Working with Lynn Peters was an incredible experience. She was an adjunct professor at Brookdale Community College and my first ceramics professor. She was the “nurturing type” of teacher with a philosophical bent. One indicator was her assigning, as part of the course reading, “Zen In The Art Of Archery“. She asked us to meditate before working with the clay. To center ourselves so we might hear what the clay was saying to us. Okay, maybe a little woo woo, but I think that she was trying to get us to think in terms of process, and ritual. She really did think out of the box, and provoked us to do as well.
She only had a few rules. There would be no cutsie tiles with the word “Home” or “Best Mom” on it, nor would we be making horrible little ash trays. She claimed we were ALL artists. She told us as children we were all creative. We drew, sculpted, or painted until our parents told us we were too old to pursue such childish things. Maybe on some level she was right. But, it was interesting to hear her speak, and to see her creative mind work.
With my first three pieces out of the kiln, Lynn turned to me and said, “Joe you are good enough to show.” Just out of the blue. That’s just the way she was. She also said, “.. it’s now your job to create a body of work, and do a one man show.” And so I was challenged!
During the next eight months I would create my first body of work. I pretty much lived at the studio. And in the intervals when there were no classes, I brought clay home and worked at my large worktable in the bedroom. I learned so much during that time, and was so driven that I did what Lynn had asked me only eight months earlier—create a large enough body of work and do a one man show. My first show was called “Running Men & Other Wonders”.
The running man came from a piece of clip art included in the “Scrapbook” desk accessory in the original Mac OS 6 that shipped with the Mac Plus. He was a pixelated line drawing that looked like something out of ancient Egypt. It reminded me of something Keith Haring might do. Keith was one of my artist “heroes” back then. It was also to Lynn’s credit to teach me this concept … “Do not listen to people when they say your work is derivative, or looks like X’s work. We all sublimate all kinds of influences. We may even recreate them intentionally or not. But at some point those marks, through our own process, become our own. They become our mark, our work, our voice, our art.” It was with that idea that I stopped listening to other people’s comments, criticism, and just created.
The running man was first used on my pots as decoration. Using slips and paper cut-outs both positive and negative as resist masks to make the mark. I used the computer often to design elements that I would print and cut out and use as masking material. What fun!
Then at some point the little guy took on a life of his own. I took the image blew it up on the computer and printed it out on multiple sheets of paper, creating a pattern that i could lie on large slabs of clay and cut out one man each at 21″, 16″, and 12.5″ tall. From there I would construct walls and supports and finally a cover to make a 3 dimensional man. It was all so architectural, especially during the construction. But it was this dimensionality that also gave this once one dimensional object a life of its own.
From there my ideas grew and my work branched out. I too became multi-dimensional in my approach to clay. It was miraculous how far I came in such a short time. I guess the psychic was right! :)
Below is the entire body of work I created at Brookdale. This body of work is what got me into Alfred University. I was looking to apply to Alfred as a graduate student. I was told by the registrar, that I would need a BFA first to gain entrance to their masters program. My BA in communications and film wasn’t enough. So I thought, no matter … just getting into Alfred as an undergrad, at “my age” would be like being in the graduate program. And to some extent it was. To be in that environment with students, graduate students, and professors of that caliber, was “mind expanding” to say the least!