Kip O’Krongly – Artist Interview
I love blogging!! In my opinion, blogging is the one of the greatest inventions since duct tape. When I first started my blog I thought I was pretty familiar with what was going on in the clay world. As I started my blog travels I've found many amazing artists I had never seen before, and I wanted to find out more. My blog has connected me to fellow ceramicists and now I have daily conversations with them. It has opened my world so much, and I’m so grateful. So with that said… Kip O’Krongly is one of those artists I ran into during my blog travels. Her work is striking, and I think her imagery is unforgettable. Kip is currently living in Minneapolis, Minnesota and working at the Northern Clay Center. See Kip’s work in the March 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly and at the NCECA Invitational Exhibition, Earth Matters, in Philadelphia March 31st - April 3rd. Kip’s blog: http://kipokrongly.blogspot.com/ Kip’s website: http://www.kipokrongly.com First off, thanks so much for asking me to do this, I've really enjoyed reading other artist's interviews on your blog and I hope this sheds a little light on my own path in clay thus far. With that, here goes! Tell us a little about yourself! I currently work as a studio artist, instructor and the material technician at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. I began taking classes at NCC in the fall of 2008, moved into a private studio space in January of 2009 and started the tech job and teaching this past September (just in time for the American Pottery Festival!). Given that my job and my studio are both at NCC, that's where I'm spending most of my time these days - luckily my husband and I only live five blocks away! Before starting at NCC in 2008, my husband and I lived in Pittsburgh for almost three years where I worked as the ceramic coordinator at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (similar to my current job at NCC, but on a much smaller scale). Since I graduated from Carleton College in 2001, I've had jobs as a dental assistant, a bookbinder, a ceramic apprentice, and a baker. These days, when I manage to get out of the studio, I love to spend time baking (I'm just about to pull some bread out of the oven), knitting, and I'm learning how to sew. I guess I'm a fan of working with my hands :) How did you become an artist? That's an interesting question. Looking back I guess I realize that I always was. I was fortunate to take a lot of art classes as a child, and would get lost for hours painting and drawing. It's not something that I ever thought of as a possible career, however, until I apprenticed with Tom Gilfilan at Whitefish Pottery. After an intensive year of clay in Whitefish it felt possible (and necessary!) for me to piece together a life with art playing a central role. 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 feel pretty strongly that I'm still developing my voice in clay. I've made some real strides in the last year toward establishing a unique clay vocabulary, but I feel like I have a lot to explore yet (which is a good thing!). At this point, my work is an attempt to make everyday, functional pieces that encourage conversation. I use bold contrasts and crisp imagery to draw greater attention to these objects we use on a daily basis. Meal times provide us with an opportunity to gather and connect and I see these daily moments an amazing opportunity for idea generation. I hope that my work sparks conversation about contemporary issues and can be an instigator (however small!) for positive change. It has taken me a loooong time to get to this point in my ceramic work (I started working with clay my sophomore year in college which was 1998 - and I've had a few years off here and there) and I am still learning and exploring new avenues all the time. Starting out there are so many technical hurdles to jump over before you can begin to express yourself well. Now, I feel like I have a solid "tool-kit" to draw upon when I have an idea. I still run into problems (glazes have always been my nemesis!), but I feel like I have a framework to break down issues into manageable parts. Plus, I've got an amazing resource in all the wonderful people who work at NCC. What is your inspiration for your pieces? My current body of work is influenced both by contemporary discussions about food and energy as well as a few pivotal events in my past. As a child growing up in Alaska, I experienced our thirst for energy firsthand in the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 – I was just ten years old at the time. I had no clue what a considerable weight the event would have on my future relationship with energy, but it remains a vivid moment over 20 years later. My husband, an environmental economist, also has a significant impact on my work in clay. His studies of resources and energy weave into our conversations and ideas we discuss often filter into my work. On his recommendation, I first read the The Omnivore’s Dilemma by food activist Michael Pollan. This book marked a significant change in my approach to working with clay. His clear voice gave me a concrete structure to ideas I had previously only been able to piece together. Using his book as a starting point, I have found a written framework to explore in a visual format. I continue to be influenced by and draw from some of the concepts contained in his book as I think about my work today. What keeps you motivated? The other afternoon two women stopped by my studio and were looking at some of my pots with wind turbines on them. The three of us started talking and we had this great conversation about wind power and alternative energy. The thought that this work can stimulate constructive dialogue gets me so excited! Plus, I really (really!) love the material. 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? I am not full time in my studio, but I do feel like I am a full time artist. Pugging reclaim clay can be an art form! So can mixing glazes or baking bread. Working at NCC has provided me with an excellent support structure for my continued work in clay and I get to stay involved with ceramics even when I'm not in my own studio. Given that I do have some pretty big obligations outside of my own studio time, the evolution of my own work has slowed down a bit. I do a lot of sketching and try to record those random ideas that pop up for later. I love post it notes! Typically, once I have an idea that's appeared a few times in my sketchbook I'll start trying to make it in clay. Something that I'm really excited about right now are cake stands. But cake stands feel like a big project to dive into, so I'm starting out with some cupcake stands as a place to work out a few ideas. I am a big fan of starting small. Taking a problem and breaking it down into smaller components can be a huge help in resolving those larger forms. What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it? I can't really remember a time when I wasn't interested in making things. I think the urge to do something creative, to decorate things and to make in general, is a fairly ingrained human characteristic. It's just a matter of weather or not that creative side is nurtured and encouraged. I was very fortunate to have a family who pushed me to explore my interest in the arts. I have always been drawn primarily to crafts, I'm not exactly sure why. I did a lot of bead work as a teen, had a business painting furniture as a young adult and one binding custom books after I graduated from college. Something about clay though, (maybe the combination of science and art), has me thoroughly hooked. What or who inspires you? So many things! Cooking and food (food production, processing and packaging in particular); community, energy use, climate change, technology and the field of science in general. I also just love color (the work of Niki Buckley Crosby is great color inspiration!) and design. In terms of specific clay artists, I have long been inspired by Nick Joerling and currently swoon over the work of Shoko Teruyama and Diana Fayt. How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance? Sometimes, I don't. I've been in a fairly work-intensive period for the last year, but it doesn't really feel like "work". I think that for me, the line between work and life is pretty murky. Ceramics is a huge part of who I am, so it's hard for me to ever fully shut that part off. Eventually, I would like to be in my own studio full-time, have a little more time for my husband and friends, and to pursue some other hobbies more fully (like baking and sewing!). But right now, as I'm still in the early stages of establishing my ceramic career, it feels like the studio is where my attention needs to be. Tell us about your experiences at the Northern Clay Center. I really enjoy working and having studio space at NCC. There aren't many places like it in the country solely devoted to clay - I am thankful every day to be there. Sure, there are some not-so-fun parts (like when I spilled a garbage can full of reclaim slop onto the floor recently - disaster! Or when the gas kiln didn't want to shut off until 11pm on a Friday night), but it is so invigorating to be around such a creative, supportive group of people. A typical day for me means walking to the studio by about 8am, and working on my own work until 10am. From 10 - 4pm I transition over to the tech position and then back to my own studio for the late afternoon and evening. During my studio tech hours, I spread my time between reclaiming clay, mixing class glazes, slips and stains, loading and unloading bisque kilns and glaze kilns, restocking supplies, material inventory and whatever else comes up. The tech position is a year-long job, with the option to renew for a second year pending performance. I'd like to stay on for another year if possible, and then am thinking about applying to graduate school. What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look? I just read Ron Philbeck's interview not too long ago and I think we're on the same page with this question. PERSISTENCE is key. It's all about working, especially when it's hard and you don't feel like you're getting anywhere (easy to say, but difficult to remember, I know!). If you want to find that voice, if you know it's in there somewhere, it often takes some digging (and pulling, and prying) to get it out. And even once you've hit on something, the work doesn't stop there. It's a continuous process of pushing yourself, being present, and then knowing when to just let your hands and intuition take over for awhile (I still struggle with ALL of this, by the way!). Ultimately, if you keep working, keep talking and keep thinking, with time you'll look around and find yourself in whatever it is you choose to pursue. Kip thank you so much.