Chris Alveshere is an interesting ceramic artist in that his work is highly focused on color and color combinations, which I do not often find. I spoke with Chris about the progression of his work and how color has come to be so central to his creative vision.
Interestingly, Chris mentions multiple sources that influence his work apart from color. I love how Chris seems so open to various undercurrents and subconscious influences that hover just beyond reason and logic — he seems so attuned to vibrations that others may discard or ignore. I found his descriptions of inspiration and process very interesting.
JW: Your work has progressed from rather muted tones to a very bright, electric color palette. Have you consciously driven toward brighter, vibrant color?
CA: The shift in the color of my work came as a result of explorations during my time in graduate school.
Before 2018, I did not really know what was possible in terms of materials. I knew what was possible with salt, soda, and wood fired surfaces, but did not have the skill set, knowledge, or facilities to go beyond what I had done in undergrad, which was primarily atmospheric fired pots. The material testing and time to work out firing types and temperatures for this new work was possible when I went to graduate school.
I received a lot of feedback regarding the atmospheric work I was making when I started my MFA program, and a lot of it was to the effect of “you are so much more interesting than your pots.”
I needed to find my voice in the work, and realized that I was making the work I knew because there was something comforting about it during the stress of grad school. There was a transitional body of work, maybe 3-4 months worth of pots, that I tried to tackle bright colors in wood and salt kilns, but was quickly deterred by the amount of stains I was burning out in those firings.
When I finally jumped ship on all things atmospheric, the work began to be more unique to me as a maker. The pots were fun to look at, to handle, and to assemble. There were endless color and form possibilities when I was no longer limiting myself to trimming everything from one piece of clay.
I realized I was not good at glazing, and needed to find an easier, more consistent process to keep the colors where I put them. The bright colors were not a primary goal of the work in the beginning, but now the punchiness and saturation of the colors is very important.
JW: How methodical & planned out is your creative process? Do you sketch things out in advance, or is your process more spontaneous and intuitive?
CA: For the most part I am under the impression that all colors can go together, some just have to work a little harder at it.
When choosing which colors of clay I need to have on hand for a specific run of pots, I do think about specific combinations of three or four colors that are known, or that I have seen elsewhere and may be relatable to the viewer or future user of the piece. These combinations might me as simple as primary colors or a series of monochromatic blues, but could also be colors reminiscent of plastic playground equipment or a new pair of Vans color block shoes.
If I am ever getting low on ideas, I will sketch a few dozen pots on my iPad, where it is quick and easy to try out new color, form, and proportion ideas.
JW: What attracted you to ceramics as a medium? Have you worked in other media? If so, what qualities about ceramics most interest you?
CA: I first got into ceramics after I found a pottery wheel in a storage room at my high school. Pottery was not part of any class, but I was able to set it up in a back room and teach myself during my off periods. I was hooked immediately. It was messy, challenging, frustrating, and somehow rewarding at the same time. I have done quite a bit of printmaking and papermaking as well, but always found myself coming back to clay. I am most intrigued by the diversity in materials we have in our field, and the access to the continuous growth and research opportunities this medium provides.
JW: You’ve mentioned that some color ideas come directly from commercial art or graphic design. How do you “farm” for ideas and inspiration?
CA: I absolutely was methodically combing through design books when I was starting this body of work. Books, blogs, magazines, anything I could get my hands on with color images. I found a lot of early inspiration from books about nostalgia, and images of mid-century modern furniture and design.
Now that I am a couple of years into making these pots full time, I rarely find myself seeking out inspiration. Most often I will see something while on a walk by the river, scroll past a cool image of a color-block backpack on social media, or see a wild logo or pattern on a beer can, and just run with that. My clay colors are never going to be a perfect match, but I get great satisfaction from working with these found colors combinations and capturing the feeling or energy of the object I am working from.
It is important that the color and form inspiration do not come from the same place. I want to keep the work fresh and relatable, but not directly reminiscent of a specific thing.
The form and swells of a jar might be inspired by an inflatable pool toy, but I don’t want the color to necessarily match that. I’m not making the plastic floaty duck that I was inspired by, so I might use a blue or purple clay rather than the yellow or pink of the physical object. This can work in both directions as well. I have a blue that is the color of 3M brand painters’ tape, but I will make a set of serving bowls with it long before I think about making a porcelain tape dispenser.
JW: It also sounds like you use quite a bit of technology to create your ceramics. What is your process?
CA: Let’s use a citrus juicer for the example. I will start with some internet and often thrift store research too see how industry has made parts and attachments for this form. I might purchase a couple that I am intrigued by and see what I like and dislike about them, and what works well and what makes a mess with a lemon.
I do some digital sketching in Procreate and rough out some reamer designs before creating them to be 3D printed in plastic. I like to use SketchUp or Tinkercad, as they are super user friendly and easy to learn. I make sure the dimensions are larger than I will need in order to account for clay shrinkage, and will actually test out the printed plastic versions before committing to making molds of them. If any of them work well, I will make a plaster mold of the object that I can use to press clay into. These press-molded parts are then attached to thrown bases to complete the assembling of the functional object.
JW: How important is a creative community for you? Do you have that now?
CA: I feel that being part of a creative community is integral to my practice. I am lucky to be in a city with a thriving arts culture and large ceramic artist population. Receiving feedback and bouncing ideas back and forth keeps the work evolving in my studio. I would also consider social media as a creative community as well. I get a lot of comments and questions from interested parties that I have no personal connection to, but it still keeps me on my toes and engaged in the conversation and potential that this way of making has.
As a community education instructor, I also get to make and maintain connections with a diverse population of my local community. I rely on these interactions, along with teaching private lessons and relationships with galleries, to keep connections to my community thriving.
JW: Where to from here? Are there other things that you’re exploring?
CA: I am nearing the completion of my residency at the Clay Studio of Missoula, and about three months away from moving out of my current studio. I am hoping to continue with my full-time studio practice, and am working on setting up a studio space with a friend in town. I have taught two mold making and casting classes in the past year, which got me hooked again on the process and possibilities of working in parts and multiples. I hope to continue exploring and growing my knowledge and skills of slip casting in my new studio. I am hoping to gain access to papermaking equipment in the months to come, and would love to explore some mixed media, and less utilitarian forms as well.
More of Chris’ work can be found on his website: www.chrisalveshere.com.