Posted by Jill Foote-Hutton
In contrast to the changing seasons, currently in the mode of closing another chapter of life, 2014 Emerging Artist Mel Griffin has been opening one. Planting seeds with deliberate and thoughtful choices, Griffin has stepped away from a peripatetic life and stepped into ownership of a new home and studio. After two years at the Archie Bray Foundation, she is permanently staking her claim in Helena, Montana.
Carefully considered decision making is engrained in Griffin. If you happened to catch her interviews on Ben Carter’s, “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler” or read her demonstration article from the March 2013 Ceramics Monthly, you would have certainly grasped a sense of this deliberateness. It is a trait she credits her father with instilling, and a trait, which led her to re-assess the model of the village potter. She witnessed a successful model as an apprentice some time ago, working for a traditional, production potter who created a thriving market desirous of handmade goods.
“Then the internet happened.”
The model she apprenticed under was blown apart.
Since that time Griffin has struck a balance between organic and methodical investigations of new frameworks for her studio practice. She has observed and, in turn, defined, her practice with an elegant, self-reflective sense of authorship.
Many craft artists have been considering similar questions for over a decade. Large portions of craft artists are also deliberately thoughtful types. Certainly, more than one ceramic artist has decided to stake their claim in Helena, Montana.
So what sets Griffin apart within a stratum of like-minded makers?
Well, her deliberateness and self-reflection set her apart when she articulates her passion for drawing. In her approach to drawing we can see a reflection of how she has, overtime, not only deconstructed her process, but also deconstructed her studio practice. It is also possible to see, plainly, the parallels of material investigation inherent to paper and clay in her hands. She is refreshingly bold when she admits to capitalizing on the meditative qualities of production pottery to support her drawing, the primary focus of her practice. In a statement made during her interview with Carter, Griffin made harsh assertions regarding the quality of her cups, prompting the question, “Why not just draw on paper?”
It’s not the first time she has entertained the query. “If I’m going to draw on a piece of paper, I have to be interested in the paper itself.”
When this particular lens of inquiry is widened, reframing the question to ask instead about her favorite substrate for making marks–there we will find Griffin inspired by clay. “In drawing you are using line variation to generate mass and in painting you are using blocks of color to build, so it’s two different things. I don’t paint with clay. I draw with clay. It’s just this simple.”
She cited an interview with Molly Hatch from the podcast “After the Jump”, wherein Hatch stated that drawing was at the origin of all of her work. Griffin identifies, “For her [drawing] is the same thing. One of the things she does with [drawing] is make pots, and that’s the way I feel about it. I like to make pottery. I like the way it enters peoples’ lives. All the things people say they like about pots? I like it too!”
And so her substrate is decided, but the substrate is never the defining factor. Through hundreds of drawings she finds a surface. Then from her repertoire of forms, which is getting pared to an ever-exclusive roster these days, she decides what will best serve the surface.
Griffin arrived at her current process–surface before form–through a series of encounters over the course of her evolution as an artist. At the risk of over simplifying, it seems to be a repeated series of steps: exposure, practice, reflection, cull, implement. Drawing is one of her a natural aptitudes, but her deliberate self-reflection led her to ask what about drawing was most alluring and how could she capture the essence of her subject matter. She asks how can those drawings be realized in a way that is accessible to the largest audience. She affirms the spirit of the drawn mark through repetition with equally expressive gestures in the pinched rim of a form in earthenware. She is paring down the inventory of forms she draws on because her process has led her to see that tiles insert themselves into domestic spaces just as readily as a cereal bowl. She also gives a nod to Forrest Lesch-Middleton, for being a lodestar in regard to commercializing contemporary ceramic tile.
From hundreds of drawings, a handful of animals will make the journey from observation, to translation through marks onto the surface of a form. From her new studio, she will develop the most efficient way she can find to produce substrate: tile or platter or bowl. In her new home she will continue to run everyday, a meditative practice to awaken her body to new observations in an ever-changing landscape under the wide Montana sky. And, because she loves pots and the community that has supported her opportunities for deliberate self-reflection, she will continue to make them.
Keep up with her latest offerings at MelGriffinCeramics.com, and if you haven’t already give these two podcasts a listen while you happily toil away in your studio. Tales of a Red Clay Rambler, Episode 31 and Episode 35