Anyone familiar with the work of Los Angeles ceramicist Ben Medansky would be surprised to learn that, when he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, his work was actually colorful, spanning the full spectrum of glaze hues. But after he graduated and went to work for a succession of other artists — among them the Haas brothers, who hired him to set up and run their in-house ceramics shop, and Peter Shire, for whom he spent a sweaty summer splatter-painting dishware — he decided he needed to find his own signature style, so he abandoned color entirely upon setting up his own studio in 2012 and started by focusing exclusively on form. The strong, graphic shapes he’s been creating since, all in earthy orange stoneware peeking out from under a speckled-white glaze, have become instantly recognizable in the contemporary ceramics scene.
Now that he’s achieved a measure of success, however — at the enviable age of 25 — he’s begun to push out in new directions, which follows naturally from his creative process: “My work is always a reaction to my previous pieces,” he says. “If I make something soft and asymmetrical, then I tend to create the opposite in my next collection, something highly designed and textured.” His all-white color scheme recently ceded to pops of hyper-saturated blue, and he’s been experimenting with using bubbly, lava-like surfaces to soften his geometric forms. He’s also moving decidedly in the direction of larger-scale works, perhaps because of his recent move into an airy new studio space in Downtown L.A., where he and his team craft every single piece by hand in one-of-a-kind or small-batch runs. After paying a visit to that space in February, we sat down with Medansky to find out more about the inspirations behind — and the future of — his work.
It's a quiet summer week here at Sight Unseen HQ. August is approaching, we're spending more and more weekends out of the city, and the time in between them is becoming increasingly shorter and less productive. But that doesn't mean we don't know from hard work — we've spent the last four years pouring inordinate amounts of time and effort into the stories on this site, and so we're all the more sympathetic when we see other blogs doing the same. Case in point: the ridiculously extensive, print mag–worthy interview with ceramicist Ben Medansky we spotted recently on the blog Los Angeles, I'm Yours, a city-centric cultural resource founded in 2011 by The Fox Is Black's Bobby Solomon with editor Kyle Fitzpatrick. We've excerpted part of it here, along with a selection of the accompanying studio photos.
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.”
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.”