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Forrest Lesch-Middleton – Artist Interview

Today’s interview is with Forrest Lesch-Middleton.  He is in the second week of his Kickstarter to expand his studio, for his newest chapter in his life to make handmade tiles for a company called Clé Tile.  I believe in Forrest and wanted to support him, plus I just love his work!   Hope on over to Kickstarter and check out his project watch the video and learn more about what his is doing.  You are just getting a taste of his project and ideas here.  Good Luck Forrest I wish you the best!

Tell us a little about yourself!

I am and have always been a potter! I began in the studio Freshman year of high school and it just stuck! My brother is an amazing 2-D artist and I had to do my best to avoid any classes he was in or I would end up being hazed! So, it was clay, and I loved it! At that point I was convinced I was going to be an auto mechanic, the fast cars went with my mullet.

Now, exactly 25 years later and I have discovered the world through clay. I had a teacher in high school tell me that it was in every culture and on every continent; I would always find common ground wherever go. And I have! She was also the fist person who told me I could go to college for pottery. I thought she was joking! But alas with her prodding me along, and after two years in between high school and college, I finally ended up at Alfred, eventually graduating with a BFA in 1998.

After a year in Maine, at Watershed; two years in Mendocino, California at the art center, and 3 years owning a gallery in Berkeley, I figured Grad school was a good choice. Utah State was the best decision I could have ever made personally, and of course for my work. I was ready to go, I went with the intention of injecting my work with a heavy dose of surface and history, and I think it worked out quite well. I will never be able to credit John Neely and Dan Murphy enough. They create an atmosphere that is ideal for developing a respect for the material and education while also honoring the social aspects that the material can demand of someone.

Now, Finally here I am six-and-a-half years later, (five of which were spent developing a program at a local Arts center) and I have committed the next chapter to tile!

When and how did you discover the passion for ceramics?

My passion for clay came to fruition on the many trips I would take to potters studios around New England after dropping my mother off at the airport, (she travels doing community intervention for indegenous communities that struggle with the trauma of government and racial oppression (that’s a mouthful!), and I often refer to her as my hero). I fell in love with the day-to-day studio ethic of a production potter, which I recently realized I have rarely glimpsed in my career. Instead I have gone in the direction of a potter/educator/tile maker/adminstrator as a way to make a living in clay in a very affluent part of the country. Making pots full time in the San Francisco Bay Area is very tough, so I have been happy to create my career as someone who has truly embraced and fallen in love with every aspect of the medium.

What other clay artist influenced you if any and why?

I think that this changes almost daily. History is the best teacher because it forces me to think critically as the artist, the historian, and the student. But unlike most good teachers, history never seems to return any of my emails! That said, contemporary artist are tricky; right now: Howard Kottler, Ursula Hargens, David Linger. I honestly don’t look at too much contemporary clay these days, so much of it is so good that when I do I often find myself thinking “Now why didn’t I think of that. Instead I am trying to shift my focus to the periphery of what I am enjoying these days; global events, science and the universe; the latter is a bit too big to ignore.


Has a significant personal experience shaped your work?

Yes, the bombings of Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Israel, Somalia, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. And the entire political tension that has overshadowed the people of the Middle East since long before world war two.

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

I have been working primarily on the wheel since having started in clay, but now, architectural tile and monolithic tile is very appealing to me. My Favorite tool is my ridiculous looking heat gun and my hole poker for teapot spouts. I also like my little tile press!

Here is Forrest’s video of his Volumetric Image Transfer if you haven’t seen it’s amazing to watch!

There is a remarkable touch of sensibility in your decorations. Tell us more about how you decorate and where do you get inspiration from.

My decorations are not my own. I use historic pattern right out of the books and images I find that illustrate the places that I draw the most inspiration from; primarily the middle east and the asian countries that have influenced middle eastern pattern over the last thousand years. So I have to give credit where credit is due. My surfaces however are really what I am trying to use to give a deeper meaning to those patterns. When a piece has turned out well in my eyes it is a mostly a comnbination of the consisitency of the slip, transfer medium and clay coupled with the speed at which I remove the transfer from the clay. This all underlies what the atmosphere in a reduction cooled firing does to the object to give it a patina that I am happy with.

You work with great delicacy when using patterns and symbols of ancient cultures on your work. How do you choose these patterns?

The patterns I choose to use are indicative of the story that has been told throughout history of how commerce and trade have effected cultures with the end result usually being a war or conflict that is played out in the middle of the lives of the everyday person, effecting them in horrific ways. Pattern is as old as time, and indeed MUCH older than humanity. Complex geometric patterning is not simply a mark of humanity. When people refer to sacred geometry they are referring to the crossroads of science and mysticism,. Right now, I am completely engrossed in the very complex patterns of sound and its effect on the physical realm.

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

I used to work as a corporate communication consultant. It was fun work that allowed me to ask very hard questions of people in very high paying jobs. I was taught a number of great exercises by many masterful people. The exercise that I use most frequently in teaching students that are stuck is called the five whys, and it very simply goes like this:

What is important to you?

Why is that important?

Why is that important?

Why is that important?

Why is that important?

Once you have gotten to the fifth why (and don’t avoid the hard stuff) make artwork from that place. And if you get stuck from there, look back in history at least 100 years or more.

 

 

You have recently launched a Kickstarter for your Origins Tiles; please tell us about your project.

A friend from the United Arab Emerates introduced me to Kickstarter when I was exploring a body of work that I imagine will come to fruition through my endeavors in tile. She basically opened up the dome of crowdfunding and the light poured in! Simply, I have been making tile that speaks the same language as my pots, it was picked up by a very thoughtful and artistically minded tile company who just so happens to do FANTASTIC marketing, and now I have to make more tile; MUCH MORE TILE! Kickstarter will not only help me fund this project, but it will give me honest feedback, though dollars and cents, as to the validity of my forray into tile (Disclaimer: never let money make your artistic decisions for you; unless of course you live in the real world and have children, car payments, grocery bills etc. then just do what you love well and do it just differently enough that it brings in a little income)

Through Kickstarter you’re hoping to raise $20,000 how will this help your tile production?

The $20,000 will be for a Tile Press, pug mill, and kiln. If I don’t make the goal, I get none of the money. If I make more than the $20,000 goal, I will put it toward a silkscreenexposure unit for the tile, and another top secret project that I hope to implement that could really change the way some people do some things with clay and glaze! – To be continued. I hope!

 

For more information please visit Forrest’s site here.

Here is the link to his Kickstarter.

Follow Forrest on Facebook too!

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

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