Ben is a ceramic artist. He has been at RWS two years this October. Ben has worked in various mediums, including building sculptures with wood and plaster and lath, casting using wax, and printing. He currently works in clay. “I feel like I had a voice at one point in other media and could never find that in clay, but it always seemed the most soothing.” He says it was the familiarity that called him back several months into the pandemic. Clay has an immediacy and tactility that feels comfortable for Ben. It also felt regressive for him, returning to a medium as a way to reconnect with a younger version of himself. Making functional pots was his entry point. “All of a sudden I felt like I could work within that and work sculpturally within that too.” For Ben, working in clay again felt like coming home. Ben grew up in Montana and had always wanted to be an artist, “It seemed not like a job, but like a thing you could do where you could still kind of be free.” He didn’t find his medium until he took his first clay class in high school and became engrossed by the process and the material. It was hard for him to make something look the way he wanted it to and the challenge of how do you do this? sucked him in. He ended up hanging out with kids in the ceramics program at Montana State University. He would hang out in the kiln yard during their firings and ended up in the program When he went to college. He traveled to South Korea his junior year on a grant he’d written as a part of the school’s International Wild Clay Research Project. During his time in residency at the cultural exchange he researched celadon glaze and materials that the ancient Korean potters were using. “That was amazing, but when I came back I realized it didn’t give me answers. It gave me more questions.” Though he had access to the materials and the kiln technology of the time period, what he was unable to replicate were the cultural pressures and conditions that produced those wares, and Ben began to question why he was making old pots, or pots in general. When he was working sculpturally, Ben was interested in realism and only made sculptures of real things. He thought a lot about their context and felt a need to control it by way of careful installation. Now he’s still interested in imitation and has come full circle with the intention of creating things that look antiquated. He’s been working with realism and imitation over the past year and a half for his job at an antique restoration shop. “It’s been interesting to delve into the sculptural work that I’m doing in my job–rebuilding wood grain with epoxy that’s damaged and repainting it to look like wood and resculpting sculptural pieces and copying the material and texture to make them look old.” Ben’s job is to repair things while making them seem heavily impacted by time and use.
In school he had done a lot of wood firing and soda firing, which leave marks on the pots that show the passage of time or the build up of ash. “You can plan for the unexpected. Something’s going to happen and sometimes you’re going to love it. I never really thought about it that much, firing an electric kiln that just melts things.” He’s interested in learning what he can do to create conditions that look like time or atmosphere in an electric kiln–that something has happened to the pot. A lot of surface inspiration comes from weathered old gravestones, stony grays and pops of color from moss or rust. He’s currently focused on capturing gestural motion and how things expand and contract, and something he calls ‘toon aesthetic’. “I’ve been realizing a lot of the ceramic work that I really like has an almost cartoonish quality, like Mrs. Potts and Chip from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. They’re a teapot and a teacup, but they’re alive and have so much personality. What qualities of a form or gesture could impart that aliveness, that personality?” Now, when Ben creates he’s thinking about how to give individual ceramic objects a clearer voice, rather than making them about something. He’s letting them have their own say in what they’re going to be. Email Ben at email@example.com or look him up on Cargo Collective.