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Connie Norman

Jeff Campana – Artist Interview

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Today’s interview is with Jeff Campana who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a lecturer at the University of Louisville; Jeff Campana exhibits his unique style of functional ceramics locally, regionally and nationally. Jeff’s work is definitely complicated; he dissects his pots completely then puts them back together, the results are absolutely amazing.

Jeff’s blog/website: http://jeffcampana.com/     

Jeff’s shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/CampanaCeramics

Tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up outside Madison Wisconsin.  Right now I’m teaching ceramics at the University of Louisville and Indiana University Southeast.  I spend my days making work, applying to jobs and shows, teaching, and little else.  I’m hoping to get into a residency next year so I can have more time to relax, and more time to make work. 

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How did you become an artist?

In first grade when I was first learning to write, I wrote “when I grow up I want to be a sculptor.”  I’ve always known that I was meant to be an artist.  I made the real actual decision to become one when I went off to college as an art major.  I chose the school (University of Wisconsin Whitewater)  for the ceramics program.  My entry to the art world was through pottery.  My high school had an incredible ceramics program, which gave me a nice head start.  I would never have learned anything about art if not for my interest in making informed pots.

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How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look?

I think of my style as bright, simple, refined, materialistic, stylized natural forms with puzzlesque decoration.  I am still working on making my work more my own.   I think of each piece I make as an attempt at redefining what my aesthetic is.  It is now and hopefully always will be a work in progress.  I had a major breakthrough during my final year of graduate school (Indiana University Bloomington, 2007) when I realized that I was drawn primarily to the seams of the thrown and altered pots I was making.  I stopped altering the shape and began  making seams purely as linear elements of my design.  It had the perfect balance of simplicity and complexity.  I knew I was onto something and just rolled with it. I have been tweaking it ever since.  I think that this process of cutting apart and reassembling my pots is the strongest and most recognizable of my visual signatures to others, but it is certainly just one of many from my viewpoint.  

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What is your inspiration for your pieces?

I am inspired by the natural world, the various roles and traditions of functional and decorative pottery, and by the endless possibilities and problems to solve with my material.  I see a strong connection between my work and works of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s and the Art Deco/Art Nouveau movements of the early 1900s.  We share basic principles, such as truth to material and honesty in process, exposed construction, simplicity in form, and the utmost importance of skill.  That being said, I am careful not to let things like that influence my aesthetic.  I try to keep my work pure, which to me means it is a reaction that I alone have to the material I am using and the processes I have chosen to incorporate.  It’s pretty much just me talking to myself through the act of making pots.

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What keeps you motivated?

I always have some dream I’m trying to achieve.  Once I achieve it, I come up with some new and better dream about what I want in the future.  I repeat that as needed.  When I experience success, it only makes me hungry for more.  During times of low morale, I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to do what I love for a living.  That always gets me back on track. 

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Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?

Yes, I am.  Most of my new creations come from a cycle of finishing work, then thinking about what I would change if I had it to do over again.  I then go ahead and do it over again changing it to be better.  Every once in a while, I will try some new form, some new function, or some new process, just to shake things up a bit.  Right now I am experimenting with slab built and slip-cast forms to then cut and reassemble.  They are nowhere near ready for the public eye, but I’m learning a lot from them at least. 

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What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?

It’s just always been part of me.  Creating is simply what I do.  I am also an inventor, an amateur woodworker, and a very good cook.  I’m constantly making something or other.

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What or who inspires you?

My students inspire me a great deal – to be a better leader, a better artist, a better member of the community. 

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How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

Oh, I don’t.  I work waaayyy too hard.  There’s no balance there at all – and it’s not even remotely healthy.  This is because (I think) I’m in a phase of life where I feel that I need to prove myself.  The competition for academic positions is crazy right now and I just need to work as hard as possible until I get one, as that is the ultimate goal for me.  Hopefully someday I’ll figure out how to relax a bit. 

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You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?

My advice is to keep your integrity and have confidence when dealing with customers. I used to take commissions and custom orders because I thought I needed the money from them.  I found that I was making 5 pieces just to get one to survive, which wasted a lot of my time.  I got such a waiting list built up that I was not able to choose what I wanted to make in the studio, but instead just went down the list of things I needed to make for people.  That pretty much sucked all the joy out of it.  It felt like a job all of a sudden.  I found that when I stopped taking custom orders, my work became more valuable, more special to the owners, and I now have customers who compete with their friends, “who has found the best Jeff-pot?” If they could just order whatever they want, there would be nothing to compete over.  Similarly, try not to make things just because you know they will sell.  When you do that, you are putting the customers in charge of what you make, and then it’s not really your art anymore.  For the same reason, I don’t do wholesale.  I have the attitude that I will make whatever I feel like making when I’m in the studio, and then I’ll figure out how to sell it later.

The number one thing is that you really MUST have an online store.  They are so easy to make and once you do it, there’s a way for people to buy your work whenever they want. Here’s an example: If Julia Galloway, one of my favorite potters, had an online store, I would have a cupboard full of her work.  I have none, though, because it is so rare to find an opportunity to buy it.  There are people out there that feel that way about your work, too.  Give them the opportunity to buy it. 

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What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

 

My former teacher Tim Mather used to say “the best way to ensure that you never find your style is to go looking for it.” My advice is to try to follow your own aesthetic compass.  Stop looking at other artists, stop looking at source material, stop looking at what’s going on in the art world.  Just look really hard at your own work, and pay attention to what you, not anyone else, think about it.  Be Specific.  I don’t have a single image in my studio, and don’t ever look at pots with the intention of getting ideas from them.  When you take the other people out of it, then it starts to become your own. 

Become a fan: http://www.facebook.com/JeffCampanaCeramics?ref=ts

Follow Jeff: http://twitter.com/jeffcampana

Thanks Jeff!!!

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4 Responses to “Jeff Campana – Artist Interview”

  1. Jeff Campana Says:

    Connie, it looks wonderful! Thanks so much for interviewing me and featuring me on your blog.

    Jeff

  2. jim Says:

    hi connie, great interview with jeff. i never get tired of seeing what he comes up with. beautiful work, all of it. hi jeff, i like that blue and orange cup and saucer glaze combo

  3. Connie Says:

    Hi Jeff,
    It was my pleasure. Thank you for letting me interview you.

  4. Barbara Says:

    Wow, such beautiful work. Love the puzzle connection. And the colors! I could look at these all day. Nice to get to know more about Jeff. Good advice about not doing commissions.