CS: What’s the basic structure for Clay Days?
MG: Everyone shows up at the SOMArts ceramic studio every Wednesday evening, where we have to buzz in each person when they arrive. The buzzer-entry makes me feel like the whole thing is an episode of Seinfeld.
It’s basically a weekly drop-in class for $5 a session where artists can come and work for a few of hours each week. I provide clay, glaze, and firings along with general instruction and demos.
Each week I provide a theme for the upcoming session. Previous themes have included objects that come in dozens, abstractions of simple machines, good luck charms, hairstyles as sculpture, and new pasta shapes. Sticking to the theme is optional – it’s just a starting point for those who’d like one. Participants are encouraged to experiment with personal styles of making. Santiago Insignares comes every week and has been making big, bold figurative work while Hadar Kleiman has added some awesome new objects to her sculptural vocabulary with clay – including flames, logs, purses, teeth, and snakes.
Everyone is welcome regardless of experience. We bring drinks, snacks, and music to share. Dogs are also welcome.
CS: What are your goals for Clay Days and why would artists most want to come to the classes?
MG: The main goal is accessibility to ceramic resources for anybody who wants them. Ceramics always seems to come with financial and practical barriers. Clay Days is a low-risk space to try ceramics out if you’ve never done it before, or a space to support existing clay practices for those without the resources to do so on their own.
Everyone comes for their own reasons – because it’s a social event, a new experience, or just for weekly studio time. After the election, we saw an increase in bong production. It was also after a recent show of John DeFazio’s work – maybe others felt inspired.
Everyone sits at one long, family-style table so conversations involve everybody. What I really like about it is that the class shifts the focus from exhibition-driven work to process and socially driven practices. It’s an added bonus if work finds its way into a gallery or leads to sales – which some of the work has done – but I really put attention on the session itself.
During one session, the final game of the World Series was going on and we listened to it on the radio as we worked. Listening to baseball on the radio has this American nostalgia to it. It was also a really exciting game, which was made more interesting since a few folks didn’t really know the rules of baseball to begin with. Baseball on the radio is pretty confusing if you don’t know how the game works. It was this mixture of confusion and excitement and history as the Cubs won.
CS: What kinds of projects do people work on during Clay Days?
MG: It’s a little bit of everything. Participating artists have agency with what they want to get out of the sessions. I love helping people work through ideas, giving tips for building techniques, or sharing how materials behave and transform. At the same time, I respect those who just want to explore clay on their own.
Nicole Aponte has been making ceramic slab “paintings” resulting in some really tasty surfaces, while Colin Liang – who mainly uses the wheel – has been able to incorporate ceramics back into his art-making, which has been primarily video work since graduation. Caitlin Petersen is quickly carving out some interesting and idiosyncratic territory with her hand-held amorphous forms. It’s cool to watch what everyone is up to.
Most projects taking place at Clay Days have some degree of experimentation to them, which is definitely encouraged. Because the initial investment in Clay Days has such low risk, it frees up artists to embrace failure. I think ceramics is a discipline that requires constant investigation. A kiln firing always has a bit of mystery to it. If experiments are shared among a group, then our knowledge base grows.
CS: Has Clay Days taught you anything about different styles of teaching?
MG: Commitments and expectations are incredibly low for student involvement in Clay Days, which is a strategy that would fail in most educational models. I think Clay Days succeeds because everyone who comes wants to be there. Commitment to the class is independent from any larger programming or context. That’s the best time to learn – when you’re in the place you want to be.
Clay Days has taught me how to create and run a project larger than a studio practice. I have great appreciation for those who show up for Clay Day sessions. Whether it’s once, half the classes, or every class, artist participation is really what has allowed the project to take shape.
An old college friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time came to a Clay Day session. It was really nice to see him and meet his girlfriend. They also both made great work – a Coors Light can and a stack of donuts (the theme was dozens). At some point in the night we were talking about music and concerts, specifically an upcoming Funkadelic show at the Fox. Scott had an extra ticket and we ended up going to the show together. It was great. And super loud.
Clay Days provides the time for me to make art while hanging out with friends, listening to music, eating snacks, and drinking beers. What could be better than that?