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Connie Norman

Richard Burkett – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview

19EDE0C2-9AA4-4360-A730-4D398F9FF146 Richard Burkett’s ceramics are contemporary interpretations of common pottery forms such as teapots, covered jars, and pouring vessels. Burkett is perhaps best recognized for his prolific output of cups, each one having a unique shape, a different glaze, and individual decoration.  His highly distinctive “Gear Cups” have bases and handles that resemble industrial gears and machine parts, and these whimsical pieces almost seem alive.  Burkett’s gear series is his most recent effort to balance the mechanical with the personal, and the impersonal with the poetic. 

Join him for an opening reception  on  “First Friday”, October 1, 6-9pm at Plinth Gallery in Denver, Colorado.Burkett’s work will be on display through October 30, 2010.

For more information go to Richard’s website www.richardburkett.com.

For more information on Plinth Gallery go to their website www.plinthgallery.com. 

How did you become an artist?

I’ve always been interested in art and making objects, but thanks to a public school system that values science and math over art I was always encouraged to focus on those more “academic” subjects. I actually had advisers tell me that I should stay with science as a vocation and art should be an avocation. Luckily, I didn’t take their advice and during college switched from majoring in physics to art with a focus on ceramics. My first real ceramics experience was after my freshman year in college when I got a summer job making wheel-thrown ashtrays for the late potter Richard Peeler. I was hooked on working with clay, and the next summer talked my parents into letting me build a salt kiln in their driveway. After ten years as a full-time potter making mostly salt glazed ware, I decided to return to grad school. I’ve been teaching ceramics at the university level ever since, and continue making pottery and sculpture after over 40 years working in clay.0CE720AD-16B6-468B-9BCB-A4BC547C3E21 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’m still working on that ‘signature’ look. I’m not really interested in that as it seems too formulaic, but I do tend to focus on small bodies of work that have a common theme. This exhibition, for example, has a sort of ‘gear-ware’ motif running through it. Much of my work over the years has had an element of repurposing of found objects and industrial cast offs. Sometimes, as in this work, the gears are clay, but other bodies of work have combined actual industrially manufactured metal parts as handles and spouts . A few of these pieces have cast bronze or iron lids and other metal parts that I’ve fabricated.31CB2C8A-C280-4C8C-871B-828767EB19AA What is your inspiration for your pieces?

I’ve always had a fascination for things that have been made out of necessity from objects and materials at hand. My first pottery was located on what had been my grandfather’s farm, and there were lots of things around that he had made during his lifetime that spanned the Great Depression when there was no money to buy anything. Both my grandfather and father were inveterate tinkerers and makers. Additionally, my father was a chemistry professor, so visiting his laboratory and looking at glassware other chemical porcelain has had a resonance in my ceramic forms.BurkettCups_002-001 

What keeps you motivated?

I love to make things, to see new forms emerge from clay.E2C87169-C3A0-447F-BE14-0F0070F80571Are you a full-time artist?

Yes, in that I teach art and ceramics at SDSU so I’m always thinking about art in some fashion, but I don’t make ceramics to support myself. I also play music, another art form. I think I live a pretty full creative life.BurkettCups_019-001

 How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?

I usually work in series. Starting to make new work is always the hardest part. I often start by making objects that I’ve made before, and see where the variations lead me. I sketch work both on paper and in clay, and often revisit forms I’ve made in the past to see how I can make them better.

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

My desire to work in clay was certainly inspired by that first summer job making ash trays for Richard Peeler. Other than some minor contact with clay in grade school, that was my first real ceramics experience. My dad taught me how to make all sorts of things, including how to turn bowls on a lathe. My mother taught me how to do silk screen printing one summer after she took a class. I remember always wanting to make things.burkettcups_013-001What or who inspires you?

Wow – a bunch of stuff. I’m inspired by the immensely rich history of ceramics. I’ve been lucky to have visited museums all over the world to see pottery from the past. I’ve traveled many times to Ecuador on a project to document indigenous potters and pottery there before it disappears. Diversity of form and surface has certainly inspired me. I love texture. I love industrial forms.Like most artists, I’m constantly in awe of natural form, color and surface. There are so many great contemporary ceramic artists out there doing wonderful work. All of these things inspire me, even though I may not be making work that seems to immediately draw elements from any of these sources directly.

burkettvessels_002-001 How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

That’s always a hard thing, especially when my main work is teaching at a university. I work in clay and play music to help forget the traumas that state bureaucracy inflict. Studio work is a joy that I try to savor when I can.BurkettCups_022-001

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

I’m really not the person to ask about this. What I’ve learned so far is that I really don’t want to make the kind of work that I think I’d need to make as a business venture that was my sole means of support. I did make pottery for my living for about ten years after college in the 1970s. I enjoyed that part of my life, but I found I enjoyed the aesthetic interaction of teaching ceramics more. My best advice to anyone thinking about making ceramic objects for a living is stay true to your own aesthetic, your passions, and your standards, then find a partner or employee to do the promotion, office work, shipping, bookkeeping, grant writing, gallery solicitation, etc. that needs to be done to make it possible for you to make what you do best. It’s nearly impossible to do it all yourself.BurkettCups_020-001

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

Look at the world around you, study the past, look at the present, try everything. Then make work that integrates the elements that excite you the most from all this without directly copying anything, while synthesizing the best of everything. David Byrne said “If you can think of it, it exists somewhere.” Yet the field of ceramics is so broad and so complex that one can still find an original niche in one’s choice and synthesis of visual elements.

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2 Responses to “Richard Burkett – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview”

  1. ang Says:

    hey connie, I have been an admirer of Richards work since college days…his soda fired blue cups totally grabbed my attention..I was doing mold making at the time :) ) still love it, thanks for this one and super impressed the link to your blog is now working on my page… woo hoo!!!

  2. Connie Says:

    Hi Ang
    I’m really glad you enjoyed reading Richard’s interview. I’m always glad to hear people are enjoying the interviews.