“No one plans to get into clay," quipped clay artist John G. Jensen. “They do plan how to get out of it, typically.” Yves Paquette jokingly responded.
The two artists, both members of the Savannah Clay Community and featured in the exhibition Savannah Clay 2019 at the Cultural Arts Center Gallery, were this week’s in-studio guests on Art on the Air.
This begs the question, how does one get into this under-appreciated medium?
“There was this guy named Mark Burns,” Jensen, who started as a painter, recalled, “He was a visiting artist at the University of Arizona. He put up a little sign, ‘Paint on clay.’ And I saw that and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
Jensen continued, “What happened was I went from flat paintings to three dimensions in the round live pieces. And I’ve been on fire ever since.” One has to wonder if the pun was intentional or force of habit.
For Yves Paquette, in many ways clay was in his blood.
“My father was a mason,” he recounted, “So at a very young age rather than having building blocks I would stack bricks, and that’s what I played with. And I think that that process, the bricklaying, how things are put together, has obviously influenced my work tremendously over the years. I have a tendency to work in a very gridded way.”
The two artists are as stylistically different as you could imagine, with Jensen’s work oftentimes utilizing the human figure in unusual ways, and Paquette focusing on clean, simple, abstract forms, recently utilizing a single color. As contrasting as they are, they’ve been linked together since 2011 as two of the seven artists who put on the first Savannah Clay exhibition. Ultimately that led to the formation of the official Savannah Clay Community group.
“It started in 2015. A former colleague of mine Mitzi Davis was doing an art administration degree,” Paquette reflected, “She decided a part of her thesis was to form the Savannah Clay Community. The first [show] was the Sip exhibition. Where we were not just looking at local art, but the idea was to have ceramic artists from everywhere to submit work for the exhibition. And it became extremely successful.”
Sip is a yearly exhibition of ceramic drinking vessels that has become one of the most popular yearly visual art events in Savannah. It’s so popular, in fact, that people literally line up outside of the Whitefield Center Gallery on opening night waiting for the doors to open so that they can have the first opportunity to purchase their favorites.
After establishing the Savannah Clay Community, Mitzi Davis left for the New Harmony Clay project in 2016, and current lead organizer Jessica Broad stepped in. “Sip is a way to unite us clay makers,” continued Paquette, “And the exhibition is currently at the new Cultural Arts Center is another example. We have 22 artists that are participating. And that was specifically open to members.”
For more on the Savannah Clay Community and the work of John G. Jensen and Yves Paquette, listen to my entire conversation with them embedded here! As a bonus, this broadcast includes my interview with Susan Laney of Laney Contemporary talking all about the Entanglements exhibition.
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. On next week we’ll have four shorter on-location Field Notes, with Karina Rosenstein, Kench Lott, Honor Hall, and Frank Unger!
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.