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Featured Artist Interview
How do you describe yourself as an artist?
I describe myself as a wood fire potter most frequently.
How did you come to find yourself working as an artist in the Hudson Valley?
I ended up in the Hudson Valley in 2014 when I returned to America after living on the southern coast of Japan as a public high school English instructor in the small fishing and farming town of Susaki. I came to the Hudson Valley to become Jeff Shapiro's studio apprentice in Accord, NY. I have been bouncing around the Hudson Valley ever sense, except for a year living on Long Island.
What is most appealing to you about creating ceramics? Where does your love for the craft stem from?
I came to ceramics through its relationship to food. Being a chef was a long time goal of my early life, and working in the ceramic studio has a lot of similarities to working with food. Originally it was something to do after I completed my undergraduate degree in English literature while I was waiting to hear back from my job opportunity in Japan, but after living in Japan and learning about the history of ceramics I found it incredibly difficult to resist the call of clay. Discovering wood firing was the final straw that sent me into ceramics as a career. The process of wood firing has absolutely captured my heart from the moment I saw my first wood fired pots.
How do your experiences making ceramics in the U.S. differ from your experiences making ceramics in Japan?
In Japan I was incredibly fortunate to have access to the ceramic studio at Susaki High School. I had clay that I knew nothing about, glazes that were written in Japanese (which I can speak well enough to get around, but I am far from fluent and certainty can't read well enough to know glaze materials), and had access to a small electric kiln that I had no control over the firing cycle. Though surrounded by traditional wood fired pottery inspiration I had no access to participation on any level. In America my ceramics education and career focused on wood firing.
How is the theme of “ceremony” present throughout your work?
Tea Ceremony was one of the main things that drew me deeper into researching and appreciating ceramics. Tea bowls are one of a kind objects made to be considered, appreciated, and used. Every time I use a handmade pot it takes my mind to the maker of that object, creating a shared moment with the maker. Pots are a daily chance to take a moment and appreciate beauty-- that's a ceremony I try to cultivate as much as possible. To slow down, think of others, and think of how much I enjoy the world around me. I also grew up with handmade pots. My father is a wood sculptor who regularly attended some of the largest national level craft shows like Baltimore ACC, Philadelphia Museum Show, and the Smithsonian Craft Fair. Our kitchen cabinets were full of handmade dishes from my father's friends. I ate from Will Swanson bowls almost every morning, Joe Davis plates and bowls in the evenings, and spent evenings looking at Rob Sieminski and Ani Kasten vessels. Pottery has always been an everyday ceremony in my life.
What are some positives and negatives you are faced with in your art practice?
Finding a studio when you're a wood fire potter who doesn't own land is always a struggle. I'm very fortunate in that I have an incredible network of friends and mentors that have helped me keep my hands in the mud and heart in the fire. After my apprenticeship Jeff Shapiro has been an incredible resource for helping me continue to find ways to fire, and helping me through my time in Graduate School at SUNY New Paltz. I am currently the studio assistant of Susan Kotulak at The Oki Doki Studio . In a way the largest negative, which is the expense and reality of the space and resources that are required to wood fire has created one of the greatest positives in the incredible community.
How has your work changed over time?
My work seems to be getting ever more sculptural. I continue to love making traditional forms, but find them to be a grounding technical exercise more and more, and less where my hands pull me when in a making cycle. I also have moved more and more into using wild clays that I have dug. That change came with Grad School when I started using wild clay dug on my grandparent's farm.
What role does research play in your art making?
Research never stops. Be it looking back in history, or reading articles on new kiln designs I am always searching.
Can you tell me about an important mentor or teacher you’ve had?
There are too many. Jeff Shapiro has been and continues to be an incredible educator, mentor, and friend during my ceramic career. I learned so much from my time working as his apprentice. Tim Rowan has been a mentor. Anat Shiftan, Bryan Czibesz, and Lauren Sandler were all incredible educators and mentors during my time at SUNY New Paltz. Everyone has something to give, and I'm always eager for conversation and new knowledge.
How do you make decisions about what you make? When is a piece “done?”
The piece has to tell me it’s done. Each piece grows and shifts as I make. It evolves until it feels right, and then it is done.
What type of art do you have at home?
Functional pots from makers I love.
What is some advice you have for artists new to pottery?
Try everything! Be patient with yourself! The wheel is frustrating but you'll get it. Just make. The failures are how you learn. Make hundreds and hundreds of pots but only keep the best ten, you'll learn from each. Lastly, just ask so many questions.
Where do you go for inspiration?
History and nature are probably my two largest inspirations.
Are there any other art forms that you enjoy or work with?
Not really. . . mud bug through and through.
How has the quarantine affected your art making?
We were gearing up for a summer of workshops for both the Soda and Wood Kilns at The Oki Doki Studio and those are all on hold for now. It also made me question if the major craft shows I typically apply for will even happen this year. It hasn't impeded my ability to make, but it has put serious questions on where the pots I'm working through will be seen, and how I can best share them and my teaching skills with the world.
--Andrew Sartorius, speaking with Katya Shykind on May 27, 2020