"My Life in Art"

Ceramist/Sculptor Greg White on “My Life in Art”

Greg White

My high-school ceramics/philosophy teacher, Mr. Bob Blanchard, told me, “You could do this for a living.”  He was encouraging me to enroll in the Arts Academy program at William Allen High School.  Stubbornly, I opted out in lieu of calculus, anatomy and physiology, etc.  His early-bird class made a serious impact on me though, and it’s funny that I am now making a living as a ceramist/sculptor.

As a kid, art was like playing, something I loved to do, and not something I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a lot of crazy things, yet I’ve always made stuff.  Now, being a professional is about refining my technique daily in pursuit of a very particular, and yet sometimes ubiquitous, aesthetic.   After all the hard work, I still love opening the kiln.  Taking time to inspect the smallest, most beautiful details is something that gets me out of bed in the morning.  It’s my addiction: the thrill of discovery.

I’ll have an idea, a spark, and then imagine how I can create such a thing.  The process of physically making something from nothing is different from simply imagining it.  Along the way, I have cursed at my materials.  Sometimes, I want to make something a certain way, my way.  That’s an ego thing, I think.  What I want to happen isn’t always what happens though.

I’m increasingly interested in anomalous precipitations, and their fluid evolution in the continuum of possibility.  Things happen especially in the kiln, “gifts from the kiln god,“ like an unexpected drip from the shelf above.  Late at night when the studio is so quiet, there is something primitive about it, like man in a cave with fire.  After so many nights, I’ve developed a relationship with clay.  I’ve watched to see what it can do, and what it wants to be.  Getting to know my kiln, through five hundred firings and four rebuilds, has been educational, too.

I enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and learning by doing.  For the past seven years, I’ve been an artist-in-residence at Tobin Studios.  Gratitude is what I feel, since I’ve had the benefit of learning from two living-masters, Densabourou Oku and Steve Tobin.  (They can still beat me in a game of ping pong.)

Densaburou Oku has taught me about flavor, in terms of a Japanese aesthetic:  wabi sabi, and the beauty of imperfection and evidence of process.  He once said, “Make like sushi.  Don’t touch so much.”

My mentor Steve Tobin has encouraged my career and shown me a bigger picture.  It’s been a wild ride:  Pouring bronze, constructing, and delivering the Trinity Root 9/11 Memorial  to New York City; the night before the installation,  I camped out at Wall Street and Broadway with a military guard about 15 feet away.

Another memorable time was installing a 20-foot painting by Tobin at the OK Harris gallery in New York City.  The gallery was replacing their back doors because they had been vandalized so many times.  My friend John and I got the idea to make a painting with the actual doors, which had just been hauled away as trash.  We chased those doors all the way to Saddle River, New Jersey. I’ve gotten the kind of education that you just can’t buy anywhere.  It’s changed the way I see.

For me, art is language with the capacity to engage people and share what I see. It’s an honest way to make a living. The American Concern for Artistry and Craftsmanship has invited me to participate in their show at Lincoln Center this June.  I’ll be there, selling my porcelain cups and sculpture. Plus, if the modern world falls apart, I can still fire ceramics in kilns.

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