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Workaday Handmade

Like many creatives we’ve interviewed before, Forrest Lewinger began his Workaday Handmade ceramics label while in the employ of someone else. Having studied ceramics in college and promptly dropped it to focus on more video-based, site-specific work, the Virginia-born designer found himself a year or so ago back behind the potter’s wheel, working as a studio assistant to a ceramicist in New York City. “A lot of times, artists think of their day job as an obstructive force,” laughs Lewinger. “I started to think of it as something more generative.” In his lunch hour, he began making small, oddly shaped vessels that he would glaze matte blue, just a touch brighter than the Yves Klein hue. But Lewinger found it hard to view these as the finished works themselves; unable to shake the influence of his past work, he began thinking of how he could use the pots in an art context. “I started field recording my day job. I would feed those recordings into a drum machine, chop them up, and then play them back in a gallery filled with my planters, with money trees coming out of them and text from a Richard Florida essay wrapped around them.”

In the meantime, however, friends had begun to ask if Lewinger would make them pots. “I didn’t want to let go of the blue ones, so I ended up doing a craft fair where I made a line of functional ceramics. I started getting wholesale inquiries; now it’s my fulltime job.” In the end, commerce won out over art, but it’s in this relationship with the consumer that Lewinger has finally begun to find his voice. The result is a brand that’s currently having a serious _moment_. As if the blue vessels weren’t enough in the current Zeitgeist, Lewinger has also been experimenting with confetti dots, marbling, tortoiseshell and allover geometrics. And yet because the work is so resolved and the forms so classically influenced, the results don’t feel trendy in the slightest. We recently caught up with Lewinger — who’s launching a new collection this weekend at NY NOW as well as an exclusive tumbler design this fall with the Sight Unseen Shop — to find out more about how he does it. SightUnseen_BlueroundvasedownloadDescribe your most recent project and how it was made:
“Workaday Handmade is pretty fresh. I rolled it out a little less than a year ago. At the time I had been working for a ceramicist in the city as a potter/studio assistant/designer/grunt. I had recently moved from San Francisco where I was making videos and performances and music. When I moved to New York and got a job at the studio, like a lot of artists, I thought of the job as a means to an end. It was a way to make a living while making my own work on the side. At one point, about a year into working at the studio—I think it was around when the Occupy movement started and I was thinking a lot about the relationship between work and free time—I thought it would be an interesting exercise to try and use the bit of free time (about an hour) at lunch to make my own objects at work. I started throwing these idiosyncratic pots everyday — every afternoon from one to two — that I would glaze a matte blue, and sometimes gold luster. I built up quite a collection and some of my friends and friends of friends starting asking if they could have one. I didn’t want to give up the originals so I started making other objects to sell to give to friends and family and use in my home.”

“During those lunch time sessions I had no preconceived notions of what I would make. I was limited by the time (lunch break), the material (clay), and the tool (the potter’s wheel) but other than that I would throw whatever came to mind, sketching shapes on the wheel. I’ve tried to maintain a similar approach to the work as I’ve moved forward. I now have my own studio, and what was once a break from my day job has become my day job. I’ve started simplifying the shapes, including a wider array of objects and making the surface more complex, using various techniques that I pick up a long the way. I’ve most recently started using a technique called Mishima, which involves incising the surface of the pot and filling the incision with color. I’ve started by translating some of my patterns that I use on my blue and white collection into Mishima. I use dark stoneware with white glaze. I think the combination works nicely and I’m really excited by the process. For me, process is what Workaday Handmade is all about.”
pendant-2 Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it:
“I’m looking at working my way into other aspects of design. I’m in the process of translating some of my patterns in to fabric, collaborating with another designer to produce a bag. I love working collaboratively and as I move out on my own, I hope to work with other artists and designers more often, not only as means to produce cool and interesting projects, but also for human interaction — the studio can be a lonely place sometimes! I would also love to work my way into more architectural projects. I love that my pots end up being used or displayed in people’s homes. I think it would be interesting to expand that into tile and lighting as a way of really transforming spaces and their function. Lately I’ve been experimenting with lighting. I’ve developed a couple of pendant lamps that I’m planning on rolling out at NYNOW in New York City. I’m working on some table lamps as well. The lamps take what I’ve learned about pattern and surface and extend it to the shade and body of the lamp. I’m looking forward to seeing that part of studio expand!”blois-garden-3Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why:
“What gives me the energy to work, heightens my focus, and momentarily alters my way of thinking can come from all over the place. Sometimes these little bits of inspiration are fleeting and sometimes they sustain me for long periods of time, as I continue to go back to them over and over again. Usually the artist, writers, designers, musicians, filmmakers, etc. that inspire me are ones that have used their practice to explore and transform their way of living. Artists like Allan Kaprow, Linda Montano, and Bruce Nauman, designers like Allan Wexler, Gilles Clement (whose TK is shown above), and filmmakers like Werner Herzog tend to fall into this category. Right now I’m reading a new book of old interviews with Marcel Duchamp called Afternoon Interviews and I think I’m getting something out of it. He is such an interesting link between the pre-war art world in Europe and important American Art. I didn’t know he married Matisse’s ex wife Alexina. He talks about how his work is really just proposals for ways of living and making things. I like that.”SightUnseen_Studio_uppershelvesShow us your studio and tell us what you like about it:
“The studio is so important to me. I love that it’s not home and it’s not public. It’s a place where I feel focused and I’m able to explore and develop new ideas and work. It’s so important to have that focused time with not much there to distract me—otherwise I’m all over the place. For example, I’ve decided to write this in a coffee shop next to my house and it is taking me forever. Too many things to look at!”summer13.bluegroup-sml P1150081new SightUnseen_Studio_Marbled  SightUnseen_bluevase1  workadaygif-2