Not just for looks
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Everybody’s got to eat.
And that’s exactly who ceramist Steven Colby is making work for.
Sitting in his studio, he was passionate, sure about one thing ” these are pieces for the masses.
“I wanted to be able to put my work in a lots of hands, in lots of homes,” he said.
He also had a huge smile.
That’s because, for all his emotion-filled words, Colby, 31, is also just a friendly guy. His functional cups and bowls show it. Their heftiness and soft colors are fun and inviting. Their designs are simple, easily-understood. The air about them is useful, not delicate.
They’re proletariat pots, so to speak.
“This isn’t ‘capital A’ art,” Colby said, still smiling.
The accessible, user-friendly nature of clay is why he got turned onto it in the first place. Before he started ceramics a dozen years ago, he was a painter, one who created flat fields of color and landscapes. In a way, he was doing much the same kind of stuff he does now, only stretched out onto a canvas. It, too, was meant to be easily digested. Being a New Englander, he went to New York’s Alfred State College to further his painting. It didn’t take long, though, for him to find the ceramics department and get hit by its power. He realized then he could either make work for the limited slice of society that could afford a $10,000 painting or he could be working for those who could buy at $20 cup.
He knew who he felt more comfortable around.
In his mid-twenties, he came to Carbondale to work for its Clay Center. He ended up sticking around here, settling in, getting a job at Strange Imports and, eventually, getting married. After five years, he could see his work was evolving, but it wasn’t his livelihood. He wanted something bigger.
“This is a hard valley to be in if you’re just practicing the daily grind,” he explained. “And I moved here to be a potter.”
So he decided to do just that. A year ago, he gave notice at his job and soon was being creative on a professional level. These days, he teaches an occasional class at Colorado Mountain College, sells his stuff at the Aspen Saturday Market, and works two days a week at the Harvey Meadows Gallery at Aspen Highlands ski area. Of course, this isn’t a strictly romantic existence. Sometimes he has to be artistic when he doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes people will love something he knows isn’t his best work. Still, exploring clay, working six days a week in his studio, he looks like he’s right where he wants to be.
“It’s the only thing that’s ever made sense to me,” he said, of art.
He showed off a few of his newest pieces ” heavy, terra-cotta plates and wide-mouthed cups. The plates were decorated with simple flowers, painted thickly and looking like hard candy. The cups were white on the inside ” as he wants people to see what they’re drinking. For the most part, his dinnerware gets the same treatment. White (albeit a dappled and layered white) seems the most useful for people eating, he thinks, while his serving platters can get a little more crazy.
With all of them, he doesn’t use glaze. The paint is all ceramic slip which has been dyed earthy tones. Instead of adding a highly glossy surface, he’s simply adding more clay. The process, which takes place while his work is still wet, is his way of simplifying his stuff, making it more durable and thick in the process. It also takes away any surprises (pleasant or otherwise) that glaze might go through during a firing. This is about as far as he can get from a sweet and fragile little porcelain saucer.
That’s just how he wants it.
Making pottery with an “everydayness” might not be glamorous, but that is the tradition he honors. Forever and always people will need ceramic wear that really works. That’s a challenge he takes to heart.
“I find that my job is to make those objects as beautiful as possible and make it with sincerity,” he said.
And as he explained before, it’s just too tough to live here if you’re not doing the job you want to.
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