I met Kevin Snipes in a demonstration workshop in 2019. Kevin is a very thoughtful, intentional artist. Last month I spoke with Kevin from his new home in Philadelphia where he is now artist-on-residence at The Clay Center. What follows are observations from our workshop and later conversation.
Kevin hand builds his pieces using a white porcelain clay. He presses the porcelain into slabs, cut shapes out of those slabs, and assembles the cut pieces together into panels forming a small-scale, multi-faceted vessel. These “panels” provide a surface for decorative treatment. Kevin typically populates these panels with characters who interact with each other through snippets of dialog.
“I started as a wheel-thrower, but I stopped using a potters wheel because I wanted the conversation I build on my pots to have stopping places,” Kevin says. “Multiple, distinct sides naturally seem to provide those stopping places. Thrown pots are typically round, but because I’m interested in concept of multiple sides, I stopped using the wheel and now create multi-sided pieces.”
Kevin continues, “My characters are simple and [doodle-like]. I like a certain sense of childlike wonderment in my work. It’s something I want to retain in my pieces. Also, my characters aren’t colored in. That is intentional. I work in porcelain which is pure white. So when I sketch the outline of a character, the color of the character is white. My characters can be any race or ethnicity. I don’t define that. As an African-American artist, I enjoy playing with that ambiguity.”
“A lot of my work involves the idea of “otherness” and the connections and relationships that different elements have to each other. There are the characters on the pot. They are separate but have a relationship. There’s also the viewer and the pot. The pot is apart from, or other than, the viewer, but they also have a relationship. I enjoy this interplay between separate elements and actors.”
“I introduce these environmental references – the snippets of conversation I overhear and incorporate into conversations typically going on between characters that I’ve put on different sides of the pot. I like to explore what happens when things that are different come together or interact. It’s a very fluid process, part very intentional and part where I allow my intuition and imagination to take over.”
Kevin is very conscious of his surroundings, and that awareness wiggles its way into his porcelain pieces. “I incorporate what’s going on around me into my work. I allow my environment to influence my work.
Being open to my environment is one of my tools, like using my sketchbook. I incorporate elements of language – snippets of conversation and parts of songs – and sometimes also markings from mathematics into the narratives on my pottery.”