Last week’s picnic was with Adams Puryear, a sculptor, primarily working in ceramics, laser-cut stencils, and a secret recipe pink viscous ooze. His sculptures vary from large scale animated installations to smaller functional cups and vessels. Adams is also a founding member of FPOAFM, the nomadic ceramic arts collective we talked about briefly in our interview with Steph Becker last month. His work employs elements of time, change, functionality, and narratives influenced by comic books and literature.
Picnic: I like to start each interview by asking what you’re working on now, can you describe what we’re surrounded by?
Adams: The newer work would be these ceramic pieces. This really big one was made right before open studios in May. It’s an expanded idea of what you see around you, they all ooze out throughout whatever opening or for open studios. I like the primitiveness of the raw brown clay. I was working on this idea of basic faces, you can see it as a couple different things. I liked how it was kind of funny, but stark, it had a lot of different emotions with it too. I realized the face wasn’t really that important, and it was more about the bright bubblegum pink ooze coming out of it. So I’m going to keep the new ones this similar shape, but change where the ooze comes out of it, try to make it less of a face.
The face and the rawness of the clay feels very influenced by older cultures that wouldn’t necessarily have other colors to work with or glaze.
I was on this really bright color track for the last few years, and my idea was to reduce, reduce, reduce as much as possible and really focus on one or two ideas. Where with that work over there is all these ideas converging together. I’m happy continuing on this minimal idea, but starting to bring in more subtle color. I like the different tones of the clay, maybe heightening that or making stripes with it.
How does the tone change, is it different kinds of clay?
Yeah, it’s the same clay base, just some with more red earthenware, red iron rich clay. It has a purple sheen to it before it’s fired, then becomes more brown to tan. Just heightening that making a richer brown, adding more red clay, maybe making it more white too.
Yeah, your palette is changing from what I’ve seen in the past which was very florescent and bright and highly saturated, but you’re still carrying on this bright pink ooze, and this interactive animated element of time and change.
That’s definitely the central part too, I realized that just heightening that contrast between the ooze and this raw clay was something that was effective enough and interesting to me. It was worth sitting and looking at for a long time.
When did you start incorporating the ooze into your work?
About 5 years ago, it came as a response in grad school when I was working through all these different ideas. I realized at one point it was getting boring, the ideas were exciting to explore, but it was more exciting to figure out these ideas and how it translates into what I’m making rather than the end product. So I wanted to continue the sculptures moving or doing something rather than just sitting there with people looking at them for 5 seconds. Not sure where the idea came from but it worked out, the ooze slowly doing its thing over a long period of time.
I love the idea of bringing this chaotic element of the goo into the white gallery environment, when generally ceramic arts are very clean and polished and glazed; shown on pedestals or in vitrines. Bringing this mess into the gallery and not knowing where it’s going to go or what’s going to happen to it.
Yeah, it’s always kind of exciting, trying to work with a curator or galleriest to reassure them, keep them on edge. It’s easy to clean up.
Can you reveal your secret recipe?
Look I made an artwork about it. [right]
Good answer! Do you have different formulas to make it ooze slower or faster?
Yeah, I can make it thicker and slower. I’ve figured it out, to make it somewhat satisfying and somewhat unsatisfying, other than completely one direction or the other. In the past I’ve made it incredibly slow where you didn’t even notice it at all, even if you came back an hour later. It was too boring.
Do you find people really stare at it for a while?
There are some people who really get it, and find it really exciting. If you do give it time, you do stare at it, it can be really mesmerizing.
I’m fairly new to learning about contemporary ceramic arts, but I’m seeing a lot more experimentation with it more recently, especially in the gallery setting and in art fairs. Are there any artists you see pushing the limits that are worth mentioning?
The first stuff I looked at in the main stream art world was that generation that came out of the 90s, still fairly recently, like Sterling Ruby, Arlene Schechet, and those kind of people. I think those works are inspiring in a way that they were coming from a painterly/painter background or would bring in other things. Until then, people in my situation, who got their masters in ceramics had only really seen other artists working that ceramic arts niche, where everyone knows each other. It has really good benefits, it’s really insular, but ideas are just recycled over and over. So it was a nice fresh perspective. I guess at this point, there are still people doing really awesome things with it but it’s so over saturated. I remember going to the PS1 Art Book Fair, and it was at the point where there were ceramics everywhere in an art book fair. People who have good ideas, and their main art is pretty interesting, but their technical skills with this material isn’t very good, so it makes it all this sort of the same drippy multi color. So to answer your question, yes, but just seeing it everywhere, I have no idea.
So your answer is- yes and no.
Continuing on that thought, I was telling someone about it, going on the oversaturated art rant, which is good and bad. Someone thought that the momentum of the skill level had been brought up a lot in the past 5 years, even though that it’s been everywhere, people are getting really good at it now, which is exciting. Coming from more of a craft background rather than a painter background.
Yeah, it seems like there are more studios popping up where you can rent time. It’s also fairly easy to make a cup, and make it look good. But then there are other feats, like these works, I don’t know if there is a word for it in sculpture, but these to me feel very painterly, the thumbprints mimic brushstrokes. You can really see your hand, it’s not polished.
I keep coming back to seeing it as this larger subconscious movement that everyone is doing, being influenced by everyone, but also the influences of where the culture is at right now are all playing into it. I came from the point of view, the trajectory of recent art history, the Minimalists perfected everything to such a degree of right angles and removing the artist’s hand that this is kind of the reaction after that.
Then there is your new work, which is void of the human hand, the laser cut stencils. Is this your writing or are you appropriating from somewhere?
A lot of it is appropriated, but this [piece about the ooze] is mine. It came out of the winter, when I think everyone was feeling very hopeless, because of the snow and darkness, how winter always does. I was trying to funnel this hopelessness into something productive and proactive. I have a bunch of these stencil sayings, a lot of it is black spray paint on this holographic paper. It was something that needed to come out of me, it’s related in a sense but it’s separate too.
It’s a lot darker, than your past sculptural work, but I see it being related in that it is literary and your older sculptures feel very comic or sci-fi influenced, that there is always this reference to books.
Yeah, I guess it all goes back to comic books, just needing that narrative, or needing continuity.
What are you reading now?
I just read The History of Debt, by David Graeber, which was very amazing and kind of crazy. Sounds depressing but it’s actually not, his thesis is that by examining over time that the world or country has been in this deep of debt, everyone has student debt, everyone has foreclosed houses, whoever was in charge would call a Jubilee, and erase all the debt. Throughout history, every time that has happened, but he doesn’t see that happening now, there is no talk of it. He’s examining why throughout history the proper thing to do has been erasing debt, why it doesn’t make sense at some point, and how it happens in different cultures. Reading that during winter didn’t help too. Have you ever read any Garcia Lorca poetry?
I never really had but I found this book, he came to New York in the 1930s for a few years and wrote a bunch of poetry of his isolation, and the good and bad parts of New York. He describes New York in such vivid detail that it’s still the same, where everyone is crowded but very isolated, and there is gray slime and rats everywhere. It was an Ode to Walt Whitman, because he was very positive and would celebrate everything. But Lorca, was like “eh, no” it’s NY, life can just get sucked out of you. All these ideas spinning around, and thinking about debt is how I got started with the tea house and starting FPOAFM. It evolved from that as the backbone, finding different ways around exchange.
Yeah I wanted to ask you about FPOAFM, we talk a little bit about it in my last interview and Steph says the definition of it will change depending on which member you ask. How would you describe FPOAFM?
For me, it started by having this background in ceramics and always making cups when I needed to take a break from sculpture, and sometimes it would last a couple weeks, sometimes it would last a day. Every time I would go into it I would get excited about making stuff, and working through the same ideas I was touching on in sculpture, but in quicker ways either pictorially or sculpturally. I would always get really bored with it in a relatively short amount of time. Doing something with functional ceramics, but with an over-arching structure around it to keep it going- by setting up a tea house, or different ways of collaborating with people, focussing on functional ceramics through collaboration and conversation.
And it doesn’t get boring because you’re working with new artists each time. Who are some of the artists you work with?
In the past, Kate Nielsen who’s an artist in Greenpoint, we did a series of these together. I made these steins for a while, I saw them as bar fight beer steins. When I first moved to New York it still had this tough image, that doesn’t really exist, it’s very clean, safe and rich here. I wanted to bring back some hint of danger, but also to defend yourself in bar fights. So she developed this series called Rules of Civility, where it would be some typical urban scene- one side is the worst case scenario and one side is very civil. And then there are a couple Midwest people, Clayton Blackwell, is more based in traditional Japanese and Chinese ceramics with the whole process too, using traditional forms and putting my silly immature drawings on it. Those works were what got it off the ground. Then it has developed into this social engagement type thing, we’re running on that track until we get bored with it.
Were you making functional ceramics through school?
Yeah, I think a lot of people get into it from a pottery class, so I took throwing in college. It’s a very fascinating material, there is no limit what you can learn about it. At the time I was working on these really big sculptures which would take a long time, so it was nice and refreshing to be able to finish something within a day, from start to finish. That sense of accomplishment.
The drawings on your cups, and plates are always these demonic creatures, chimera, or people with three faces. Is there an underlying narrative behind these illustrations?
I think it’s positioning it against the main stream, for these cups I am looking at all these beautiful ceramics that are very sincere and they are boring in a lot of ways. So it is just to keep the edge on, examining it, it’s keeping it in a different area than people that just want to find beauty in ceramics.
Those bricks are fairly new too right?
Yeah, I had never been a text person before, it’s a very direct way to communicate. Something like that would be placed in a gallery show, these were in a ceramics show in Queens. I thought it was really effective, daring the viewer to break whatever.
Did anybody break anything?
No, I think next time I’ll set up a bunch of bricks in a room with a few panes of glass. Interactive functional ceramics! The other thing about FPOAFM is exploring what functional ceramics is, beyond just a cup or a bowl, this is sort of one way to do it.
What are these new drawings you’re working on?
These are sort of an extension of my sketchbook, going back to how with the sculptures I would focus on contrast, and so just using ink to plan out drawings for cups or the tea house. And these [the plates, pictured below] are something I’m working on with FPOAFM, how to build an infrastructure, how to get things working well, rather than loosely collaborating with people, so one idea is how to raise money to do this stuff. I came across hundreds of these fancy plates, and we’ve been putting these decals on them and using them as a fundraiser, a way to avoid Kickstarter, someone will be supporting our programs and getting a plate in exchange.
Where do you sell them?
Just online, it’s not fully functional yet, but it’ll be starting soon. They are food safe too.
Do you have any shows coming up of your own work?
I’m working towards something next year, the next clay conference NCECA is in Kansas City, so I’m going to be in their invitational show it’ll be at the Nelson Atkins Museum.
What is not illustrated in our studio visit is Adams’s incorporation of pink ooze in his larger vessels, the openings will leak and change over time, slowly covering whatever surface they’re displayed on. Check out some animated examples on his website http://adamspuryear.net/. And sign up for FPOAFM’s mailing list for future tea house events, workshops, and exhibitions http://fpoafm.com.