We are pleased to announce that Nick DeVries has agreed to be the juror for our annual utilitarian juried ceramic exhibition. This year's theme is mugs! Mugs are something we use daily for the wonderful ritual of coffee or tea in the mornings and they truly bring you as close as possible to the hands that have made the mug. Each artist has their own distinct way of pulling a handle or adding surface design. Mugs are our favorite pieces to collect from artists and we decided this year to feature them. We cannot wait to see all the amazing mugs out there!
1.Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a Midwesterner, we aren’t really supposed to talk about ourselves . . . but I’ll try. I guess, in reference to ceramics I am sort of a mid-career artist; I’ve made it to a place where I have a functioning studio, a roster of galleries that show my work, and can kind of access the things that make this kind of a life viable: workshops, art shows, etc. I’ve made sort of a circular route in my career and life through college, down to Minneapolis, and finally (in 2016) back to Central MN, where I grew up. Geographically speaking, I haven’t gone too far in my life. I went to college about an hour from my hometown, and then spent about 15 years in Minneapolis, which is two hours from my hometown. Turns out that’s all right with me, as I love it here in MN.
2. What first inspired you to begin working with ceramics?
For about as long as I can remember art has been central to who I am. I started toting around sketchbooks and pencil cases at around the second grade. In high school I took as many art classes as I could until the only thing left was to take a clay class. I had never really been interested in clay for some reason, but some friends badgered me to take a clay class with them and I took them up on it during my last quarter of my senior year in High School. I took to the wheel pretty naturally, with some side eye from my friends who had been grinding it out for a few classes already, and the rest, as they say is history. Of course there was something really exciting with the utility of the finished product, but there was also this mixture of everything I loved about the visual mixed with a certain physicality that I didn’t know I was missing.
3.What is your studio like?
My studio is built out of the backside of my garage, and includes a portion of the garage as well. In 2016 my wife, daughter, and I moved from Minneapolis to Central MN. The place we found had a 24 x 36 garage with an 15 x 20 addition built onto the back of it. I remodeled the back portion and sectioned off about half of the larger portion of the garage for my studio. It is a bit smallish, but it fits my needs. The remodeled back portion houses my wheels and is where I spend most of my time making pots. A series of windows looks out onto our little 3-acre plot, so it is a pleasant place to spend many hours working and making.
4.What are some of your rituals in the studio to get the momentum going?
In the winter time the morning ritual involves getting a fire going. I mainly heat my studio with a little wood stove; so splitting some kindling and getting a fire stoked up is mission, number one in the cold months. Typically I take this time to finish my coffee, uncover some pots and plot out the day. Working has always sort of come naturally to me, so it doesn’t actually take much to get me going. I hit the wheel, or the glaze room and dig in. Usually I turn on a podcast in the morning, and when my brain feels a bit sluggish in the afternoons I click on the tunes to get me through the rest of the day.
5. How do you overcome ‘failure’?
I throw ‘failure” in the trash and move on. Seriously, if something hasn’t worked I assess why; like was it technical, aesthetic, or some other reason, I make note of it, and I move on. As a mid-career artist I’ve had my share of ‘failures’ be they financial, aesthetic, or technical. I’ve stood over entire kiln loads with a garbage can dropping every piece into the trash. I’ve learned to sort of partition those experiences away from myself. I spent 9 years working in a production pottery, and while I was there I threw somewhere in the ballpark of 300,000 pots. I think going through the act of making so many pots gave me some perspective on my own practice.
6. What is the most inspiring place you have been to?
Unfortunately I’ve never had much of a traveling budget. I made a great trip to Vienna and Prague quite a while back, but I’m not sure I was particularity ‘inspired’ by any of those places, even though the trip was wonderful. I think the first time I ever traveled into the Boundary Waters in Northern MN was probably the most inspiring place I’ve been to. I’d always wanted to make a trip into the BWCA and when I finally made it in, it didn’t disappoint.
7. Do you have any other interests or hobbies?
I am overly interested in politics, probably to my detriment. I’ve got a fairly strong nerd vein in me so I do enjoy playing board games as well as collectable card games such as Magic the Gathering, which really is the best game ever made. Other than that I enjoy some pretty typical MN outdoor activities; fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. I love to garden and also enjoy working on our house, when I have the time. Basically, if I have the time outside of the studio, I spend it outside (if the temps aren’t negative 20 degrees that is).
8. Do you collect anything?
Pots! I was going to say no to this question, when I realized that was ridiculous since my house is kind of overflowing with handmade ceramics. I usually try to search out a pot whenever I travel, be it for work, or for fun. Other than that I collect some antiques and have a growing collection of vintage axes and hatchets. I like these old hand tools for their sense of history and their functionality as well.
9. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?
By far the single most influential book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read this book more than a dozen times) is A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. His essays and his idea of a “Land Ethic” influenced and directed my thinking many years back and has been a method of how I arrange my thoughts on many subjects to this day.
10. What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?
I think this is probably fairly common but the biggest struggle I have faced as an artist is the balance between work and life. Earlier in my career that balance was harder is some senses because I was working full time, trying to build a career as an artist, while also attempting to have some sort of a social life. The reality is that I sacrificed the latter for the ability to make work and progress as an artist while also working full time to pay the bills. Now the balance is easier, but it still exists, and it’s more about trying to figure out the right moves in order to sustain a career as an artist and also have access to things like healthcare and childcare when needed.
11. Who/What are influences for your work?
My early aesthetic influences came from a potter I worked with when I was in college, Jim Loso. Deco and Art Nouveau movements influenced his work, and I was already really interested in the Austrian Secession Movement and the painters of that period, so his interests and work were very natural progressions for my young tastes. Over the years I have been influenced by the German Bauhaus School and most recently by some of the architects affiliated with that era. Beyond that I am influenced by the natural world. I am fascinated by ecosystems and what makes them work. I do my best to span these two areas with my work, incorporating surfaces that are more referential to nature while building forms that are, at times, direct takes on Mid Century architecture and design.
12. What are you working on right now?
Well, it is winter in MN and that means it is time to hunker down and crank out some pots. I enjoy these months because most days I just sort of work through batches of pots in a workman fashion without much deviation. That means right now in the studio there are boards of mugs, bowls, and tumblers all over the place. I tend to use these semi-repetitive days in the studio as idea incubators. Moving through pots I’m comfortable with gives my brain the opportunity to wander, and later in the winter is when new pots usually show up in the repertoire.