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Making Ceramics Work for Your Home

SMU Professor Shares the Secrets of an Overlooked Craft

BY // 10.03.17

Internationally exhibited ceramist Brian Molanphy will have a special series of works on view at For Home Forty Five Ten as part of an exclusive curation by interior designer Emily Summers. Now an associate professor of art at SMU, Molanphy was one of only 80 Americans elected to the International Academy of Ceramics.

The artist will join Summers and For Home Forty Five Ten creative director Rob Dailey for a Design Your Life Salon on October 4, where he’ll discuss inspiration, creative process, and how ceramics can change your home environment. PaperCity caught up with Molanphy ahead of the event to get the scoop on his latest work, and how you can incorporate ceramics into your life.

PC: Your work has a very organic quality about it. What are your biggest inspirations?

Brian Molanphy: Fiction in French (À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust) and poetry in English (Nox by Anne Carson) provide models of recollection of, representation of, & reliving of memory. The show at For Home Forty Five Ten features two series. swell draws on traditions of particular wall-mounted pottery such as Moorish braseros & general high relief, tiled architectural decoration. shove is a response to swell, closed instead of open, reminiscent of garniture.

There are also examples from a third series, square cubed. I try to wrench these tiles from two dimensions into three dimensions by unfolding each tile to a cube. Then the sides slip. Thrown out of balance, the result is an ungrounded sculpture, or a drawing with six sides, no front or back.

PC: Do you begin a work with something specific in mind for the end product, or does the process drive that?

BM: swell indicates what I had in mind – a swollen pot whose exterior suggests more than its interior provides. A pot that is full of itself. That can be surprising, absurd, & beautiful. shove indicates what I had in mind too – I strike a blow to each pot. I give it a shove to deflate it unlike the full volume of swell. I made the three forms of shove to allow for that. It wouldn’t work to shove swell.

PC: Can you tell us a little bit about your process? What is the starting point?

BM: Both swell  and shove are drawn with a CAD program, then the parts are formed into clay sheets and assembled. They are double-walled, so the exterior offers a deceptive view of the interior volume. When still wet clay, shove gets shoved to settle into the ground & to create its folds. The starting point of swell was the Southern Rockies, then I continued to make this series in Provence, Dallas, and East Texas. shove followed in response to swell.

The brick-red & dapple-colored pots are terra cotta with slip and glaze. The silver & white shove are whiteware with slip and glaze. The yellow and blue-gray swell are stoneware with glaze. The orange-gray-green pots and the black & brown tiles are wood-fired stoneware with slip.

PC: What do you want your work to convey?

BM: I try to convey what I notice in my imagination. Sometimes I notice line, volume, & color there. swell & shove are doubly hollow. There’s the hollow of the bowl or vase & the hollow within the double wall of the inflated swell or the deflated shove. These two series are a response to the experience of encountering alpine lakes & ridges, first from afar then gradually step by step on a hike to achieve these kinds of landmarks as penultimate or ultimate destinations. The details at the thin edge of the rim emphasize crossing a threshold or traversing a precipice.

PC: Who are some other ceramists you are inspired by or whose work you admire?

BM: Kirk Mangus made me laugh the most. He made so many different kinds of pots. He was as great a drawer as Gary Panter is, even better because Mangus made pots with love. I most admire Yoshikawa Masamichi for the entrances and exits of his pots and tiles as well as his drawings on them. I adore Holly Walker’s pots. I learned a lot from Liz Quackenbush and Chris Staley, my teachers at Penn State University.

PC: As far as the place of ceramics in a home, how do you think that can affect an environment?

BM: Displacement distinguishes pottery from static artworks. Modules like cups in a cupboard or discrete objects like garnitures on a shelf have the fuller life of movement around a home. That movement can not only affect an environment, it can effect an environment as active expression of the dweller’s mind.

PC: How can someone begin to incorporate ceramics into their home?

BM: I would exploit the mobility of ceramics, at least those ceramics that are on a scale of a grasp or embrace, in other words, on the scale of the in-hand or the at-hand. swell may be at its best when one on a shelf is paired with one on a wall, providing two perspectives at once and, depending on the colors, a broader or contrasting palette.

Home, chic home.

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