Visiting McKnight Resident Artist: Derek Au

Northern Clay Center welcomes McKnight Artist Resident Derek Au, who will join us from January 1 through March 31, 2018. Derek is one of two artists invited to participate in the McKnight Artist Residency for Ceramic Artists program in 2017. 

Au is American born, of Chinese descent. Educated in the US, he has lived in China since 2008. His work will be featured, not only in summer 2019 during Six McKnight Artists, but also in 2018 in Expatriate Ceramics. Au began the professional journey of life in the sciences, physics specifically, with forays into the Internet and even time working with Greenpeace upon the Rainbow Warrior. Through it all he has managed to retain a sense of inquiry with a touch of idealism, returning to the pottery studio time and again, simultaneously committing to the life of a studio artist as he committed to the life of an expatriate in Jingdezhen, a city known as the porcelain capital of China.

Up until 2013, his work reflected the tradition of ceramics emulating “valuable” artifacts from metalworking traditions in his Planeware series. In these objects, he interpreted the complex environment of discourse between craft traditions, but rather than emulating the surface of metal, as is often the case, he adopted the techniques and tools of metalsmithing to construct vessels with slabs of porcelain clay. The resulting wares call to mind objects rendered with sheet metal. Planeware is a body of work in deference to the trade of the humble tinsmith.

In 2016, he moved on to a new series, Painted, and again, he is interpreting a process. Au explains, “The history of ceramic slip decoration reaches far back into antiquity. Much as ancient pottery emulated more valuable vessels in precious metals, white slips were often applied to darker clay bodies in an effort to increase ‘value’. Many inventive uses for slips have evolved through the centuries....Similar to [the slip technique of] hakeme, the Painted series uses brushes to apply slip. But Painted removes the ‘ground’ of the underlying thrown form, leaving behind only the slip. Thus the decoration determines the shape of the vessel—the form is painted.”

Derek Au will deliver three free presentations at NCC about his work. The first will encompass an overview of his career as part of his McKnight Artist Residency on Tuesday, January 16, 2018, at 6 pm in NCC’s library. The second is a panel discussion pertaining to Expatriate Ceramics on Thursday, March 8, 2018, at 6 pm, in NCC’s library. The third is a conversation and demonstration with George Timock giving an inside look at each of their practices, on Saturday, March 10 from 10 am - 2:30 pm. All events are free and open to the public. More information about Expatriate Ceramics can be found here.

This program is sponsored by the McKnight Foundation and reflects the Foundation’s interest in supporting outstanding individual ceramic artist who have proven their abilities, and are at a career stage that is beyond emerging. More information, as well as application deadlines regarding the McKnight Ceramic Artist Fellowship and Residency programs, can be found here.

Summer 2017: Anthony Stellaccio

Anthony Stellaccio’s creative process begins “at [a] site of memory and of mourning—a cemetery, the home of a loved one, or a historical site to which I can connect emotionally or spiritually. I collect earth and objects from these spaces, sometimes leaving what I can in their place.” He refers to his objects as confrontational and cathartic, acknowledging “the creation of beauty and art is mostly incidental”.

Stellaccio is freelance scholar and artist trained in both fine art and folklore. His McKnight Residency will be an opportunity for the NCC community to observe and engage with a maker who moves fluidly between materials as much as he moves between verbal and visual worlds.

He is a member of the International Academy of Ceramics, the American Ceramic Circle, and the American Folklore Society. Stellaccio is actively involved in the creation of art, writing, museum work, curation, jurying, and interdisciplinary cultural projects. His past appointments include the Smithsonian, National Museum of African Art, and the Lithuanian Art Museum in Vilnius.

After years working to establish a global voice in visual art and scholarship, Stellaccio will use his residency to ground his peripatetic practice with focused studio time. He plans to further develop his current work, which focuses on the acquisition of objects through unconventional means: the use of fired soils, unfired clay, binding agents, low-temperature sintering, and more. Stellaccio hopes to convey the importance of materials through contained isolation and confrontational contrast. He says, “I have only begun to develop this vocabulary and intend to push it to its limits while in residence at NCC.”

Join Anthony Stellaccio for an image presentation on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 6:30 pm in NCC’s library. Free and open to all.

Autumn 2017: Kosmas Ballis

Kosmas Ballis asks himself, “What can I do to really push the medium?” He has been in pursuit of this question since graduate school in Tallahassee at Florida State University, where he received his MFA in 1999. He restated and reframed the question, with the benefit of hindsight from almost two decades of research, during a December 2016 interview he gave while in residence at the Shangyu Celadon Modern International Ceramic Art Center. “For me it’s all about the medium and I want to be someone who contributes to the medium,” he says.

In 2001, Ballis was celebrated as an NCECA Emerging Artist. He went on to create powerful sculptures in response to the BP Oil/ Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. The oil spill began on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico and is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. This work was a deconstruction of his “Evolutionary Bouquet” series. 

A former student of Ken Ferguson’s, the foundation of Ballis’ work has always been grounded in formal traditions, regardless of the inspirational content. He has developed a unique way of working with porcelain slip to build his intricate, abstract sculptures, celebrating the delicacy of the material, as well as its ability to showcase a spectrum of saturations and hues. He is driven to explore and exploit the challenges of building vertical clay structures and enjoys all of the effort that goes into making a successful three-dimensional experience, both visually and structurally. 

His efforts caught our jurors’ attention last spring and his road to Northern Clay Center to be the fall McKnight Resident Artist this October has been a busy one. For the past year, he has been working at the Jingdezhen International Studio and the Shangyu International Celadon Museum, both in China. 

Join us on Tuesday, October 10 at 6 pm for a free lecture on his work in NCC’s Library. Learn about his international exploits and how a simple idea, such as stacking, leads to more formal compositions, eventually evolving into something you might not see coming.

Winter 2018: Derek Au
Spring 2018: Linda Cordell

NCC’s Spring McKnight Resident Artist is Linda Cordell. Her work, which draws viewers in with the bait of irresistible color, dynamic form, and clinically pristine porcelain, was featured this summer in the contemporary art magazine HI*FRUCTOSE and on the daily news and review journal CFile. Cordell plans to use her time at NCC to investigate her recent curiosity—the framing devices used to present various figurines throughout history. She observes, “Using some conventions of traditional figurines combined with the dissonance of structure and materiality, I hope to create awkward and precarious environments for my animal sculptures.”

We wouldn’t have thought her animal figurines could be presented more uncomfortably, but she has already begun to play with geodesic domes, trusses, and arches as pedestals. She is not just accepting the memory inherent to porcelain, she is encouraging slumping, pushing the material to its limit in order to create fluid movement in a frozen moment. Why would she strive to present nature and the natural through a darkened and uncomfortable lens? Because, as she notes, “violence towards animals has long existed within the tradition of the ceramic figurine, never the star but a bit player, the craftsman's sly reminder of the harshness of life. The portrayal of victimization is a visual shorthand of emotionally charged serious art/ craft. This exploitation of helpless anguish for consumption further victimizes the victim. Inundated with trapped, starving, limbless animals in the ceramic field, my immediate response is to ‘disney-fy’ them. I want to make their agony palatable with humor and beauty. Soften the suffering with sweetness. Not so much a soapbox for animal activism, I see my work as a comment on the calluses we develop through the commodification of violence.”

Linda has been teaching in and around Pennsylvania since 2004, with full-time stints at Edinboro University and Kutztown University. Currently, she is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She received her BFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Alfred, New York, and her MFA from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her work has been exhibited in the Cheongju International Craft Biennale at the National Cheongju Museum, Korea; the Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts; and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; among others. She is a 1998 recipient of an Evelyn Shapiro Foundation Fellowship and a 2003 Pew Fellowship in the Arts in the category of crafts.

Please join us in welcoming her from April through June. Linda will present an artist talk on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at 6 pm. This presentation is free and open to the public.