“The process of making is a practice in search of a particular mental state. It is the engaged and unconscious divergence and convergence of ideas that leads to something new.” Chis Salas is an incredible Xicanx artist whose works explores life as a “temporary state of being”. How does someone become the person that they are? What factors influence that? How does what something is differentiate from what one thought it would be? Salas tackles these questions through their work with a mastery of form, texture, and surface to produce beautiful and eye-catching pieces that exemplify the skill used to create them. The “plan” and the “final product” exist together in a intricate dance where both are connected yet independent from one another. This balance remains an important part of the work of Salas; “while it is important to be disciplined and to have a plan, reality is rarely exactly what we want it to be. If one remains soft and attentive, it is possible to be reflexive and to adapt to the discrepancy of what something is to one’s idea of it.”
“My work is an investigation of life and its delicate impermanence. We are always in a temporary state of being. As part of this investigation, I reflect upon the momentum with which I was brought into this world.”
Salas explained that they, “took my first ceramics class at a community ceramics school because I was curious about the medium and how stuff was made. I quickly started to see how passionate people became about the medium and started to become enamored”. The ceramics world is full of many paths; there are many ways that clay can become a part of someone’s life including artist, connoisseur, teacher, and student. Salas said that, “eventually I learned about artists like Lee Kang-Hyo who inspired me to consider what it means to live a life with clay. After that I became seriously committed to learning about the various ways people make a living with clay and figuring out how to find my own way”. However, being an artist means more than simply wanting to create, and the development of an artistic voice and point of view is a journey that every artist faces. Even after learning that they wanted to “live a life with clay”, Salas explained that, “it took me a while to develop my artist voice – for the work I make to be recognizable as having my hand and for it to speak to the content that is personal”. Salas said that, “While everyone’s path to develop their voice is different, there are a few things that were very important to me. It is necessary for me to make a lot of work so I am able to reflect on many iterations of things. After the work is finished, it is helpful to stage them in common places so I am able to see them casually over days and weeks. It is then helpful for me to write or speak about the work, describing physical details of what I see. This then helps me to understand more of the emotional or aesthetic reasons behind these decisions. Every time I go through this cycle I have been able to make connections and differences between various bodies of work. In this way, I am able to see the cohesion between my intuition when making”.
Salas explained that their work, “is an investigation of life and its delicate impermanence. We are always in a temporary state of being. As part of this investigation, I reflect upon the momentum with which I was brought into this world. Nothing anybody becomes is ever by themselves. Momentum is the context which can help me understand our social structures. Some of the metrics that are useful to understand momentum are class, race, ethnicity, ancestry, geographic location, temporal location – any clue that helps illuminate context. The work can become a convergence, a translation of the liminal spaces of identity”. Salas pieces are known for their intricate shapes and textures, which are key to communicating their artistic vision; “these themes are communicated through the relationships struck between form, texture, and surface. The form has an idea of what it wants to be, but the details are found in the moments of creation. This allows the work to have a life of its own. The texture is a by-product of building, a record of touch, the interface between form and surface. The surface comprises layers of thinly applied materials who interact with one another to generate a sense of static flux. Together, these qualities form an object. The objects are rebuilt deconstructions of personal relationships and experiences, of research and conversations. These forms exist at the boundary between vessel and sculpture. The work’s connection to my experiences is not always apparent at the onset. It is through each step in creating that a connection is made and once complete, I am able to interact with the objects and reflect on their meaning”. Salas pulls inspiration from the world around them, finding the themes of their creations in “almost everything”. They explained that, “I am often researching and learning about how human history has created the world we currently live in. Most recently I have been inspired by the people in my life who have helped and supported me to become who I am today. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with and make a life with clay”.
Salas didn’t always see their work from this unique perspective; it wasn’t until a mentor posed the challenge to Salas to think about their work from all angles and what it could become. Salas recounted, “I started with clay using the potter’s wheel. This had left me with an unconscious habit of thinking and building vertically and cylindrically. One day I was meeting with a mentor, Linda Christianson, and she gave voice to this observation. She then turned my work on its side, looked it over, and then turned it upside down. Although this was such a simple action, it was something I had never considered doing. The forms mutated with every change in orientation and I saw different possibilities for what the objects could be. This impacted not only on how I view my work but also pushed me to consider what other unconscious habits I hold that limit how I view things in general”. Salas also hopes to be a mentor and inspiration to other artists, and said, “my biggest hope as an artists and as an educator is to help people feel empowered being themselves. I deeply believe that strong artwork comes from being honest and accepting of yourself and not being afraid to share that with others around you”. When asked how they would challenge other artists, Salas gave a list of challenges in true art-educator form:
“I constantly refer back to the book Finding One’s Way With Clay by Paulus Berensohn. In this book he provides creative prompts for creating pinch pots. Some of my favorites are:
Pinch a clay letter to a friend.
Pinch a pot while walking in a circle, connecting to the rhythm of your feel.
Pinch a story.
Make a pinch pot in response to a sound. Say a clock ticking, your own heartbeat, a hum, a wavelike sound, or whatever.
Another quote I come to from that book is from M.C. Richard’s introduction: Can clay help one find their way towards community and healing?”
In a world full of “delicate impermanence”, Chris Salas has found a way to capture the beauty and mystery of the connection between “reality” and “what could be”; they have captured the industry’s intrigue and applause as well.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity“My biggest hope as an artist and as an educator is to help people feel empowered being themselves. I deeply believe that strong artwork comes from being honest and accepting of yourself and not being afraid to share with others around you.”
“I constantly refer back to the book Finding One’s Way with Clay by Paulus Berensohn. In this book he provides creative prompts for creating pinch pots. Some of my favorites are:Pinch a clay letter to a friend.Pinch a pot while walking in a circle, connecting to the rhythm of your feel.Pinch a story.Make a pinch pot in response to a sound. Say a clock ticking, your own heartbeat, a hum, a wavelike sound, or whatever.Another quote I come to from that book is from M.C. Richard’s introduction: Can clay help one find their way towards community and healing?”