This month our Pop-Up Shop series is hosting ceramic artist and designer Jeremy Brooks. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions over email this week. Brooks is conceptually high and low, far and wide, pole to pole, so I was interested to know more about his recent work and how exactly it ties into his exquisite Forget-Me-Knot Necklaces, which we are selling in the shop this week.
Above Image: Jeremy Brooks, Forget-Me-Knot, cherry, 2016, colored porcelain, photo courtesy of the artist
CF: After seeing your work in Trophies and Prey at Peters Projects in Santa Fe, I felt most compelled by the textures of the beans / rocks. Textures so unfamiliar they really capture my imagination, at the same time the forms are so commonplace—bunny or pigeon. I wanted to reach out and touch them while I was standing in the gallery, but didn’t, thus I need to understand what they might feel like. Can you describe in words the way that the rocks and beans feel to the touch?
JB: They feel soft or rough depending on the particular surface treatment applied to each form. Some are treated with a coarse grade of flocking, which is a material that feels soft and velvety to the touch, and is often used as a faux landscape-like material for model train displays. The other non-flocked surfaces are treated with a low-fire, textured glaze that I apply with both a spray gun and a lot of finesse. This glaze retains its surface texture once it has been fired; if it is applied with a characteristically fuzzy texture, it will keep that texture. To the touch, this glazed surface feels rough and abrasive similar to 150-220 grit sand paper or the stubble on my face after a few days of not shaving. I enjoy testing and developing new surfaces, and this body of work has allowed me to remain an active experimenter. No two pieces end up being exactly alike.
CF: What are the bunnies hiding from in your Trophies and Prey work and why?
JB: I like to think that the bunnies are grazing rather than hiding. I will say if they were hiding, however, perhaps they would be averting their eyes from some of the more edgy and irreverent works that are a larger part of my studio practice.
CF: Much of your work in the past 5 years has revolved around the homonymous cultural slang and imagery that is associated with male sexuality. For example, the porcelain plate with a young baseball player masturbating. Why pair these concepts with ceramics? Why put your slightly provocative decals on white porcelain plates? What is the connection?
JB: There is a range in this body of work from explicit to subversive, irreverent to respectful, odious to endearing. My aim is to piece together some semblance of gay life, culture, and sexuality through altering and collaging the heteronormative stock imagery overwhelmingly present in commercial ceramic decals.
This particular body of work is presented within the framework of a commemorative plate as a form of “homobilia” to celebrate, honor, and satirize my experience as a gay man; one who does not often see himself represented within the commercialized depiction of the everyday because of his sexuality.
The masturbating baseball player titled “Spank” was a piece I put together for The Clay Studio’s “ErotiCLAY” exhibition curated by Garth Johnson. In baseball, “spank” means to hit the ball. “Spank” is also a slang term for masturbation, outside of the context of baseball. Although my career in little league was brief, the few things I remember include my teammates knocking on my cup to check if I was wearing it, and receiving a gentle spank on my bottom when I did something right. Clearly I missed the point of baseball, but these are the memories that have stuck with me. And what better way to remember them than on a commemorative plate?
CF: Forget-Me-Knots are typically associated with enduring love. How do the Forget-Me-Knots tie (no pun intended) into the rest of your work? Is this the first wearable art you have produced?
JB: Alchemy. I’ve always been fascinated with the topic and its association with the history of European porcelain. Not that I’m looking to transmute base metals into gold or anything, but I am certainly interested in the idea of transformation. I love taking clay / ceramics and making it do something it seemingly shouldn’t do. The specially-formulated elastic porcelain clay body that I use in my Forget-Me-Knot jewelry line challenges my own perception of what clay can do, and I relish in that. I have been experimenting with this clay body for three years and it still surprises me! I feel that so much more can be done with it, and my jewelry line is just the start of something that could be much larger and more impactful to the ceramic field.
Metaphorically speaking, ceramics and I have some unresolved issues with one another. A few years ago I took a ceramic figurine of an albatross and fashioned it into a neckpiece to wear around my neck. Years before that, I made a soap-on-a-rope that was cast from a hybrid of clay and soap materials. I branded the soap with the word “KLAI-” which happens to be a shared linguistic origin of the English words “clay” and “clean” from John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins book published in 1993. The hybrid object could be employed for various degrees of bodily cleansing, and it was also great for those that have concerns with dropping the soap in the shower. The Forget-Me-Knot jewelry line represents a departure from works like these that are profoundly more cerebral in nature.
CF: What kind of situation inspired these necklaces?
I wanted to add something to my repertoire that would be on par with functional ware for gallery shops and art / pottery shows. While I do make functional ware on occasion and I have received some recognition for my design work, it is not a prominent part of my studio practice. For me, the Forget-Me-Knots start from a place of sculpture and then transition into a place of ornament, which is something I feel is more closely tied to my personal sensibilities and strengths as a maker. And while I do love pots, I have yet to find a way to make a variety of functional wares that really tie into the rest of my work in a thoughtful manner.
JB: Does research play into your work much? If so, how?
Research is fundamental and it has always been a touchstone for both my studio practice and profession as an educator.
At Southern Illinois University where I have been employed for the past three years, my research is both encouraged and supported through the School of Art and Design. I am very fortunate to have access to a personal studio space, well equipped ceramic facilities, and a travel stipend that will aid in assisting me to attend the 2016 NCECA conference where I have organized two exhibitions: a group show titled “Decalcomaniacs” at the Belger Crane Yard Studios, and a two-person show with Ian Thomas titled “Ware and Tear” at the VML Wise Gallery. Additionally, I have been invited to participate in two other exhibitions during the conference that have been organized by my colleague Pattie Chalmers: “Ghosts + Stooges” at The Studio Inc. and “Middle Ground” at The Warehouse. It will be a busy conference for me, but sharing my research is what I love to do!
CF: You are currently a visiting assistant professor of ceramics at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. What are your favorite subjects to lecture upon or techniques that you enjoy demo-ing?
JB: One of my favorite activities is engaging with my graduate and undergraduate students on their perception of what clay / ceramics is to them, and what it means to work with these materials. I feel the ceramic medium is much larger than most people give it credit for, and I really enjoy testing its perceived boundaries with an aim to influence or modify the margins of this art / craft medium.
I enjoy demonstrating mold making and slip-casting methodologies most of all, in part due to my own lack of in-depth training on the subject throughout my formal education. Since lessons I received on the subject were spotty at best, I spent a lot of time figuring things out along the way and in a manner that made the most sense to me. I learned a lot of what not to do before I developed any degree of finesse with this forming method and application of the material, which was discouraging at first. At some point, I made a conscious choice in deciding that I could spend 10,000 hours on this, and I did just that (that’s only ten “Scarab Vases” by the way!). Methodologies I employ today are the result of this individual endeavor with a personal commitment to scholarly research. At the end of all this, what I enjoy most of all is sharing the knowledge I wish I had received in my formal education to students who are as captivated by mold making and slip-casting as I am.
CF: What ceramics tool would you take to a desert island? Only one!
JB: I always tell my students in ceramics “your hands are the best tools in your tool box”. So with that being said, I would probably take one of those. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am pretty good with my hands, and chances are that they would come in handy sometime (pun intended). And if I can only take one, well I’m pretty good at doing some things one handed too.
Jeremy R. Brooks was born in Detroit, MI in 1979. He received his BFA in art & design from Grand Valley State University & his MFA in ceramic art from Alfred University. Jeremy has balanced his career between working as a ceramic artist & teaching in academia. Some of his honors include receiving the emerging artist award by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), & being selected as a guest of honor at the XXIst International Biennial of Vallauris, France. Jeremy is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of ceramics at Southern Illinois University & resides in Carbondale, IL. (From the artist’s website.)
What do you think of Jeremy Brooks ceramic art? Let us know in the comments!