Katy Krantz likes to leave things to chance, at least when it comes to making ceramics. She has a method, but it involves working with a “wild and crazy collaborator” — a giant gas kiln that can fire clay at extremely high temperatures. “When you fire that high, the clay and glaze react in ways that are unpredictable. You get a lot of weird, random spotting, things that I would never be able to paint on.” That element of surprise and transformation runs through her colorful, abstract sculptural objects and jewelry, as well as her block prints and recent forays into fabric. Though she’ll establish “loose parameters” at the outset of a project, she says she’s “never been able to work with a real detailed plan in mind. I can work like that, but I tend to make really boring work that way. When I have too much control, it’s less interesting.”
There’s been something serendipitous, too, in the way she’s put her art out into the world. A few years ago, when Krantz was living in Brooklyn, she walked into Saffron, a flower shop and gallery space in Fort Greene and approached one of the owners, Kana Togashi, in a move she says was out of character. “I was like, Hi, you don’t know me, but I make these ceramics, and I think your flowers would look really pretty in them. Do you want to come over to my studio and see them?” Togashi did, and offered Krantz a show. In addition to museum exhibitions, her works have also been shown in spaces like Iko Iko in Los Angeles and can currently be seen at Seattle’s Totokaelo, Propeller in San Francisco, and at Mociun in Brooklyn.
Krantz came to ceramics from a fine arts background, having trained as a painter. Feeling a little constrained and burned out in her practice, she decided to try her hand at coiling pots. “I was completely hooked. It slowed me down a lot, which is what I really like. With painting, you make a move on the canvas and you just go from there, each move builds on the next. Working with clay there are all these built-in stops. With each step along the way I had to stop and look and take my time. That was really good for me.”
Originally from New Jersey, Krantz has crossed coasts a few times, growing up in the Bay Area and graduating from UC Santa Cruz before heading to New York, where she got her MFA from Hunter in 2007. Four years ago, her husband’s medical residency brought them out to Seattle. She now does most of her printing and painting in a studio space below her apartment, while the kiln at Seattle’s Seward Park Clay Studio lets her gets as wild and crazy with clay as she wants.
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.”
If you think about it, most ceramicists are obsessed with perfecting the clay — wedging it to get rid of bubbles, erasing seams that might come from using a mold, shaving off excess little bits. Jessica Hans is not that ceramicist. Her pots and planters are lumpy and misshapen. They have uneven mouths and aggressively irregular textures. When we visited her sunny, third-floor studio, on top of the South Philly row house she shares with her filmmaker boyfriend, our first thought was that her ceramics all looked like they’d walked out of the prop closet from a Tim Burton movie. (Which, if you read our site with any regularity, you know is one of the highest compliments we could give someone. We’re pretty into weird.)
Before he moved to Philadelphia in September of last year, Ben Fiess was living on a Minnesota farm, 20 minutes south of St. Paul, five miles from the nearest small town. “One of my friends in graduate school’s parents had recently retired and inherited the family farm,” Fiess says. “No one had been there for a decade or so, so it was in disrepair, but they actually had a lot of kilns and equipment because my friend’s mother taught art. It was a good opportunity to live for free and keep making work.” When he wasn’t making ceramics, Fiess spent his time planting asparagus roots, working at farmer’s markets across the border in Wisconsin, and ripping up sod. “I could go a week without seeing anyone unless I drove into the city,” Fiess remembers. So how is it that when we visited Philly back in January, every other artist and designer we met knew exactly who Fiess was? (“That guy moved to Philly? That’s so cool,” was the typical refrain.)