“Rendering ceramic objects with these various thoughts in mind I find importance in repetition valuing the ever shifting subtlety of a curve, thickness of a rim, or the space contained within the vessels.”
“As a maker I find indulgence through the authentication of household ceramic wares” – Ryan Smith is an African American artist who has found his own voice within the realm of functional pottery forms by constantly striving to refine his process. Functional household pottery is a side of ceramics that many artists dive into at some point in their journey because being able to make something that someone will use every day lends a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Being able to constantly reinvent conventional forms, to find inspiration within simplicity, and conveying ones’ unique artistic expression is how artists find room to play within the scope of functionality. In an art form that demands repetition, Smith creates beauty through his ever-evolving process; “As a means to achieve satisfaction, the practice of making these forms can be repetitive with each successful encounter resulting in a better understanding of the process.”
One of the greatest issues facing artists of functional pottery is just the level of competition. Beyond merely existing and competing with other ceramists in the industry, there’s always the threat of generic large-scale manufacturers on the horizon. However, there’s just something about using a hand-made piece and understanding what went into its creation that makes the whole experience inviting and beautiful. When asked why he chose to get into ceramics, Smith perfectly summarized this idea by saying, “I enjoy making ceramics wares because it allows for you to enhance the mundane routines of everyday life, like drinking coffee from a hand-built mug versus a generic mug from Target.” During his journey in the world of ceramics, Smith has had to consider many aspects of his craft and consider things beyond how his pieces looked. He said that the greatest challenge he was ever posed with as a student occurred during his undergraduate studies; “I was challenged to think of my vessels beyond the studio, how they may exist within a cabinet or in the kitchen. This was a very pivotal point for me because up until this point I had only considered the aesthetic and functionality of a piece without having any regard as to how the pieces or vessel would just simply exist in a space.”
Being able to consider multiple aspects of his pieces has allowed Ryan Smith to really understand his own process while constantly looking for new ways to grow as an artist and enhance his capabilities. When asked to for a statement of his process, Smith explained that, “Within my practice the standards of satisfaction are constantly evolving while key values remain dominant. Calm thoughts of simplicity and volume engulf my practice, generating associations with curvature as well as space both contained within and restrained around these objects. Routinely clarifying constraints associated with these key values enables me as a maker to further my practice, through engagement of various forms I am able to familiarize with these valued characteristics. Rendering ceramic objects with these various thoughts in mind I find importance in repetition valuing the ever shifting subtlety of a curve, thickness of a rim, or the space contained within the vessels.” In this sense, it really is the details that bring Smith’s pieces to life, make them unique, and how he leaves his artistic mark on all of them.
Smith fires much of his work in an Anagama, or other types of wood-fueled kilns. This is especially true of the work created during his time as a 2019 resident of the Cobb Mountain Art & Ecology Project in Lake County, California; a program that is known for having a focus on traditional wood kiln practices. While wood-firing is a time-consuming process, it clearly has amazing aesthetic results and Smith has been able to use it to carve a niche for his talent and work. However, his time within the ceramics industry has not been without adversity. Smith said that, “the challenges I face within the world of ceramics are similar to the challenges I face within the real world. As a maker people often associate my masculine identity with that of machismo forms and vessels, not to mention my identity as an African American. These challenges can be applauded or ignored by outsiders but still remain present in and out of my artistic practice.”
Although these challenges exist, Smith did speak to the comradery that often exists between ceramists and noted that his favorite contribution to ceramics was the “ability to generate grounds for community, however inclusive or exclusive it may be.” While Smith has many inspirations and has encountered many influential people during his studies, the voice he has created for himself in his work is one he hopes can speak to others. When asked how he hoped to inspire other artists, Smith said, “I just hope my work and the thoughts and conversations about my work perpetuate to other artist and their process in the studio.” Smith also spoke to the importance of inspiration and new ideas for emerging artists in an attempt to understand their own limitless possibilities; “my advice as they continue their artist journey would be to expose themselves and their process to new ideas, do not allow the constraints of your own mind to determine the grounds of your making.” Looking at the work he is currently producing, it is clear that Smith is using his own advice and is pushing his own standards of success, furthering his practice, and consistently exuding excellence.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity
“I was challenged to think of my vessels beyond the studio, how they may exist within a cabinet or in the kitchen. This was a very pivotal point for me because up until this point I had only considered the aesthetic and functionality of a piece without having any regard as to how the pieces or vessel would just simply exist in a space.”
Now it’s your turn to be challenged:
Smith advises artst to continue “to expose themselves and their process to new ideas, do not allow the constraints of your own mind to determine the grounds of your making.” Consider the space your pieces are supposed to fill; how do your pieces fill that void? How can you break down your own barriers and rework your process to produce pieces that better exist within those spaces?