based on the experience of our associate editor, Holly Goring, who grew up in the Twin Cities area and studied ceramics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. While her memories of what winter is like there make me want to visit in June rather than, say, right now in November, based on the excitement in her voice when she talks about the art-focused culture there, I know it is a town where I will get to revel in all things clay: visiting the studios, galleries, art centers, and museums in the region.
The ceramic art scene in the Twin Cities is energized, and we asked Nicolas Darcourt, a ceramic artist who lives there, to help us give readers a quick reference to what’s going on in the area and the opportunities available for ceramic artists so, that if you’re lucky enough to get to visit (or move there), you’ll know where to start.
Recognizing how place, not just the physical space, but also those around us during the time we are there, influences what we do in the studio can lead to powerful insights about our work.