To know a ceramicist is to see their test pieces, and Bari Ziperstein has the kind of overflowing studio that doesn’t happen in a minute, that comes from years of private experiments and the hard work of learning not to care so much. “I think of these pieces as sculptural doodles,” she says, referring to a series of small, accidental ceramic sculptures. “They’re such a discrepancy from how I usually work, something no more than two inches. It’s really free and immediate.”
After a residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center last year, Ziperstein returned to her Los Angeles studio with boxes of rejected clay shavings, cut-off parts from other ceramic sculptures. “I kept the excess clay from building my large sculptures, and I kept them wet, and then I just started working with wire and clay to make these engineering models, just to test the wire to see if it would break in the kiln. Eventually I learned how to keep them from falling over.”
This rigorously experimental process led to B.Zippy & Co., a new line of jewelry, vases and lamps. The pieces are a departure from her fine art, less modular and pre-planned, and the range of references is looser, too, from musicians Patti Smith and Stevie Nicks to Marimekko and the illustrator Peter Max. “I had to master the basics before I could loop back around and find my own vision within clay,” says Ziperstein, who moved into her studio in 2004 after graduating from CalArts. “And then I was able to pull out my weirdness because I had that dexterity. I’m constantly renegotiating with myself.”
There are some recurring threads between her sculptural and design work for those who are looking: an interest in that thin boundary between three-dimensionality and flatness, and a particularly keen sense of color and surface. “I’m definitely not chromophobic,” she says. That much is apparent from her test pieces, of which there are boxes upon glorious boxes in her studio. Here, she gives us a peek at the mistakes that — seen another way — are what we might call becoming yourself.
To understand what it was like for Ian McDonald growing up in California’s Laguna Beach, it helps to refer back to one of the greatest television dramas of all time. Not, mind you, MTV’s vapid reality show of the same name, but the heart-wrenching high-school football epic Friday Night Lights — McDonald’s hometown being pretty much the diametrical opposite of Dillon, Texas. “Laguna was founded as an artists’ colony,” he says. “Our school mascot, The Artist, ran around with a brush and palette and a beret. Even the football stars took art classes.” In fact, one of McDonald’s earliest run-ins with the medium that would eventually become his life’s work happened when his own sports-star brothers brought their ceramics projects home from school, where their art teacher was a local studio potter. “Most kids would ask their mom for milk money; my older brothers were always asking for clay money,” he recalls. By the time he himself got to high school, he says, “it hit me really hard: This is what I want to do.”
The world has its share of design couples — husbands and wives who work together in the studio day in and day out with seemingly infrequent urges to kill one another. But Xavier Mañosa, the 28-year-old Spanish ceramicist who goes by the name Apparatu, may be the only designer we know who works every day alongside his parents.
When Hamburg-based artist and textile designer Katharina Trudzinski decided to take a second residence in Berlin this spring, she found an inexpensive live-work space on the fringes of the up-and-coming Neuköln neighborhood — the city’s equivalent of Bushwick, Brooklyn — and saved two months’ rent by promising the landlord she’d renovate. But it was imagination, not thrift, that inspired her next move: After stripping the wood paneling from the walls and ceilings and tearing down a few ill-conceived door frames, she began painting the detritus and incorporating it into her sculptural installations and high-relief paintings. Made from constellations of scraps, street finds, and everyday junk cloaked in perfectly calibrated hues, her work — some of which becomes inspiration for the pieces in her clothing line — is meant to dialogue with its surroundings. “It’s not my intent that the materials should be cheap, I just like to use things that are around me,” she says. “I like to start with what I’ve got.”