It's an orange Autumn day in Greenpoint, the bescarfed crowds in front of Five Leaves undeterred by the recent temperature drop. A few buildings away sits a semi-operational woodshop that largely goes unnoticed and, beneath it, a ceramics studio, which is where I meet up with Bridget Ann Clark in the hopes of finding out how she came to produce her remarkable work.
"I've always done ceramics," she tells me. "Even though I was at Pratt taking printmaking classes, we were able to take other studio classes. I always had a ceramics class, except for my senior year when I was doing my thesis. But I still bothered them and went up there. I think I got on some people's nerves because I was taking up a lot of space and making a big mess and not actually in a class, but when you're paying to go to a school you kinda don't give a fuck. You're like, 'Well, I'm sorry that my creativity is inhibiting your ability to not have something in the way but at the same time, I don't really care.' So that's what I did.
It's that sort of drive that's fueled her success as an artist. Wait, no. Not artist. Never artist. Anything but artist. "I hate when people say artist," she mentions early on. "I know that sounds really weird. They're like 'She's an artist' but 'artist' falls under so many different categories. People who work on computers are artists. That's really hard and it's an art. There's an art to everything. I think that's such a vague statement."
As our talk progresses, the concept makes more and more sense. As much as Clark is focused on creating beautiful objects, there's an overarching utilitarian focus that pervades.
"My idea with working in ceramics and porcelain and using the medium is bridging the gap between design and function. I think there are many ways of doing that. I think that industrial designers are very good at that from a distance. I like that aspect, that they can do that. I was thinking of going into ID when I went to school but you're so disconnected from the medium and being able to react with what this material actually is. It feels very stale. So, I would say that my work is design-based function. You want to give it the element of something intriguing and something that people haven't seen before but you also still want it to be utilized.
"I don't feel satisfied if I'm not making things. My mother and father always were producing. My father being a woodworker, he was always creating, always building. I've never had a piece of furniture in my life that he didn't make. For me, that puts a lot of meaning behind things that I have. There's a reason to have what I have and it's not because I needed it. It's because somebody decided to make this for me and it's gorgeous and every time I use it, I have a connection instead of, 'Oh, this is just here to hold my T-shirts,' which I think is important and kind of the fulfilling of life in a lot of ways. That's what drives me to keep doing what I'm doing. The fact that people want to have that in their life and having it be something that I made is pretty awesome."
Perhaps what comes through most clearly is her appreciation for the people who've supported her work. "I take those compliments super-genuinely. To me, that's like: Okay, what I'm doing is actually worth something. The point for me is, people are going to look at what you're making and enjoy it and hopefully use it. That is more important to me than what I'm making in some ways. A friend texted me and said, 'I'm so glad you're doing this sale. You're bringing so many beautiful things into people's lives.' That is the sweetest thing that somebody can say—and that makes me want to keep making things."
Here's what she brought to show us:
THE STANDBY – PORCELAIN
"My go-to is obviously my clay. I use porcelain because I think it's really pure and I love the smoothness of it. It's almost like... when I'm working on something and I'm throwing something then I'm trimming it up so I can carve it, I start taking some of the clay off the bottom that's still really wet and too thick—trying to make the whole piece very even with thickness. I'll start taking my thumb and getting the extra semi-soft clay off. And there's something really nice about having this very soft, smooth, malleable thing in between your fingers. I'll just sit there for a couple of minutes and do this [mimes rolling a ball of clay between her thumb and forefinger], which is really weird.
"But there's something about porcelain that's very tactile and delicate at the same time that I really enjoy. It's very pure because there's no grit. I do love stoneware; It's not that I don't. It's so much easier to work with. But there's something about porcelain that's so... it's just super-delicate and beautiful and I think there's really something sensually gorgeous about it. It's very smooth and it's mud but it's purified mud. That's what I like about it. It's very clean... in a dirty way.
"So that's probably why porcelain, even though it's a bitch."
THE SPECIALIST – MASON STAINS
"I love using these when I can because I get to experiment and see what's going to happen and mix colors and make colors and utilize them in many different ways. I can just figure out new colors and do new things. The colors change depending on the temperature that they're fired. They're not always going to stay the same color, which is exciting—something of that nature. I really love working with color but I don't get to do it that much.
"These ones, believe it or not, I aquired from Greenwich House Pottery. Somebody had left a bunch of random things at the end of the school year, which means they are up for grabs for people who work there. So, I took these little packets. What you used to be able to do is, you would contact a purveyor of clays and you were able to buy little sample packets before you bought a pint of it so you could mess around with it and see if was what you needed. Now, you can't do that. You have to buy, like, a half a pint and really commit to the color. And so, you buy these mostly from Standard Supply. These ones came from Standard, which is where we get most of our clay.
"The really nice thing about creating a color in a slip is that you get to know that (1) somebody else can't have this color and (2) you get to control that if you're taking a clear glaze and you're putting it over a porcelain slip that you have colored, you're keeping it very true to the material instead of coating it with something. Coating with a glaze is really nice. People like beautiful glazes. Glaze is chemistry; it's interesting, for sure. But, like I said, the reason I like porcelain so much is that it has it's own tactility that you can't match with anything else and it has its own sheen and it has its own body that's so gorgeous that using mason stains and making your own slips and making your own colors can kind of keep true to the clay itself. If I'm making a color and I'm making a stain and I, say, throw a little tea bowl, I color the inside what color I want. You're also using a brush and you get to see that happen after you have this finished product. It's not just this flat plane of color. It's a little bit of brushstroke, it's a little uneven, you get to see more of the white porcelain coming through. It feels more true to the material than slapping a color on there just because it's a good color."
THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – l.c. #20 12MM CHISEL
"I always use a chisel to carve everything that I have and this chisel was given to me by my mom. My mom was a printmaking major in college and my dad was a furniture designer. My dad bought them for my mom and my mom used them when she was in college. My mom was kind enough to lend this one to me, So, for some reason, I always use this one even though I have more that very graciously were given to me last Christmas by my dad. I don't know why. It's the right length in handle. It never hits me in the arm in a weird way. For some reason, I just like this one in particular.
"It's actually for wood carving. It's starting to wear down really bad because porcelain is way more dense than wood usually. So, I have to sharpen it like crazy. It's also very, very soft because it is forged steel and steel, unless it's stainless steel, is not very sturdy. So I have to sharpen it a lot. You're supposed to use it for woodworking. All the chisels that I have are meant for wood.
"There are tools that are made for ceramicists to dig into clay but you don't get the same texture. But, using the chisel, you get a shape that can't be reproduced with any other tool. When you're using a wire tool and you're digging into the clay, you're essentially moving it out of the way instead of cutting it. Watching many other potters while working at Greenwich House and seeing what they were doing showed me that this is actually completely different. That's where I was like, 'This makes more sense and this is what I want.'
"I think that's a really cool thing about being a creative person. You learn to adapt. You solve problems. I think that's really important and I think that when people stop doing that is when I would question their creativity in a weird way. That's what I love about creative people is that they'll always figure out a way. If it really means that much to you, you'll figure out a way."
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