Jim Gottuso: Artist Interview & Studio Inspiration
I recently found out Jim Gottuso and I have something in common, we both make extremely time consuming pots. Jim’s pots are absolutely beautiful. Jim’s pots they have a mysterious quality to them, they look like they are written in an ancient language. If you have the time visiting Jim’s blog is wonderful glimpse into his art and daily thoughts, his blog’s has quickly become one of my favorites.
Jim’s Blog: http://jimgottuso.wordpress.com/
Jim’s shop: www.etsy.com/shop/gottuso
Tell us a little about yourself!
I'm 51 and I grew up in central NY state, moved to Kentucky for college and after graduate school moved back to Kentucky and have remained here ever since. I have a 5 year old daughter that keeps me and her Mom on our toes and completely entertained. I have a clay studio that is in our house proper that I enlarged a couple years ago. I love all kinds of music and like to listen while I work. I am a devotee of the observance of the irony that surrounds us every day.
How did you become an artist?
I'm not quite sure. I went to college to have an adventure (it was very much an adventure) and picked the art major on a whim. I loved clay from my first ceramics class forward and somewhere in there someone convinced me that it was a legitimate career path. I ended up going to college(s) for 9 years straight full time and got an MFA in sculpture. I think I was postponing the real life that awaited me afterward. I met lifelong friends in school and moved to Louisville to live near one of them. I tried to get a job as an artist or within the field but it was impossible and the economic reality that I had delayed so effectively during school hit me head on. My friend an I started a 3D computer graphics animation company in 1986 and my rationale was that since I was modeling 3 dimensional objects that this was somehow related to sculpture. I quit to freelance graphic design and build furniture. Ten years after the first business, we started another business doing internet development. During this long stretch of years, I kept thinking that I was going to get back into clay and at one time had even bought an old kiln that sat in my basement for years. In 2004, it was becoming clear that I would have to leave the internet business and right around the time it was winding down, I found out I was going to be a dad. I knew at that time that if I didn't embrace clay as my career then, that it would most likely never happen so I bit the bullet and here I am 5 years later with a fledgling clay career and a beautiful family. I am certain that this decision is the best work decision that I've ever made.
What is your inspiration for your pieces?
Although I do not consciously think about inspiration when I work, I did spent quite a few college years parsing what I like and don't like. I'm in awe of the beauty of the natural world and on some level I believe that the clay itself is inspiring. I worked with many other materials as a sculptor and woodworker and clay is so incredibly versatile. It is and has been all around us forever running the continuum from absolutely necessary, functional and useful to completely ornamental and functionless... from space shuttle tiles, to adobe dwellings, to Ming vases.
What do you create? Where do you get your inspiration for your ceramics?
I make functional and decorative porcelain pots. I love making bowls more than most forms and haven't figured out why I go back to it so often. I fire to cone 6 in an electric kiln currently. A good friend of mine is a collector and connoisseur of antique Chinese (and other Asian) ceramics and I have traveled to visit him at least once a year for at least 20 years. His house has a large collection of beautiful ceramics dating back to the 10th century. He has Ming Dynasty pieces and blue and white and blanc de chine and on and on. It's not that I was totally unaware of this magnificent history early on (although my academic knowledge of it is minuscule compared to his) but visiting him so often not only allowed me to listen to his expertise but more importantly allowed me to fondle the museum-quality pieces that we all are generally not allowed to fondle. It's not necessarily that antique Chinese ceramics is where the inspiration comes from but more what they (and others) represent. To think that someone 1000 years ago had solved so beautifully the challenges of form, surface, composition, design, function, etc. that all of us potters are attempting to solve everyday is quite an inspiration to me. The surface decoration of my pots is relatively ornate and I guess my inspiration for this comes from painting and drawing or more specifically I am in love with what a pencil or brush does when it hits paper or canvas or some other surface. I have always loved abstract expressionism as a movement and I love painters that tend to be all about mark making... Cy Twombly, Matta, Mark Tobey and Kandinsky to name a few. Clay allows me to add a 3 dimensional permanence to rather expressive brush marks.
What has been the most effective way for you to promote your art?
Well, I'm only in about 5 years so the words still out. I have my work in some galleries and that has been effective and I'm hoping it will continue to be even more effective. A year ago I decided to augment this with online social networking as a way to get my work seen by more individuals. Although I originally thought of the online and offline avenues as separate, it is becoming clear that if one is open to both, they will definitely dovetail. My blog is http://jimgottuso.wordpress.com and I'm on Etsy, Facebook and Twitter also. So if the effectiveness is measured in sales, it's too early to tell and if it's measured in how many people are exposed to the work, I have no idea because I do know about how many people have seen the work online but I have no idea how many people have seen the work in the galleries and if the gallery has an active website that muddles it even more... so how's that for not answering the question?
What is the most important thing you’d like people to know and understand about your work?
Hmmm... that's a poser. I guess that the most important thing is that I make what I want to make and much of it comes from the subconscious. Ever since college, I've always felt that if I were tasked with making something, I would have a strong inclination to do it a certain way and in the businesses I was involved in and in most businesses, you do not get to make what you want to make. We used to call it "death by committee"... start with a good idea and let it get pecked to death by ducks. It's like the old saying... "Measure it with a micrometer, mark it with chalk and cut it with a hatchet." Recently, a blogger friend added "then kick it into place."
What keeps you motivated?
Our lifestyle keeps me motivated. By that I mean a combination of things that makes up the way our life as a family is, the most important being the amount of time I get to spend with my daughter. I have the specter of my previous jobs as a constant reminder of the type of work I do not want to do. Combine that with my current job description (making pots) and that's it. It's like that bumper sticker that says, "a bad day fishing beats a good day at work". Just change it to "a bad day working as a potter beats... (x) fill in the blank with any other job.
How do you manage being an Father and artist?
I don't really manage it very effectively. My daughter trumps everything with me. I've managed to include her in many of my activities and it's becoming easier as she gets older. She starts school this autumn so I imagine my amount of hours in the studio will increase a bit. Mom's schedule for the last 2 years has allowed me way more time than I had for the first 3 years of my daughter's life. I spend every weekend solo with my daughter and I do not even attempt to get any work done and I have Mon. - Fri. for clay which is just like a real schedule. The only difference is that I have a little tornado in the house the entire time and I am incapable of ignoring her.
What or who inspires you?
If I try to think of an individual that inspires me, I usually just come away with musicians. There's too many to name so maybe the answer might just be music. I am so utterly envious of that world that musicians live in where they communicate to us and to one another using sounds and not words. Writing runs a close second.
Are you a full-time artist? How did you become one?
As I mentioned above, I am a full-time artist if you count a Mon. - Fri. job as full-time and I'm becoming more full time all the time and I'm hoping that when the little one starts school in the fall that I become an full time artist with overtime. I became one slowly over a period of years. When our child was born I probably worked 3 - 3 1/2 days a week and they usually weren't consecutive days and they were never the same days of the week.
How does your creative process work?
I go into the studio and try to keep what I'm going to do relatively undefined. For instance, today I'm gonna throw or today I'm gonna throw some big bowls. I have and do work toward events and have had commissions but mostly I try not to impose anything that would impede the natural flow of things. Just sit at the wheel and allow what comes to come. I believe that all of us potters know that on some level if it's not going to happen on a particular day, it's not going to happen. This doesn't mean that there aren't times that I have to force things but it's usually counterproductive so I try to keep aware of that. I have tried over the years to use a sketchbook to work through ideas but have to admit that although I love the romantic notion of having and keeping a sketchbook (probably why I keep trying), that I work through the ideas with the clay in front of me, just reacting to what's just happened.
Thanks Jim, for your words of wisdom!
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