Cody Hoyt’s Ceramic Vessels Break the Mold, and Reap the Rewards
Cody Hoyt doesn’t ascribe to ceramic traditions: “I feel like there’s a certain type of person who goes to school for ceramics and knows the right way to do it, and I don’t associate with anything about that at all,” the thirtysomething Brooklyn-based artist recently told Artsy. Despite this, ceramics are at the core of his current practice, which he approaches with “a layman’s perspective” and years of drawing, painting, and printmaking. Recognizing that even some of the most seasoned ceramists employ unconventional methods, Hoyt decided not to learn the “right” way. “It’s cliché, but I’m breaking all the rules. And it’s working out alright,” he admits—which is an understatement. Driven by an “ultra-intuitive sensibility” and a process-based approach, Hoyt is finding great success with his ceramic vessels—angular, faceted objects made from intricately patterned clay slabs that strike a balance between Brutalist architecture (Hoyt counts Paul Rudolph and Louis Kahn among inspirations) and natural elements like stones and minerals. In recent months they have popped up on the glossy pages of Architectural Digest, New York Magazine, Dwell, and Modern Painters, among others, and this week Hoyt’s latest creations are unveiled in “Heavy Vessel,” his solo exhibition at Patrick Parrish gallery in New York.
A riot of angles, markings, sharp edges, occasional cracks and creases, and smooth, fired planes, the works featured in “Heavy Vessel” present a vibrant interplay between space and form. They are best seen in the round; each work presents various different shapes depending on the viewer’s vantage point. When asked to describe the works, Hoyt replies, “They’re kind of like art objects just masquerading as functional objects as a reason for being in the world, almost. I call them vessels. Jokingly, I call them ‘pots,’ kind of in a self-deprecating way.” And while they’re often referred to as planters—a fact that the plant-loving artist doesn’t mind—assigning the works a raison d’etre feels extraneous. “I think that part of what’s great about making heavy ceramics made from slabs is that ideally, they’re very durable and they’re going to last a long time … they’re empty vessels. And that’s kind of what they’re destined to be.”
Now based out of two Greenpoint studios and using a kiln in a third—he recently outgrew his own— Hoyt arrived in Brooklyn in 2011, by way of Boston and Los Angeles. “Art is something that I always knew that I wanted to do,” he explains. While working on his BFA at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Hoyt was drawn to a multidisciplinary form of printmaking. “I would start with a large sheet of paper, do a few layers of screen printing, and then go back over it with lithography and do a final layer of etching,” he notes. “What most excited me was the different transparencies of the ink, because you could stack them up.” This structural aspect of printmaking, which combines disparate colors, transparencies, and techniques, fueled Hoyt’s transition to sculptural work, along with drawings, which he creates constantly. He describes the move to ceramics as a natural evolution and a byproduct of formal challenges that he began to encounter while working in 2D. “If something inspires or appeals to me in a way that I want to see more formalized, I’ll start with cardboard models and basically flesh something out,” he explains. Once the model reaches a refined, appealing state, he moves on to clay.
By first manipulating different clay bodies—layering, cutting, and combining them to develop dynamic cross-sections—Hoyt develops the slabs that form the basis of each work. The patterns, from swirling marbled or geode-like surfaces to geometric tessellations, are either applied to the slabs before the construction of forms begins or they run through the thickness of the clay—and often the scraps left behind from one work will be incorporated into a later one. The pieces are assembled through a process Hoyt developed intuitively: after assembling the clay in its final form, sometimes through an origami-like folding procedure, Hoyt encases it in pieces of sheet rock, which wicks away moisture, allowing for an even drying process. Despite inventive solutions like this one, the clay frequently presents challenges. “What’s different with making the sculptural stuff, as opposed to a drawing, is that ceramics as a medium is pretty finicky and it’s a little unpredictable,” Hoyt explains, particularly when it comes to the firing process. “The firing is something that’s sort of removed from my end … It’s a natural process and the work is subject to this sort of ‘final judgment.’ A lot of things break, and a lot of things get weird and change.” To combat this potential for disaster, he creates as much work as he possibly can, working every day for a month at a time. “It’s like a lesson in patience,” he says. “And it’s kind of a zen moment to realize you can’t really can’t change it—‘It’s going to break, it’s going to break’—and that’s about as spiritual as I get.”
Regarding the surge in ceramics within contemporary art in recent years, Hoyt attributes the uptake to the medium’s accessibility, potential, and appeal on both ends of a spectrum—giving the examples of “a massive Sterling Ruby” on one end, and the “angular cups and saucers” that you might find in any Brooklyn boutique on the other. “It’s like straight into the Wild West … anything goes,” he muses. This “anything goes” approach has certainly served him well. “So far, with the results I’ve had, I’ve just totally trusted my instincts,” he notes, and furthers, “and obviously, that results in a lot of failure, but the successes that I have are worth messing up.”
“Cody Hoyt: Heavy Vessel” is on view at Patrick Parrish, New York, Nov. 6–Nov. 29, 2014.