Bari Ziperstein, Ceramicist

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.

Su Wu is the proprietor of I’m Revolting.