Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Jason Hess – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview

Jason Hess is an “avid wood firer”. For over 15 years his research has focused on the alchemy of the process—how the clay color, wood type, kiln design, and ash dispersion work together to “render a surface that is unattainable in other ways” at high temperature. His work is either utilitarian or refers to utility in form while the presentation is more like characters relating to one another.  A desire to have objects that fulfill specific purposes inspires him to make functional pots. The infinite and elusive variety of texture and color attainable through the various making and firing processes has generated an interest in the notion of presentation. Some of his work is presented so that a viewer might notice and appreciate subtle diversities in form and surface. By grouping similar forms of differing size and color the compositions create a visually dynamic display, which invites the viewer to enjoy the tactile nature of each individual piece and how they relate to one another. -  Jonathan Kaplan, Plinth Gallery

For more information please visit Plinth Gallery.

For more information on Jason and his work visit The Nevica Project.

Jason will be giving a one day workshop April 7. 9 AM to 4 PM; he will demonstrate his methods for creating wheel thrown tall bottle forms and teapots, including construction of his press molded spouts. He will also present information on wood-firing techniques and his many years of involvement with the process. In this workshop their will be plenty of opportunity for discussion. All levels are welcome. Registration fee is $75 and full catered lunch provided by Fuel Cafe is included.  For more information call Plinth Gallery @ 303 295-0717.

Tell us about yourself.

I am an Associate Professor of Art and Head of the Ceramics area at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff AZ. I have taught here for the past 12 years. Before that I taught for 2 ½ years at McNeeses State University in Lake Charles, LA. I have a Bachelors Degree from Beloit College, Beloit Wisc. And an MFA from Utah State University.

When and how did you discover the passion for ceramics?

It was in high school at St. Paul Academy in St.Paul, MN. We were required to take art classes starting in 7th grade and the art department at SPA was excellent. I took Printmaking, painting and ceramics. Very quickly I became enamored with ceramics. I chose a college (Beloit College) that seemed to have a good ceramics program though art was not my intended course of study. When I visited the College they were firing a wood burning kiln which I had never seen before. So, I ended up attending Beloit and over the course of 4 years decided that Ceramics was indeed what I would study and major in. We had a great time in the studio at Beloit and I knew that I wanted to pursue graduate study. I then went to Utah State University to get an MFA.

How would you describe yourself and your style?

I describe myself as a potter who makes work that is predominantly utilitarian or refers to utility. I am interested all aspects of ceramics, its history, traditions, processes and technologies. The vast majority of my work is fired in wood burning kilns. I enjoy the interaction between the flame/ash and clay surface. I am interested in clay color and surfaces that are largely unglazed except by the firing process.

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 this is an ongoing process. I think it started for me in graduate school with the sets of bottles that I was making and still make.

What are you showing at Plinth Gallery this month? How did you come up with the title for the show?

I am showing new work at Plinth.  Tea Pots and Bottles, and Flower Bricks and Mugs, etc… They are all new ideas that have been made in the last 6 months, much of the show was fired in the past month. The work is almost all woodfired in a wood/soda kiln. It is also predominantly porcelain.

You are an avid wood firer, will you explain you fascination for wood firing.

I am interested in the wood fire process because of the variety of surfaces that are attainable. I have not found another way to generate surfaces that are similar or comparable. We also happen to have an extensive wood kiln facility where I teach, so I have a great many options and it is a big part of what I teach.


How would you explain your attraction for functional ceramics and does the wood ash play into your functional work?

I enjoy the connection between maker and user and the idea that I am making something for a specific use. I generally make things that are intended to be fired in specific areas of the kiln. So, I take into consideration what I make and have an idea of the kind of surface that I want to achieve (crusty, shiney, glassy etc..)

How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

I try not to work at the wheel for more that 3 – 5 hours at a time and to stand up often so that I maintain a decent posture. I also tend to work in spurts, so like maybe 3 – 4 weeks of making,  then a week of firing and then a break. My job and making art keeps me pretty busy, maybe 6 days per week to take care of everything. So, perhaps its not the healthiest work/ life cycle at the moment.

It is said that, in order to become renowned, an artist has to be a good self-promoter. Do you consider yourself one, and are there recipes for that?

I do not consider myself to be a good self promoter. I started by entering as many national competitions as possible in grad school and in the few years after. From this my work was published a number of times in Ceramics Monthly, Art and Perception and Ceramics Technical. I have also written for magazines, organized conferences/symposia and have been on panel discussions at the annual NCECA Conference. So I’ve just tried to be as active as I can in the field.

What do you love most about your studio?

That its at school and that I am an active part of our school/studio community.

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

I tell them to look at as much work by as many people as possible. Take workshops, get as many perspectives as possible. Above all, make lots of work and fire it as well as stand back and think about what they are making and why. It mostly perseverance to succeed in ceramics.


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