Grayson Fair’s sense of gooey material caught my eye and kept my attention as I looked through his website. As I have worked a bit with slip trailing, I found Grayson’s “Slipstack” series in particular very arresting. The more I look at Grayson’s work the more I find to relish and enjoy, particularly since Grayson incorporates interesting techniques involving mining his own clay, dripping clay and dropping wet clay – almost acts of arbitrariness. I reached out to the artist and asked him a bit about his process and how it has evolved over time. Hopefully you, too, will enjoy the conversation.
JW: You started ceramics making functional pottery, but you’ve since changed focus and are making non-objective sculptural work. What lead to that transformation?
GF: I spent years making functional pottery, and I was always trying to find my aesthetic, but I never really had continuity throughout the work. As I started making sculpture, I started to find my voice in ceramics. I found that if I made a pot, it was alright, but if I threw that pot on the ground and manipulated it, it came to life. My goal has always been to be a contemporary artist, and while clay is my current medium, I do not want to work exclusively with ceramics.
JW: I see you studied fiber in college. How strongly did working with fiber influence your ceramic work? Or did it at all?
GF: Currently my work very much resembles fiber and fabric. While this is not the inspiration for the work, it still informs the process. I believe that almost every encounter informs who you are and the art you make. My time working with fibers had a lasting impression on me, whether I notice or not.
JW: How would you describe the evolution of your work? Is there a theme (or themes) that tie things together?
GF: As the years have progressed, my work has become more action-based. I think that as my confidence within ceramics grows so does my ability to make quick movements and decisions that lend to an interesting end result. The theme that ties my work together through the last five years is the ability to preserve a moment through action. This moment is a record of a time, a feeling, and a place. At times I have called my sculptures self-portraits, because they have encapsulated who I was in an instant.
JW: Your slipstack series looks like the pieces are composed of slip trailings, layer upon layer. Can you tell me about that process and what inspired your work with slip trailing?
GF: When I lived in North Texas, I was researching and working with native clays. At one point throughout that process I had a large amount of slip and I was trying different methods of drying. I decided to pour a circle of slip on the concrete floor and added a layer every hour for a few days. That first piece cracked and failed but it sparked the idea of stacking the slip into what we humorously called “Spaghetti Castles”. Eventually I worked on 10-20 pieces at a time slowly layering slip with an icing bag.
JW: It seems as though you use an extruder for much of your later work, and then allow extruded shapes to merge together. Am I off on this? Again, what inspired you to tackle this type of work?
GF: used mostly extruded forms while in residence at the Reitz Ranch. The tubes seemed like the best way for me to record action while still being able to construct forms. I would layer, bend, drop and stack various extruded forms to build sculptural vessels. Eventually I moved away from this technique because the extruder is one of my least favorite tools to operate, and when clay becomes cumbersome I lose interest. Currently my work is made from slabs; thrown, altered, and combined into sculptural forms.
JW: Can you tell me a little about your creative process? Do you prepare any sketches or prototypes before starting a piece (or series)? Or is your work more fluid and intuitive?
GF: I tend to work as intuitively as possible. I am entertained by a technique, and then I try to make my work while exploring that process. I might have a form in mind, but I try to keep my intention separate from the work and allow the material to determine the outcome. Due to this uncontrolled manner of making, I filter and reclaim about half of my before firing to ensure that I am only finishing the best work.
JW: I see some functional pieces on your website. Do you still create functional pieces?
GF: I do still create functional pottery but never outside of teaching ceramics classes. I use pots as teaching tools and tests for atmospheric firing. I keep pottery on my website because I have been applying for residencies for the last six years and I believe that when clay studios are accepting residents, they like to see a variety of skill sets.
JW: How are you selling your work? Do you sell off your website, through a gallery, at art fairs, etc?
GF: I sell a fair amount of work through studio visits and through instagram. In the past I’ve sold through galleries, art fairs, and exhibitions. I was able to sell a fair amount of work last year through my contacts at AMOCA as well as my solo exhibition “Sequences”. I have not been selling much work since arriving in Montana, but I am working towards representation through a gallery in LA.
More of Grayson’s work can be found on his website and on this AMOCA website. I encourage you to take a look at the AMOCA website as it includes one video interview with Grayson following his 2020-2021 artist residency at AMOCA in Los Angeles, plus a second studio visit video.