Resourcefulness As Art: Chris Casey on Ceramics, Instagram, and New Mexico

Technology has changed the way we think about the arts. With an inevitable deluge of advancements on the horizon, it is becoming more apparent how integrated these apps, gadgets, and services are becoming in our lives.

There does however, seem to be a crowd of personages clamoring for a more "real" experience in their quotidian activities.

From the recent resurgence of vinyl to some bars slowly opting out of WiFi, it seems safe to say that there has been a revitalized interest in physicality.

What is truly fascinating however is that some individuals have managed to harness the potential of cyberspace, to introduce people to their physical work.

Artist Chris Casey has parlayed his love of clay and ceramics into a dedicated fanbase eager to learn about the work that goes into his craft.

His utilitarian approach to artistry has attracted curious minds from all walks of life to his thriving social media accounts.

In regards to his work's popularity, he stated that:

"I think the tangible nature of clay is definitely part of it. It undergoes major transformations from beginning to end that are fascinating to watch. I've found that there are an endless number of steps to share throughout the ceramic process. Also, people are fundamentally interested in seeing how things are made."

As I myself have become more and more interested in the nature of tangible crafts (and possessing of little to no knowledge in regards to ceramics from a creative standpoint), I wanted to speak with Chris about his work.

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Prox: What was it like growing up in New Mexico? How did you discover your artistic talents and what role did your environment and upbringing play in that process?

Chris: New Mexico has its quirks, but overall it's a great place to live. We're relatively isolated, so it's mellow living out here. My family is very encouraging of creativity, so it's always been a part of my life. It wasn't until high school that I really invested a lot of effort in creative activities though. I picked up classical guitar and took my first ceramics class in high school. That pretty much set me on the path I'm on now. I focused on music for a while but have been working primarily with clay for the last nine years.

Prox: Could you tell us about the culture and energy of New Mexico? How do you think the landscape and history has influenced you creatively and spiritually?

Chris: New Mexico doesn't have the population or resources of other states, but it has a lot of heart. The people have to be a little rugged to survive here in the desert. I think that brings us together. There’s a thriving art scene in Albuquerque that is interesting and supportive.

It's hard for me to say how New Mexico has influenced my work since I've never lived anywhere else, so I guess it's one and the same. The rich history of Native American pottery here has had an influence for sure. Although I avoid referencing those pots and designs directly, they've undoubtedly informed how I think about design. I've always loved high contrast black on white designs.

I've also been influenced by Japanese pottery as odd as that sounds. There's a class at the University of New Mexico called Arita Porcelain Vessels that teaches a traditional Japanese style of making pottery. One of my mentors, Kathryne Cyman, teaches this class. I made work in this style for years, so I have a mix of East and West in my pots.

Prox: Your “everything is a tool” credo is very enlightening. What inspired you adapt this very utilitarian philosophy?

Chris: I think that resourcefulness comes naturally when working with clay. It's an unforgiving medium, so we use whatever will do the job at hand. So it's not just me, many ceramic artists will gladly wander around a thrift store looking for new tools amongst the random kitchen utensils.

Prox: Are you ever overwhelmed with ideas since you use so many different tools to create? Do you ever go to dinner or something and zone out because you think about what a fork could do artistically?

Chris: I definitely have more projects than I have time to complete, but the truth is that we have to strike a balance between innovation and hunkering down to actually finish things. Those are two opposing impulses. I’m usually in Refine Mode where I'm just trying to make the very best version of whatever it is I'm working on. If I'm not in that mode, I'm in Explore Mode. This is the time to try completely new techniques, styles, mediums, etc. I'm not so concerned about ending up with a beautiful, perfect result, and instead I want to see something new.

As far as zoning out, that's not usually the way ideas hit me. I tend to get ideas when I'm riding my bike or swimming or when I'm laying in bed trying to sleep. I make frequent use of the note taking app on my phone.

Prox: Lately i’ve been quite interested in the impact of physical art as the world becomes increasingly digital. Do you think the tangible nature of your work has been a factor in your success?

Chris: I think the tangible nature of clay is definitely part of it. It undergoes major transformations from beginning to end that are fascinating to watch. I've found that there are an endless number of steps to share throughout the ceramic process.

Also, people are fundamentally interested in seeing how things are made.

There’s that TV show, How It's Made, that's been running for almost twenty years now, for example.

Prox: Are there any surprising things that inspire you that we may not know about?

Chris: I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I find they help pass the time better than any other kind of entertainment. They allow you to focus on your work for long periods and stay in the same mind frame relative to short podcasts or songs.

I also think people would be surprised by how little planning goes into my art.

My method of working is to essentially set some simple rules at the beginning of each step and then wing it. I don't like to plan. I rely on improvisation for the forms, colors, and designs. It's how I introduce some variety into the process of making pottery. It can be a rigid process at times because clay has to be handled in a certain way or you'll have a lot of failure.

Prox: What are some of your favorite hobbies and pastimes?

Chris: I’m an avid cyclist. I was a bike commuter for twelve years, so it has a special place in my heart. I now have a job that's too far to ride to from my house, but I ride whenever possible.

Prox: Are there any artists, books, movies/TV shows or music you’d like to recommend to the readers?

Chris: I’ll just mention what I'm watching and listening to now.

There's a Netflix show called Ugly Delicious that's fantastic. It stars Chef David Chang as he travels around and talks about food and culture. It's great.

The book I'm listening to right now is The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. In it, he tries to make the case that violence has decreased over time. It covers a bunch of different aspects and kinds of violence.

It's fascinating to learn how our perceptions of violence have changed.

Prox: Any releases or projects on the way that you’d like to tell us about?

Chris: I’ll have a bunch of pottery in a group ceramics show coming up in June. 

WHEN: 5-9pm on June 1st

WHERE: 5G Gallery in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The next day, I'll have a different opening for the Thing-A-Day project I did in January.

On Instagram, if you look up the hashtag #ccathingaday2018 it should take you to all the videos I posted making the five Thing-A-Day pieces I'll be showing.

WHEN: June 2nd from 7-9pm

WHERE: Tractor Brewery Nob Hill in Albuquerque.

Prox: Final Thoughts?

Chris: I used to complain that people have a skewed idea of what the life of an artist really is like. It's not all art openings and parties. The majority of it consists of sitting in a studio working for hours on end. Instagram has allowed me to share some of those studio hours with the world and hopefully inspire people. That makes me really happy.

Thanks for taking an interest in what I do :)

-Chris

If you want more information on Chris and his work, be sure to stop by his Facebook, Instagram, and Website

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