Conversations with Artists 

June 23, 2013

HandMade in America talks with CSA artist Sue Grier


1. Why or how did you choose your medium? 

A few years after college, I wanted to start a small, part-time, creative business (we had 2 small children). I had taken a couple ceramics classes as an undergrad and loved working with clay—especially throwing. I had an opportunity to work out of a private studio in Columbia, SC with a potter named Mary Ann Wardlaw—so rather than painting (my original background), I started a pottery business. The flexibility worked well around family needs.

2. Could you talk a little about why you love what
you do? 

CLAY CLAY CLAY  It’s really all about that.

Working with clay is very ‘process oriented’—that’s the attraction. I work primarily from wheel-thrown components. I’m only half teasing when I say that the clay keeps a person ‘centered’. Beyond throwing, as mesmerizing and meditative as that can be, there is the quality of mark making and creation of form. Having worked with clay for over 20 years, I have a decided interest in the problem solving inovlved with making complex forms or pieces. What fun to test one’s skills against this ornery & willful material.

Beyond the creation of interesting clay pieces is the challenge of glazing and firing the work to best advantage. I have enjoyed working in a variety of firing types: oxidation, reduction, soda and wood fired. Each of these offers a unique surface for a ceramic artists’ use.

3. Do you have any other creative pursuits? 

I always thought I would be a painter—I even had 3 yrs towards a BA in Painting. I don’t paint very often now, but a fun project I’ve done the past 2 years is take part in the Potter’s Pallette, a fundraiser for the NC Pottery Center in Seagrove. I also love printmaking (I did quite a bit in grad school). The past 2 yrs, I’ve been learning Ikebana (the art of Japanese flower arranging). Most recently, I have taken some classes to make needle-sculpted dolls.

4. How long have you been working in your medium? 

I set up my clay studio in 1984. From 2002-2004, I attended Graduate School at Clemson University (MFA Ceramics) and taught there part-time for the next 6 yrs. Back to full-time studio in mid-2010 here in Asheville.

5. What would you say informs you work? 

As an artist, my work has grown to embrace the vessel through my previous involvement and understanding of more traditional functional pottery forms. I maintain a desire to make the work “functional”, yet the definition of function has evolved to embrace the utilitarian as well as the intellectual or conceptual aspects of the term. The clay vessel used with the idea of embodied learning has allowed layers of information to be included in these pieces. Ideas that keep recurring in my work involve the passage of time. At one point, the idea of time passing in front of me – and now moving to a broader revelation of how I am moving in time-based phases – as are we all. I enjoy the use of the ceramic vessel in this exploration for the range of forms, the associations and metaphorical uses they have and the ability to take advantage of ceramic processes (mark making, glazing, firing, etc).

6. Who or what are your major influences? 

Some influential clay artists include—in no particular order —Betty Woodman, Peter Voulkos, David Shaner, Byron Temple, Ron Meyers, Bruce Cochran, James Lawton. Other artists who inform my thinking on art include Mark Rothko, Andy Goldsworthy, Antonio Gaudi, Martin Puryear, and of course Dr. Seuss.

7. What is the most challenging thing about working in your medium? 

Clay has opportunity to fail in at least 3 different ways beyond the ‘idea’ stage: while working with the wet mud, during the drying & bisque firing, and during the glazing & glaze firing. There are technical & creative decisions in tackling each of these areas and succeeding.

8. Any words of wisdom for those starting out? 

Be prepared to put in your time to get really familiar with your medium. Become an ‘outlier’ (think of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers). And dig deep for your own voice. Explore your influences & inspirations, traditional & contemporary sources. What will set you apart will be your unique experiences/interpretations layered into your creative work.

9. When did you decide to become an artist and why?

My parents started getting me drawing & painting lessons when I was in 6th grade. Thanks Mom & Dad! I also had a very wonderful art teacher in Junior High School. I never thought of doing anything else but art. It was a surprise, looking back, that it has been as a ceramic artist rather than as a painter.

10. What’s your design process like? 

In the years since my MFA, I have been more interested in how/where the work I choose to make will be placed/used. For example, one of my favorite pieces was designed to ‘fit down the middle of a long dining table in a spacious room. I knew the piece needed to be of a certain scale to succeed. The resulting piece was a long & low fluid footed vessel. When actually working on the piece, I don’t start with drawings, rather I work directly with the clay—problem solving as I go.

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