These 20 Artists Are Shaping the Future of Ceramics
Artists and artisans working with ceramics have steadily contributed to the art world for centuries. From prehistoric pottery to ancient Greek amphoras, from the rise of porcelain in Asia and Europe to the Arts and Crafts movement in England and the U.S., ceramic traditions have long fascinated artists and infiltrated their practices. In the contemporary art world, this was never more clear than in 2014, when ceramics arguably achieved peak popularity.
At the Whitney Biennial that year, the ceramics of Sterling Ruby and Shio Kusaka were featured prominently; the de Purys curated a show of leading ceramic artists at Venus Over Manhattan; and at major fairs like Frieze and Art Basel, galleries punctuated their presentations with pots by Dan McCarthy and Takuro Kuwata, and the figurative sculptures of Rachel Kneebone and Klara Kristalova.
It was within this context that older living artists who have long championed the medium, like Betty Woodman, Ken Price, Arlene Schechet, and Ron Nagle, saw a resurgence; and younger artists like Jesse Wine, Rose Eken, Elizabeth Jaeger, and Jennie Jieun Lee found a market. And while the trend has tapered off somewhat, enthusiasm for ceramics remains strong and artists working in the medium continue to maintain a steady foothold in art-world venues.
“Ceramics is a medium that, with every passing decade, becomes easier for the untrained to manipulate—more rampant, versatile, and demystified, and perhaps more worthy of a clarified position within the wider history of sculpture,” says the British ceramist Aaron Angell, who set up a pottery studio in London in 2014 to teach fellow artists. “I feel that fired clay deserves better than to be indelibly colored by allusions to (not) being useful, the foggy world of craft, or the masturbatory hermetics of the master potter,” he adds.
And he’s by no means alone. Countless artists today are shifting the perception of ceramics, ensuring that whether taking the shape of a functional vessel or an explosive sculpture, the art form receives its due respect and recognition. Below, we share the work of 20 living ceramic artists, as they each share why they’re passionate about clay.
Bruce M. Sherman
B. 1942, New York • Lives and works in New York
“In working in clay, one communes with other works that have been fabricated and exist over hundreds and thousands of years,” says Sherman, who turned to ceramics after retiring from dentistry. “I work in a type of improvisational mode and each new piece is a new moment of beginning.” His works, which include both functional vessels and sculptures, are each infused with levity, humor, and character, be it through faces or a smattering of eyes or hands. Following his first New York solo show at White Columns in 2015, Sherman has picked up momentum, with a critical mass of shows in 2017 that includes solos at Kaufmann/Repetto in Milan, Nicelle Beauchene in New York, and Sorry We’re Closed in Brussels.
B. 1986, Seoul • Lives and works in Seoul
In precise ceramic works, Lee portrays stories, fairy tales, and individuals experiencing fear, anxiety, or desire. “I consider my work as an amphitheater where stories are told,” Lee says. “I started working as if I was playing with dolls.” She often melds narratives of Western literature with traditional Eastern ceramic techniques, and she’s drawn to optimistic stories that she calls “cures,” wherein a protagonist is able to overcome hurdles and achieve self-discovery. The resulting works are exuberant, fantastical scenes and figures in porcelain, which are at times glazed with intricate patterns and gold accents. Much of her recent work has taken Dante’s Divine Comedy as a point of departure, depicting the journey of a young heroine as she navigates hell, purgatory, and heaven. This Lee will show her work in Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, and Icheon, South Korea.
B. 1981, Philadelphia • Lives and works in Marlboro, Vermont
Best known for expertly thrown ceramic vessels that are illustrated with activists, political figures, and hip-hop legends, Lugo aims to reach diverse audiences through his work. And he wears many hats, including potter, social activist, spoken-word poet, and educator—the last of which sees him working with community groups, teaching them, for example, to create mosaic murals that honor gun violence victims. His work is an extension of his experiences growing up in Philadelphia, from battle-rapping during lunch to doodling in composition books and making a name for himself in the graffiti scene.
“Today my graffiti is defacing social inequality,” Lugo says. “My experiences as an indigent minority inform my version of Puerto Rican American history. I bring art to those that do not believe they need to see it and engage in deeper ways of knowing, learning, and thinking.” Lugo is currently working on a vase commission for the High Museum of Art, is part of the show “Black Clay: A Survey of African American Ceramics” at Chicago State University, and in May he’ll feature in the show “Jarring: Emmett Till and Since” at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts.
B. 1976, Poland • Lives and works in London
Regel’s raw, anthropomorphic sculptures are inspired by human figures and nature—like the rocky landscape of northern Poland where she grew up—though they’re also autobiographical and fantastical. She seeks to represent states of metamorphosis and conflict, and the passage of time in her works, often by firing them several times and incorporating objects other than clay, like volcanic rocks and feldspars.
“Interaction between those materials is essential in forming shapes,” Regel says. “Rocks are pushed to their bursting point and lava state, and objects are often capturing the moment of passage from one state to another.” Her vibrant sculptures recently featured in the 2016 European Triennial for Ceramics and Glass, and will be on view at Design Miami/ Basel this June, and the focus of a solo show in New York at Jason Jajcques.
B. 1939, New York • Lives and works in Berkeley, California
Though she’s been working with clay since college in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Hooven was only given due recognition outside of the Bay Area in 2016, with “Tell It By Heart” at the Museum of Arts & Design, her first solo show in over two decades and her first at a New York museum. But Hooven has actively contributed to the ceramics community for decades. “When I discovered porcelain, my life changed forever,” Hooven says. “Porcelain is one of the most difficult clays to work with—it’s clean, it’s white, it has its own truth.”
She harnesses the strength and beauty of clay to make figurative sculptures, dioramic works, teapots, and other vessels. Firing most works with only a clear glaze, and at times, cobalt details, Hooven challenges the medium’s classical European forms and associations with women’s work. Her objects depict fantastical creatures (mermaids, beasts) and the stuff of domestic life (articles of clothing, kitchen wares), in fairytale-like scenes that appear light and playful at first blush, though they surface deeper and darker meaning with prolonged viewing.
B. 1969, Spokane, Washington • Lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico
“It feels like a collaborator,” Porter Lara says of clay. “I rarely end up in the place I think I’m going because the clay has its own ideas. I like the feeling of being led by the material.” She harvests her own clay from a site near Albuquerque, makes her vessels from coils, burnishes them with a stone once the clay dries, and fires the works in a pit in her front yard.
Her latest conceptual works address the threatening ubiquity of plastic bottles, which she sees as contemporary artifacts. Currently featured in a solo show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., this series originated when Porter Lara encountered numerous two-liter bottles along the U.S.-Mexico border. “I wasn’t a ceramist, so in the beginning the vessels were rather ‘organic,’ which led to the question of whether it is possible to locate a dividing line between nature, humans, and technology,” she explains. She’s now working to create these works at a much larger scale for a solo show at Peters Projects in Santa Fe this fall.
B. 1985, Lincoln, Rhode Island • Lives and works in Los Angeles
“Despite being one of the oldest mediums of self-expression,” says Rochefort, “ceramics have been largely ignored in contemporary art.” The artist has pursued the medium through cups and pots coated in layers of drippy glaze, as well as sleek sculptural works. His latest “Crater” series responds to landscapes and geological formations he’s encountered during travels to the Galapagos, Belize, Guatemala, and East Africa.
While he’s caught the eye of galleries like Sorry We’re Closed in Brussels, Lefebvre & Fils in Paris, and The Cabin and Richard Heller Gallery in Los Angeles, he’s also impressed ceramics experts like longtime dealer and CFile editor-in-chief Garth Clark, who will include Rochefort in the show he’s curated at Boca Raton Museum of Art, “Regarding George Ohr: Contemporary Art in the Spirit of the Mad Potter,” alongside the likes of Sterling Ruby, Ron Nagle, and Betty Woodman.
B. 1988, Colombo, Sri Lanka • Lives and works in Sydney
Delving into organized religion, sexuality, and gender, Nithiyendran creates wild, irreverent figures and totemic sculptures that are finished with fake teeth, human hair, spray paint, and resin. An atheist, he draws on his Hindu and Christian background, as well as the internet and pornography. “There is a sense that you can make anything out of clay,” he says. “From a philosophical perspective, the many histories associated with the material allows you to engage with the past, present, and future.”
Keen to bypass traditional techniques of ceramics and clay, he’s developed unorthodox practices like building his works as separate components and attaching them after firing, or working with carpenters and engineers to develop internal supports for his large-scale works. Fresh from solo museum shows at the National Gallery of Australia and the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Nithiyendran has considerable momentum behind him. He will feature in Sydney’s new art biennial, The National: New Australian Art, this March, and he’ll have a solo show at Sullivan+Strumpf gallery in Sydney this November and at the Dhaka Art Summit in February 2018.
B. 1987, U.K. • LIVES AND WORKS IN LONDON
“As a maker, you are either a squidgy person or a straight-lines person,” says Spragg. “I am definitely a squidgy person; this is one of the reasons I work in clay.” Spragg conjures clay installations and animations that are meant to tell curious stories. In her latest, Spragg has created tufts of grass in porcelain, making each delicate blade by hand and attaching them to a base; for some works dioramas of plant life are enclosed in wooden viewing boxes made by her partner Geoffrey Hagger. One such work was recently acquired by London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
“I see my work as three-dimensional drawings in clay,” Spragg explains. Part of the three-person artist group Collective Matter, Spragg and her cohort are currently working on a Tate Exchange project, which will culminate with a workshop on March 10th, allowing visitors to the fifth floor of the Switch House to work with clay.
B. 1982, Capetillo, Puerto Rico • Lives and works in New York and Philadelphia
“Ceramics is about tactility, beauty, and subjectivity—and conveying things I can never talk about,” says Tufiño. “My goal in my ceramic sculpture is to call upon a past experience or emotion.” Making appearances at Galeria Agustina Ferreyra at NADA New York in March, and LISTE in Basel this June, her porcelain works often take the form of a human head or body part, or a faceless volume with a lone nose or ear. They are finished in ethereal glazes, in shades of pastel pink, purple, and blue. Tufiño begins her works by collecting images and objects, and exploring an archive of materials that belonged to her artist grandmother. She uses these found materials, as well as personal experiences, to develop drawings that become the basis of sculptures.
B. 1978, Ngobozana, South Africa • Lives and works in Cape Town
Dyalvane’s works—which include large-scale hand-built vessels, lamps, tables, and other furniture—convey the artist’s present life in Cape Town, as well as experiences from his upbringing in the Ngobozana village in the Eastern Cape, and the traditions of his ancestors. His first U.S. solo show last year, at Friedman Benda in New York, was titled “Camagu,” a Xhosa mantra central to his practice that translates to “I am grateful.” Dyalvane embraces the natural elements of earth, air, fire, and water in his work, developing intricate surfaces with incised shapes and color inspired by Xhosa traditions like scarification. He also runs Imiso Ceramics, a Cape Town gallery and studio, with fellow artist Zizipho Poswa.
B. 1956, New York • Lives and works in New York
Kley has developed a following for her festive, hand-built vessels inspired by the decorative traditions of Islamic, Byzantine, and Asian art and design, as well as the patterning of the Wiener Werkstätte, a Vienna production community of the early 1900s. “I was drawn to ceramics because it seemed to offer freedom from the historical baggage that burdened painting,” Kley says. “I was also attracted to the light and color that often seems to pour out of a museum room full of Islamic pottery or European faience.”
Kley builds her unmistakable urns and flasks with coils of clay, then smooths them out, applies homemade underglazes, and scrapes away parts to add decorative sgraffito designs, like flowers and calligraphic motifs. Currently featured at Pierre Marie Giraud in Brussels, the artist also shows with CANADA in New York, and will be included in the gallery’s Frieze New York presentation this spring.
B. 1983, Palisade, Colorado • Lives and works in Athens, Ohio
The son of a ceramist, Wedel has a passion for clay that began when he was a toddler. “From sculpture to craft, functional to frivolous, the potential of clay is both liberating and fecund,” Wedel explains. “It allows for limitless interpretation that gives room and shape to the urgency of my imagination.”
His sculptures, often towering works that have loomed nearly as high as seven feet, are the product of both imagination and historical references. A recent L.A. show, for example, comprised of ceramic trees, creatures, and figures, was a fantastic riff on the famous Edward Hicks painting The Peaceable Kingdom (1845–46). This spring he’ll have solo shows opening at L.A. Louver, in April, and at OMI International Arts Center | The Fields Sculpture Park in Ghent, New York, in May.
B. 1982, Oakland, California • Lives and works in Los Angeles
Haft-Candell approaches clay with humor and an eye for problem-solving, creating sculptural work that tests the malleability and strength of the medium, through giant knots or pretzel forms, or asymmetrical blobs finished with layers of translucent glazes. She’ll often fire a glazed work multiple times to achieve a precise depth of color. “With ceramics I can draw and paint in three dimensions, and create glazes with colors and surfaces unlike any other medium,” says Haft-Candell. She is currently included in a two-person show at Interface Gallery in Oakland, and this fall she’ll have a solo show with Parrasch Heijnen Gallery in Los Angeles.
B. 1981, Michigan • Lives and works in Brooklyn
Stoller’s ceramic objects recall the figures and slick surfaces of dainty European porcelain sculptures, or Dutch still life vanitas paintings, but they tackle ideas such as feminine beauty ideals, or greed, taking the form of female busts or body parts bedecked with fine frocks and sugary treats. “The clay is sculpted, draped, carved, thrown, molded, or piped to create a wide range of effects and surfaces, from fleshy folds to dripping syrup and gold chains,” Stoller says.
She uses china paints to add color, often firing works up to five times to achieve the right hues, and finishes her surfaces with pearlescent lusters. She’ll show these works with P.P.O.W at Art Basel in Hong Kong this March, and as she prepares for her next solo show at the New York space, she’ll do a residency at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Japan, with support from a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant.
B. 1987, Kent, U.K. • Lives and works in London
A Slade School graduate, Angell opened Troy Town Art Pottery in London in 2014, where alongside his own work, he has hosted over 60 artists as residents. This spring, Angell and several Troy Town artists are recognized as part of a new ceramics exhibition at Tate St. Ives. “Ceramics, and specifically glaze chemistry, is a relatively simple, specialized science,” Angell says, “but if you allow it to, it will lead you satisfyingly down obsessive, hobbyist rabbit holes, in search of, say, a glaze that imitates foaming lapis lazuli.”
His own handbuilt sculptures, spanning narrative dioramic works to surrealist sculptures, will feature in solo shows this year at Rob Tufnell gallery in London and Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. His approach to ceramics is deeply entwined with the belief that the medium should not be pigeonholed according to its history and associations, though his work reflects a passion for mastering and experimenting with homemade glaze recipes and firings.
B. 1983, Jilin, China • Lives and works in Beijing
A former student of acclaimed artist Xu Bing at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, Geng employs porcelain for much of her works, drawn to its symbolic and material properties. She taps into its historical significance as a link between Eastern and Western traditions. For her 2015 show at Klein Sun Gallery, Geng mined the Daoist teachings of Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi; for her 2014 stop-motion film Mr Sea, she animated porcelain figures in a tale inspired by the short stories of Pu Songling, written during the Qing Dynasty. Using a traditional blue and white palette, Geng creates fine, figurative sculptures and scenes, as well as rougher abstract forms.
B. 1965, Pembroke, Wales • Lives and works in London
“As a self-proclaimed sensualist, I find clay a perfect medium through which to explore the vessel as a carrier of emotive potential,” says Mason, who is known for pots that appear to be in a state of detonation. “And, unlike other artists, I get to play with fire. Having a dragon breathe on my work has its pitfalls, but it affords me unending surprises.”
Mason aims to create emotional weight in his works by developing physical tension within them. He sidesteps the traditional rules of ceramics in favor of unusual combinations of clays, glazes, and raw minerals. This process, he says, is meant to “leave a vivid, energetic footprint on the work and consequently (hopefully) in the imagination.” While his lively vessels are currently featured at Jason Jacques Gallery in New York, Mason will be in group shows at Yale Centre for British Art and Boca Raton Museum this fall.
B. 1978, Chicago • Lives and works in Los Angeles
“I work with clay for its boundless transformative qualities and deep historical references,” says Ziperstein. Though she’s well-known for her design line BZippy & Co.—especially the coveted vessels inspired by Rachel Comey’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection, which caught her discerning eye—Ziperstein has an art practice driven by historical narratives, feminism, and conceptual themes.
Her current artist-in-residence project at AD&A Museum at UC Santa Barbara is based on Soviet-era posters found at The Wende Museum, a Cold War archive in Culver City. Her vessels, shaped and positioned to resemble women judging one another, play on the way women were pitted against one another and confined by societal expectations. “Although I know the posters are comic satire, it’s so relevant to what is happening with the current U.S. administration,” Ziperstein says.
B. 1984, Vancouver • Lives and works in New York
Ceramics are just one component of Goldberg’s recent installations that respond to the post-industrial world, which earned her solo shows at SculptureCenter in Long Island City and Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo last year, as well as inclusion in the five-person “Mirror Cells” exhibition at the Whitney. Her dark, metallic ceramics are often embedded within installations that speak to ecological concerns, and in which synthetic and natural materials intermingle; ceramic, steel, and wood are as common as snails, chia, and crude oil. Her past works have deftly combined ceramic and steel to portray fish skeletons or buckets of oil.
Cover image: Portrait of Jessica Stoller in her Brooklyn studio by Landon Speers for Artsy.