Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Jonathan Kaplan – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview Part 2


Back with Artist Interviews again! Jonathan Kaplan has his second interview on my blog, (read the first interview here.)  Jonathan is the owner and curator of Plinth Gallery in Denver, Colorado.

“Divertimento” opens at Plinth Gallery on First Friday, March 1, with an artist reception from 6-9pm.

The exhibition runs through March 30th. 

Building on the 2011 exhibition, “Prelude” at Plinth and most recently, “Ceramic Forms” at Laramie County Community College, Kaplan continues to explore the textured slab and his signature use of industrial parts and fittings in this new body of work. The pieces in “Divertimento” reflect his interpretation of the theme of parts and wholes, or what Kaplan refers to as “the combination of singular objects combined to make complex forms.”

Incorporating wheel thrown, hand-built, and press-molded ceramic parts, Kaplan builds both sculptural and functional vessels including large basins, condiment sets, serving pieces and teapots. His deft use of industrial parts such as phenolic ball knobs, metal handles, shaft collars, and coated cable provides both a visual and structural counterpoint to the ceramic form and surface. In addition, his bird and fish forms appear, as seen previously in his “Nouveau Moche” series as well as his “Plinthed Vessel Series”. -Plinth Gallery

For more information on Jonathan and Plinth Gallery make the jump here.

You have a solo show coming up at Plinth Gallery; I hear that you have chosen musical titles for this exhibition and at Plinth in 2011.  How did you come up with the title of “Divertimento” for your show?

Classical music has very interesting structures and can take many forms. Having been a student of both classical piano and flamenco guitar in my past, I understand some of how music can be put together. There are small parts, sections, or elements that are combined to present a larger part. For instance, in music dynamics,  the opening of a the first movement in a piano concerto might be played forte or loudly, and then it transitions decrescendo, decreasing in volume and tempo soon thereafter. The analogy for the work in this exhibition the “parts and wholes”, how it is constructed from smaller parts that comprise and whole, of completed piece. The first exhibition “Prelude” ( a movement or section of a work that comes before another movement or section of a work, although the word also has been used for short independent pieces that may stand alone), was the beginning of this theme “Divertimento” (an composition usually in a number of movements)  is the next step in moving this body of work forward.

Can you tell us what you are making?

I have included new large basin constructions and an entirely new grouping of handbuilt teapots. The fish and bird elements have again surfaced and have now become fully integrated into some of these pieces.


When and how did you discover the passion for ceramics?

While I was intrigred with how ceramic objects were made when my first instructor, Rebecca Willis at Oakwood School, made a piece on the wheel.

I think my passion for ceramics began when I saw Edward   Kidder’s book  “Jomon Ceramics” and learned that the history or ceramics paralled, or even charted the evolution of cultures and of human beings.

I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time now, and I notice that you approach to clay is to incorporate industrial components together to make your work.  Would you elaborate where that idea came from?

I had a ceramic  manufacturing business for many years and there was enough forming and finishing equipment to whet the appetite of any potter.  It was important to have spare parts on hand and I was already a customer of Grainger’s, McMaster-Carr supply, MSC, and a host of other industrial suppliers.  Browsing these incredible compendiums of “more stuff then you could possibly imagine”, I wondered what I might do with some of these parts.  Over time, I have learned that more is less, and I now have good selection of industrial fitting, fasteners, components, cable, rubber hose, etc. that I incorporate in the design of the work.  I am also enamored with how clay is the antitheses of all these parts.


Over the last few years I have had the pleasure of seeing the bodies of work you produce, with every body of work you have a new series, and how do you come up with each series? 

 I spend a good deal of time thinking about what I might make and how it will take shape. I struggled for a while with the idea of what constitutes a “ signature body of work”. After much anxiety, fear, and being told that I overly think stuff way too much, I realized that what I needed to do was to determine what my strengths were as a ceramic artist. For me, one of my strengths was form and design. So I then began to approach what I could make from a design point of view. Process then just became a means to an end. I just don’t get all that caught up in ways of working or of ascribing judgment or dogma to any particular way of working with clay. Time is just too short for such mental machinations.


Has a significant personal experience shaped your work?

I worked as a professional mold and model maker for 16 years and it provided with an entirely new context about looking at ceramics. And how important it was for potters and ceramic artists to look at how ceramics are made industrially.  We need to look at the ceramics industry really as an ally rather than a foe. There is an incredible amount of information that can be of significant benefit to our studio practice if we would only take off the blinders and open our eyes. Well, we need to ask the right questions first…..

In you last interview you talked about working in your studio 5 or 6 hours a day.  How do you maintain a rigorous and consistent studio practice?

I have found that if I have a goal to work towards, it is a bit easier to maintain a rigorous or perhaps better put, a consistent studio practice. I am very easily distracted and am learning how to deal with this. Sometimes I think I am a slow learner. Ideas keep me motivated, but sometimes it is difficult to get started. Like most of us, there are so many other things that are necessary to get done during the course of a day! I know, all our plates are overflowing…….

What techniques do you usually work with and what is your favorite tool?  

I don’t have a particular technique that I usually work with. It all depends on what the idea is, then I can decided what I need to use or work with. If I think a particular item or part needs to be press molded or slip cast, then that is the technique I will employ. For instance, when designing the teapots in this exhibition, I had a particular curved spout in mind and, the obvious way to make this was in a press mold. I carved a plaster model and then made a simple 2 part press mold to make the spout.

However, I have a growing list of favorite tools: I use two Slabmats and  a Yixing mallet to beat out my slabs. I then use a rolling pin and two equally sized wooden strips to make a slab of a particular thickness. I do have a very nice selection of Bison tools. A substantial mechanical pencil with an assortment of leads, a Foray brand rolling ball .5mm(fine) or .7mm(medium) pen, and my sketchbook are favorites. I am starting to draw on my iPad using Paper53 or Noteshelf  (both apps). These are all very cool tools.

If you could do one thing much better, what might it be?

I can’t isolate just one thing, however…….

My time management skills need to be improved for sure.

I do not draw very well freehand, but I can get the idea across. I would like to be a better draftsman.

My typing skills are absolutely horrendous. They need work as I devote too much time to making corrections.

As someone who has been involved with ceramics for al long time, is there one important thing you might share?

Sure.  For me it is important to give back in some substantial way and to pay it forward. Currently, in am on the board of the Studio Potter journal. The journal is the documentation of how we work within the context of being part of a larger society. It is the chronicle of experience as potters and ceramic artists, a compendium of ideas. It is an important part of our ceramic culture and has been so for the past 40 years. We need your help to continue for the next  40 years.  So if you would like to join and receive this quality publication twice a year, please email me. (

Jonathan and Dorothy @ Plinth Gallery

Tell us what you do for fun when you’re out of the studio.

I wish I could spend more time outside of the studio! Gallery work keeps me quite busy, and I certainly would not have any studio practice whatsoever if it were not for the hard work of my wife Dorothy.  She runs the back end, so to speak, of the gallery. Her hard work and involvement with Plinth Gallery are truly responsible for its success. Thanks sweetie!


I have never thought of myself as an athlete or particularly athletic.

Nonetheless, I am an avid bicyclist and aside from being great exercise, any riding I do helps relieve stress for me. I have skied since my dad taught me at age 5, so I get out twice a week during ski season on my alpine or telemark boards.

Thanks for visiting the blog and taking time to read all about Jonathan.  I hope you take a minute to comment to let Jonathan and myself you’ve stopped by.


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