“My artistic practices with the ceramic medium mainly revolve around creating one-of-a-kind functional and decorative vessels. In my wheel thrown pottery, I strive to create forms with elegant but simple detail. Details like how a lid sits within a gallery, or the curvature of a vase’s belly, make all the difference in how a piece strikes you.” Michelle Wen is an incredible artist whose exquisite, decorative, and functional ceramics are taking viewers by storm. Her use of color, form, and detail are an amazing display of her artistic skills that intricately weave her passions and inspirations into every single piece. By taking the time to think about and perfect the details, Wen says her process can, “elevate a common object to something not only beautiful but meaningful. It’s not so much that one must do things because of convention or technicality, but one should exert that effort if it brings them closer to the vision they want to express”.
“I walked away with what I needed from that experience: I learned just how far I could push myself. Now, my journey is about how to balance the chaotic energy of creative drive with a more introspective, slower pace.”
Wen explained that her interest in ceramics began when she was in college at Pratt Institute; “When I first got on the wheel, I was absolutely terrible and confused. I decided I was so bad, I NEEDED to be good. I couldn’t allow myself to fail at something that interested me so much. Never give up on something you feel could challenge you for the better. Ever since then I was practicing almost every day, multiple hours a day, while maintaining my other classes, and a few part time jobs. I had to split my time between the ceramic studio and the painting studio as I was actually a painting major. Things started to fall into place as I found myself working various positions such as studio tech, studio assistant, and eventually as a ceramics instructor. I did what I could to make this dream a reality, so I got a used kiln, a used wheel, and built a studio in the backyard of my home. Passion leads to commitment, requiring you to be serious about what you love”. Her exquisite pieces are proof of her mastery of form and colors; each piece is unique and shows off her attention to detail. Wen explained that her father always played an important role in her life, but that this year taught her an important lesson about her own creativity; “My father’s life inspires me to create and grow. He was a painter when he was young. He was in China. Over the years after having immigrated to the United States, settling down and assimilating into a conventional lifestyle, he lost his practice. In me, he saw a seed of creativity, and he always gave me the room to pursue the arts. When he died from Covid 19 in 2020, I went into the most prolific mode of working I have ever experienced. I was filming multiple videos a day, set up my website and exponentially grew on social media. I started painting again, and started making my first sculptures. I was throwing and trimming multiple pots a day, including his urn. I was in overdrive. After a while, I slowed down tremendously and accepted that sometimes doing nothing and having space is just as important as being in beast mode. I walked away with what I needed from that experience: I learned just how far I could push myself. Now, my journey is about how to balance the chaotic energy of creative drive with a more introspective, slower pace”. Wen explain that much of her inspiration pulls from the following:
1. Swedish Rörstrand pottery of the 19th century which is characterized by elegant forms and incredible hand painted and sculpted surfaces
2. Hideaki Miyamura, a contemporary Japanese potter who works in the U.S and specializes in delicate and minimal forms with metallic finishes
3. Contemporary ceramic artists who create wild sculptures, like Kathy Butterly, Genesis Belanger, and Matt Mitros. Other artists I like are: Wu Wei Cheng, Julie Ahn, April Felipe, Leilah Babirye, and glass/mixed media artist Nancy Cohen.
Wen has had the chance to learn from several mentors throughout her life. When asked what the best challenge a mentor had ever posed her with Wen said that, “the best challenge was when I was a student was: “When you are stuck, make a series.” I was in high school, trying to develop my portfolio. I had no idea what to do, what direction, or even what medium I wanted to work with. That advice from my high school art teacher was mind blowing. Creating a series or a body of work keeps you consistent. No matter how small it may feel, like ink sketches of dried roses, or a series of tea bowls, it keeps you productive, and streamlines your creativity into a singular outlet you can dedicate yourself to that pulls you out of stagnation. When you finally take a step back and see your body of work splayed before you, you can truly see yourself. In that I mean you see your habits, your priorities when you executed these pieces, and how you progressed from the first piece to the last”. Wen has taken the lessons she learned as a student and become a ceramics teacher spreading wisdom of her own to her students; “I often tell my students to consider the lips, consider the feet. Does the pot want to sit flush on the table surface, or else be lifted by a tall, angular foot? That foot can give the appearance that the pot is lighter as it is lifted off of the surface; it expresses that one considered the negative space between the body and the table. Teaching motivates me. I have to frame my knowledge into a step by step game plan that is clear and concise, and in that process of explaining, I make things clearer for myself. I strive to find methods that are not only successful but efficient to help my students, which simultaneously fuels me to be more disciplined in the way I create my work”. Navigating your passion and learning how to hone your skills can be one of the biggest challenges on an artistic journey and Wen said that, “the greatest challenge is keeping your expectations low but your standards high. It is easy to be complacent with mediocre work. At times I have to tell myself that I can do better, even if that means putting in extra hours to start from scratch. When clay is fired, it is both physically and chemically changed forever. It cannot be recycled again into slip. It has become a permanent object that takes up space in this world, a world that it shares with its maker, and will probably outlive its maker. Can you co-exist with what you have made?”
While her wheel-throwing skills and amazing videos make the art look easy, Wen said that she hopes, “to inspire other artists and students alike by making wheel throwing feel accessible. For many, wheel throwing is like a secret language. So many people are trying to understand this language. I come up with all these ways to make it approachable and share my experience so that others can use it like a tool to fulfill their own vision for their own work. The more I teach the better I understand how people work, and it is fascinating to me how much of their identity spills over into the clay in front of them”. Personal identity in your work often comes across as an “artistic style” and Wen knows all too well the importance of developing that for yourself; “some advice I have for those on their artistic journey is: you may not ever feel like or know that you have a style until someone can tell it’s your work just by looking at it. Don’t over-think it. Don’t go looking for a style to imitate. Get inspired, but always bring it back to your hand and your needs. Bring all the elements of the things you like together, for example, texture from one source and shape from another. Put it together to create something that makes you happy knowing that it exists. Sometimes style is like how one walks. People don’t go looking for mannerisms in how they should walk, they just do”. There’s no doubt that finding her own style and doing what she loves helped fuel the success of Wen’s dreamscape sculptures. Calling them her favorite pieces, Wen explained that, “I only have a few as of right now, but they were featured in the group show Day|Dream exhibited at the XXXIII pop up gallery in Bushwick in the spring of 2021. My dreams are my greatest inspiration. It is an endless source of vivid possibility and absurdity. For years I have expressed them through painting and writing. To finally merge my dreamscapes into the tactile, dimensional medium of ceramics, it has been invigorating. When I am immersed in making these sculptures, there is no sense of time. I spend as long as I can in the studio until my body stops me. Even then it is hard to walk away”. Having confidence in your work and knowing it’s good work, is a sought-after feeling of any artist, and Wen challenges other artists to strive for it; “I believe that work is good when you wish you made it. What have you seen that you loved so much you wish you made it? I feel this way about paintings and ceramics. When work moves me, I can imagine owning the piece, sometimes I actually purchase them, and even though I see these pieces daily, they bring me happiness and inspiration even years down the line”. Wen has found a way to innovate functional ceramics with her artistic vision and is constantly refining her skills to produce pieces that command the viewer’s attention and make them think about functional ceramics in a new way. Michelle Wen’s work will continue to captivate this industry with unique pieces that take her inspirations to new “dreamscape” heights.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity“Some advice I have for those on their artistic journey is: you may not ever feel like or know that you have a style until someone can tell it’s your work just be looking at it. Don’t over-think it. Don’t go looking for a style to imitate. Get inspired, but always bring it back to your hand and your needs. Bring all the elements of the things you like together, for example texture from one source and shape from another. Put it together to create something that makes you happy knowing that it exists. Sometimes style is like how one walks. People don’t go looking for mannerisms is how they should walk, they just do.“
“I believe that work is good when you wish you made it. What have you seen that you loved so much you wish you made it?“