A Conversation with Judd Schiffman, 2017 NCECA Emerging Artist

A Conversation with Judd Schiffman, 2017 NCECA Emerging Artist

Shortly after the NCECA 2017 conference, “Future Flux” became “Past Flux”, I returned home and began editing conference sessions to post online.  As I did this, I contemplated the 2017 “class” of emerging artists and all of their presentations.  In the years past, NCECA has invited aspiring writers to select one of the emerging artists to write about.  This serves as a great opportunity for young writers to practice their craft while also giving additional exposure to the young artists. (young used in both of these cases to mean within the study of the field, not in chronological age).

Although I don’t consider myself an author at all, young or otherwise, I was so moved by the events surrounding Judd Schiffman’s Emerging Artist presentation, that I really wanted to write this one myself.  Knowing that I would be backed up by the excellent writing and editing skills of our Executive Director, Josh Green, (who did not edit me on THIS couple of paragraphs, by the way.  I figured since it was just a couple of paragraphs I could swim solo.  No commentary on the successfulness of that assessment, please) I was ready to sharpen my pencil and get cracking.  But where to begin?  I watched and edited his Saturday morning artist talk, but I felt like I really wanted to know more.  So I sent him a list of questions to help guide my hand….

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How would your wife describe you?
  • When were you first introduced to ceramics and by whom?
  • Who are your ceramic influences?
  • Who are your personal mentors?
  • How does your background in the performing arts translate to your work as a visual artist?
  • What does “being creative” mean to you?
  • Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
  • What kind of creative patterns, routine or rituals do you have?
  • Which other creative medium would you like to pursue?
  • How do you know when you have found the appropriate way to express, investigate or explore a specific narrative?
  • What informs your work?
  • What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be creative?
  • What do you hope to impart to other emerging or “pre-emerging” artists?

Rather than write an article, Judd and I agreed that it would be more personal and interesting to simply share his response:

I was trying to answer some interview questions to put on the NCECA blog, and took a break to chat with my wife, Athena Witscher over Gmail. Here is the transcript of our conversation.

Athena Witscher What are you doing?

Judd Schiffman working on this interview for NCECA

AW what kinds of questions are they asking you?

JS how would you describe yourself? how would your wife describe you?

AW i would never describe you

JS hahahaha. that’s what I said.

AW but i know that you would love to describe yourself 🙂

IMG_0961JS hahahahaha. Only you know how vain I really am.

AW i don’t think i’m the only one

JS oh shit

AW why don’t you just describe yourself using only character references from brothers karamazov…wait she’s waking up

JS I don’t know any artist who isn’t vain…

I would like to think I am like Alyosha, but I am trying to accept the fact that I am more like Mitya.

AW don’t forget the little bit of Grigory’s servile demeanor mixed in

JS That’s you, not me

AW oh, right.

AW shit she’s up, maybe i can get her in the baby gym

JS my stomach doesn’t hurt so much, but still bothering me a little bit

AW that’s what you get for ordering take out. did you take a tums?

JS if you have to go let me know. no, I can’t take tums anymore, they are too played out

AW yeah i guess now it’s kind of a “thing”

JS exactly

AW rolaids maybenext level

JS oooooh

IMG_0964AW What’s the next question

JS It’s about my studio routines and practices

AW that’ll be about 10 pages long

JS hahaha

AW move crystal here, move paintbrushes there, everyone quiet, get to work

JS Yes, everyone be quiet so I can think

AW exactly, and now you gotta add “change a diaper” in there

JS but seriously, what ARE my routines?

AW I guess, clean, organize, read, converse, make bad work, talk more, clean more, have a new idea, have new idea shot down by me, actually have a good idea, make it, done

JS yeah, that sounds about right

AW also eat salmon wraps for lunch everyday

JS Yes! and sometimes I lay on the floor and sometimes I throw erasers against the wall.

AW and other unmentionable things

JS many unmentionables

AW What is the interview for?

JS It is going to go on the blog with the video of my talk. I think they just want to know more about me

AW well if they watch the talk then they already know everything about your childhood i suppose

JS How I remember it, anyhow

AW I think it is kind of boring to hear all of the “facts” about people in interviews

JS I agree

AW I like that Robert Gober interview because, first of all he doesn’t even answer half of the questions and secondly he talks more about these weird intricacies of his work and spirituality in a totally interesting way

JS How do you write something that is interesting enough to catch people’s attention?

…I love that interview!

AW Right. It’s like when someone wants to tell you their dream and you are so uninterested because it really only applies to them and you didn’t get to experience it fully

I guess it would be better to tell a story that is more engaging

IMG_0436JS well, the weirdest thing about my work is that I actually go to the trouble of making it. Why the hell would anyone make a giant gefilte fish and then pair it with this really embarrassing story about their mother forcing them to eat the gefilte fish? Why would anyone make that, and then tell the story to over a thousand people?

AW because you like attention, aaaaand probably secretly love gefilte fish

JS So, like somebody else’s dream, why would that be interesting to anyone else? I know I like attention. I LOVE attention. I LOVE talking about all my psychological issues with anyone who will listen.

But I HONESTly think gefilte fish is disgusting and I can’t understand why anybody likes it

AW So, in a way, you think you are saving a lot of money by making art because then you don’t have to go to therapy…BUT, you are actually spending way more because making art is fucking expensive and I feel like you have been going on Home Depot shopping sprees every day lately

Maybe don’t do either then we will be rich

JS no, that’s not it at all. it’s not therapy

AW really? i find that a little hard to believe

JS it’s just taking something that I am familiar with and making art out of it

it’s an autobiography not a therapy session

AW it’s true and people are writing their autobiographies earlier and earlier in life these days

So in your interview, talk about something more interesting than yourself

do people find you interesting?

JS I think people are confused by me

AW me too

JS hahahaha, perfect match

AW hey, Your dad is calling

JS just checking in?

AW yep.

AW i don’t know what kinds of things people actually want to read

probably smut, celebrity memoirs, tinder conversations, and that’s about it

Every artist says they read theoretical shit but it’s only true 10% of the time. The other 90% they are watching netflix like everybody else. Speaking of which, I need to get back to watching OJ soon

if you would write your interview as a murder mystery, i would read it

JS no no no. it’s not a murder mystery. But there is a psychological darkness to it.

AW well it kind of is a mystery because of the letter you got

18 copy[After my talk in Portland, a neo-nazi sent an email to everyone on the board at NCECA chastising them for selecting me as an emerging artist, denying the Holocaust ever happened, and using anti-Semitic slogans like “Holohoax” and “power money jews”]

knock on wood. What does Belle say?

JS Kenahorah! Keep that evil eye away!

well i did think for a minute after I got that letter, that I was entering into some very intense territory, and that my work would end up with a large audience, but that it would all end tragically. hopefully nothing tragic happens.

I am not trying to convert neo Nazis. That’s not my goal.

AW it’s the beginning of a mystery, albeit not murder, but it’s a good start for a story

JS It’s very good source material for new work. And it confirms what I was saying in the talk about cruelty.

AW right, I think it’s a good thing that happened

JS Jerry Saltz said he does not think art can change the world

I agree. My work did not change the opinion of somebody who denies the Holocaust. Yet, I still think it is important for me to make it.

AW I can understand why he would say that but I think it’s really naive to assume that art hasn’t already changed the world significantly throughout history. It must be very incremental.

Hmmmm. Well, it changes me as i make it, and when I have a conversation with someone who is connecting to the things I make, I feel like a change is taking place.

AW You only think about yourself

JS lunch break is almost over,

i gotta stop thinking about myself and go mop the floor, I need to finish this interview

IMG_0512AW ok. make sure you talk about grandma belle a lot, it’ll be nice to look back on

you could submit the recorded interview you did with her when you were a little kid

JS that would be perfect. can you transcribe it?

AW remember she says those really beautiful lines about her village

JS sounds like she’s reading from a book but i think she wrote it, then read it aloud

maybe i could just send them the audio

AW they could overlay it on your talk

JS that would be ideal

AW but i actually don’t think she would like your work, she doesn’t really like jokes

JS it’s true. Jokes invite the evil eye. belle doesn’t like sarcasm or talking behind people’s backs

I guess this new sarcasm is actually just cynicism?

AW maybe you should be more light-hearted

in your work or softer…nah

JS no I think more seriously dark would be better

more like kiefer…more like Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker?

I think these new pieces….the big paws, are more like that

AW i liked seeing belle with frances the other day, she was so happy

JS me too, I have never seen her so alive, she loves babies

IMG_3878AW i love baby. our baby

JS me too…

but i think if we are going to look at the world in a rational, sober way, we have to be a bit cynical…….but everyone is also a bit insulated.

AW frances is sober. Maybe she’ll be stoic like everyone else in my family

JS she knows what love is

AW does she?

JS Yes, she gives it constantly

AW i guess now she does 

she knows it in the pure way though, not too convoluted yet

i really want to know what she is dreaming about

when are they going to finally invent some kind of dream projector

JS maybe she is dreaming about what the world will look like in 40 years and how she will change it

AW Come on, no way i think its more just like psychedelic imagery

JS she could have a huge impact on the world

AW duh she is the next yoyoma

JS more mythological? like something out of depford trilogy? being in the cave

AW yes minus the saints

JS just being in the cave

AW in a cave, exactly

JS and being herself

AW what happens in that part of the book? he has to fight a bear or something?

JS There is some story about a bear in the cave

AW He’s freaking out

JS and he is crawling through and he hears the wind growling

and he thinks it is a bear and he shits himself

AW the manticore

JS there is some kind of ancient ceremonial site after he crawls through the narrow passage into an open room

AW That’s right. Thinks he is dying or dead but really just having the epiphany that allows him to live.

JS some kind of ancient bear rite of passage used to take place there

AW Such a good book

JS I listened to an alan watts talk this morning

AW why?

JS because I wanted to remember what it feels like to have a clear mind…hahhahaha

AW i find it hard to relate to anyone who uses the dance metaphor

JS but he talks about the complete idiocy of the idea of an “I”

what dance metaphor?

AW like, life is a dance, join in. doesn’t he say something like that?

JS does he say that? Sounds good to me, what is the problem with that?

AW i’m just repelled by dance metaphors in general

IMG_5037JS but dancing is wonderful

AW it’s really not that simple

JS yes it is.

AW saying life is a dance implies that you have some kind of control and that it is rooted in joy

JS no no no that is not what he is saying at all

he says we don’t have any control

he says you can’t improve yourself, so why bother?

AW then it doesn’t really make sense, dance is voluntary and controlled

JS nothing new – agey makes sense. have you ever watched me dance to techno? i don’t have any control!

AW hhaha you dance the same way to every kind of music

JS not true

AW neck thrusts

JS i dance the craziest to techno

marching arms thingknees up in rhythm

JS i was just going to say i always hurt my neck when i dance

AW i know. remember when you tweaked it doing karaoke to green day

JS well anyway, I like watts’ idea that there is no “I”

It’s just a societal construct and we all play along, get in the way or our selves

and think “I” is very important but it’s just some bullshit idea

because the universe is much more complex than that

AW try to explain that there is no I to everyone on instagram

JS exactly

AW but it’s a new era

JS no it’s not a new era. alan watts talks about identity, he talks about meditation and this idea that human beings are very caught up in their sense of self. Like, if you are a doctor, you identify with the idea of being a doctor and the same goes for being an artist.

AW but it is a new era in the sense that all those identifications are projected on social media for the world to see.

JS right and it’s just progressed to an insane degree of narcissism

AW and that has to be ok

JS why does it have to be ok?

AW It’s evolution 

we are probably evolving into pod people because soon, that will be the only way we can exist

you evolve because you have to

JS Ok and we are leading the charge by having this conversation over gchat

Haha yeah and artists are the original pod people. Trying to be isolated, get away from everyone but communicating visually and in a way that requires no interaction on the human level

AW hey, yeah, everyone is an artist now

JS ok maybe not everyone on instagram is narcissistic, maybe the dalai lama is not

AW nope, you cant do that

JS do what?

AW if you say instagram makes everyone narcisistic

then it means everyone can’t make exceptions

do you think the dalai lama has never taken a selfie?

when he is alone in his room

he definitely has, then deleted it

JS hahahahahha, its so true. with his rolex

AW so you are gchatting with me aren’t you supposed to be working on your interview?

JS i think this gchat is going to make a better interview

AW you are going to have to edit the shit out of it

JS Scenes from a Marriage in the Age of Technology, Alright, I’ll be home in a few hours. seeya

John Glick Remembered (1938-2017)

John Glick Remembered (1938-2017)

The potter who finds life in his work finds it daily in small glimpses, and perhaps these are the successes as much as anything. For example, shapes evolve guided by forces apparently outside my control. This is instinct, intellect and openness to change fusing, into what I think is the most positive force behind any potter’s approach: evolution or growth. Some call it inspiration. ~ John Glick

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1938, John Glick earned his B.F.A. from Wayne State University (1960), studying under William Pitney, and his M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1962), working with Maija Grotell. A legendary and influential teacher, Grotell was noted for her deep interest in the human connection to nature’s rhythms and patterns. These ideas often grounded her dialog with her students including Glick, affecting a profound and lasting influence on his future work. Ideas contained within Glick’s thesis, which was concerned with the interaction of maker and user in functional pottery, continued to inform his studio practice over the next fifty years.

The two years following his departure from Cranbrook were spent in the U.S. Army. Stationed in West Germany near the Westerwald district, a region well-known for salt-glazed pottery, Glick often visited with and studied German potters in their studios. Upon separating from the military, Glick returned to Michigan, to establish a studio and began to work full-time as a potter. In 1965, he opened Plum Tree Pottery in Farmington, Michigan, where he ultimately built three kilns: a 60-cubic-foot catenary arch, a 27-cubic-foot catenary arch, and a 50-cubic-foot sprung-arch cross-draft. Glick began to produce dinnerware, and orders gradually became more consistent. All the while, Glick remained steadfastly committed to creative evolution, guiding his clients toward newer ideas rather than continuing the work he had done in the past.

Over time, he was able to build a substantial portion of his studio practice around the creation of one-of-a-kind settings. This approach struck a sympathetic balance that blended his urge for constant innovation within the utilitarian potter’s commitment to production. Cultivating and sustaining relationships with client-collectors was central to an approach of this nature. Glick’s settings ultimately explored a wide range of form and decoration that combined the user’s decision making with Glick’s personal vision of a set as a varied visual eco-system. In 1979, Glick was commissioned to produce a set of dinnerware for then Vice-President Mondale’s mansion. Consisting of 16 place settings with six elements to each setting, Glick also produced a technical instruction set for the team whose role would include handling the wares and setting the table.

While traditional academic structures have played an important part in the development of American studio pottery, Glick developed an alternative route to sustaining creative regeneration. All innovation entails cognitive transformations that are contingent on active communities of practice. Central to the formation of community in Glick’s life and work were the roles of assistants and his agility as a mentor. Together, they catalyzed the material productivity of the pottery and generated dialog on both creative and practical concerns of the potter’s work. As assistants became more immersed in the work cycle, they sometimes developed substantial portions of vessel production allowing Glick more time to focus on design, decoration, and innovation of processes.

Glick took influences from master potters of Japan, notably Shoji Hamada and Kanjrio Kawai, blending their gestural embellishments of simple forms with attitudes of Abstract Expressionism. He was particularly drawn to the work of Helen Frankenthaler whose soak-stain style resonated with Glick’s multi-layered glaze surfaces, which juxtaposed veils of atmospheric color with gestural marks and pattern. He spent countless hours developing and making his own tools in order to achieve previously unseen results in his work with clay and glaze. Elenor Wilson, Editor of The Studio Potter, worked with Glick in 2006. She shares, “One of the most important values I inherited from John is that of good tools. He spent a great deal of time in his ‘tool shop’ customizing this rib, that brush, fashioning a new extruder die, or adding wheels or hinges to something to improve ergonomics. John considered the knowledge, attitudes, and wisdom passed to him by his teachers to be tools. And, in fact, his pots are tools. Tools for eating, drinking, contemplating; for looking, for learning, for enjoying life.”

Glick’s work was nationally and internationally exhibited. Notable exhibitions include Craft in America: Expanding Traditions, a national invitational touring exhibition that visited eight cities in two years. A retrospective exhibition opened at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Spring 2016. His work is held in numerous collections, both public and private, including The Mint Museum, The American Craft Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Renwick Gallery, and the Museum of Art in Yixing, P.R. China. He was also the recipient of several prestigious awards, among them two individual artist fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and election as an American Craft Council Fellow.

You could say I am hopelessly in love with bits and pieces of the making of pots…

Robin Hopper Remembered

Robin Hopper Remembered

Robin Hopper Remembered (1939-2017)

Internationally accomplished potter, teacher, author, garden designer, and arts activist, Robin Hopper passed away on April 6, 2017. The potter’s art is one of the few in which the connection between creator and appreciator is so intimate and integral. The process of creation, the resulting object, and its use by others represent a unique interrelationship, too seldom explored. If not for multi-faceted, generous, and curious imaginations, like Mr. Hopper’s, the potter’s work would be a lonelier and more narrow calling than it is today.

Robin’s personality and style were larger than life, and his heart was soft and sweet. He was passionate about his art, his garden, and sharing his experience and knowledge. Robin could be gruff and rude. He was impatient with carelessness and negligence. His style could be curt and abrupt but this was his way of cutting to the chase and getting to the point. “Why beat around the bush?” was one of his mantras. In the midst of Robin’s apparently unforgiving demeanor was a deep understanding of the human spirit. He knew how to bring out the best in everyone who would interact with him. Robin’s engine was a heart of gold, a kindness of unsurpassed wealth and empathy beyond appreciation. ~ Steven Branfman

Born in England in 1939, Hopper’s childhood memories of the bombing of London were vividly recounted in a 2011 NCECA closing lecture in Tampa, Florida. He studied at Croydon College of Art (1956-1961) and later developed studios in both England and Canada, where he immigrated in 1968. After teaching for two years at Central Technical School in Toronto, he established and headed the Ceramics and Glass Department at Georgian College, Barrie, Ontario. In 1972 he resigned from teaching to devote full energies to his work in ceramics.

In 1977, he moved to Victoria, British Columbia where he established and ran the ’Chosin Pottery Gallery with his wife, Judi Dyelle. That same year, he was honored as the first recipient of the Bronfman Award, Canada’s most prestigious annual award in the crafts. Surrounding his studio and home, Hopper and his wife also dedicated themselves to horticulture and garden design. Their Anglojapanadian Garden at ’Chosin Pottery has been featured in books, several television programs, and many magazines. His dedication to craftsmanship extended far beyond the walls of his studio, gallery, and beloved flora. A prolific author, Hopper’s books include The Ceramic Spectrum (2008), Functional Pottery (2000), Staying Alive (2003), Making Marks (2008), a revised edition of Daniel Rhodes’ Clay and Glazes for the Potter (2000), and his autobiography, Robin Hopper Ceramics: A Lifetime of Works, Ideas and Teaching (2007). His eBook, A Potter’s Garden – An Artist’s Approach to Creative Garden-Making (2014) illustrates his award-winning garden and discusses the influences and inspiration that it has had on his pottery.

Hopper taught throughout Canada, the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, China, Korea, Japan, and Israel. His work is in public, corporate, and private collections throughout the world. He is an Honorary Member of NCECA and is also the Founding President Emeritus of the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts (1984).

Deeply and expansively engaged as a maker, researcher, writer, and mentor, Hopper’s creative, and intellectual rigor helped impact thousands learning a complex art form in a meaningful way, on a global basis. He was also committed to the message that the craftsman and artist can make a good living in a chosen field. As an artist, he remained committed to understanding the nature and limitations of materials and process through painstaking and innovative methods. After receiving a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer in 2015, he wrote to a friend, “Right now I’m about halfway through compiling a 3000 name Botanical Latin inventory of plants that are in my 2.5 acre garden! I have a whole list of other things to get done before I croak, hopefully concluding with a tongue in cheek obituary to keep people smiling as they set my cold, dead toes on fire! WARM FEET AT LAST!” In response to his diagnosis, Robin set about to produce Swansong, a video including stories, music, and images whose proceeds are being used to benefit research and treatment of pediatric cancer and arts programming for school-aged youth. On November 18, 2016, in a ceremony at Government House in Victoria, British Columbia, Hopper was invested into the Royal Order of Canada.

Mr. Hopper’s imagination and gifts as a communicator have made him a global, creative citizen. As a child of London bombings during World War II, his own life journey and story of resilience have served to inspire others. Alongside the undeniable beauty of his work, Mr. Hopper’s humanity, humility, and generosity have been a gift to the world.