Let’s Talk SHOP: Joel Pisowicz

Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director

A photograph of the artist in a blue shirt outdoors surrounded by trees.
Artist Joel Pisowicz. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This week we introduce you to Joel Pisowicz, a talented potter who always amazes with his execution and beauty! We love that he is just as invested in the technical and scientific side as he is focused on the quality and creativity of his work. He is also very driven in nature; Joel has won numerous awards at regional art fairs, has participated in an extensive list of juried art exhibitions, and has even shared his talents by giving various presentations and demonstrations to the public. He has done all this while working as a full-time artist, dividing his efforts between running an independent studio (which he built himself from the ground up) and earning his MFA at Indiana University, Bloomington. As accomplished as he is, Joel is still always striving to bring fresh aspects to the esthetics of his work and learn new techniques!

As a functional potter, my approach to ceramics is rooted in utility. The pots I make are typically meant for use on a regular basis and my work strives to hold a healthy balance between aesthetic and utility.

The forms in my work tend to be stout and grounded to achieve a healthy visual weight. These forms are concise and often architectural in style, with the intention to maintain a taut profile without losing a sense of volume. They are adorned with stamps, studs, incisions, textured areas, and pattern to create a level of geometry that holds a conversation within the piece.

The surface and variation in the glazes I employ lean towards a weathered appearance. This combination of a tight, controlled form shrouded in a weathered, varied surface yields a harmonious contrast within the elements of my work. 

I draw inspiration from objects, structures, and pottery that are visually stimulating.  Industrial forms, architecture, hardware, contemporary ceramics, and historical pottery inform my studio practice. My goal is not to let a single influence dominate my aesthetic, but to have a blend of elements that communicates a familiar yet elusive feeling.

I’m excited to give you a glimpse into my creative process. Aside from making pottery, I spend a lot of time acquiring and appreciating work from other artists. My collection has grown over the years, but I am always adding more. Using and living with handmade ceramics brings me great joy. I feel that highlighting moments of daily life by using finely crafted, functional objects is important in many ways. Using hand-crafted pottery invites one to slow down, appreciate, and reflect during otherwise mundane moments. I use handmade pottery every day. Yet, I still get excited each morning when I open the cupboards and choose a coffee mug that fits my mood.

I come by these sentiments honestly. Most of my life has been intertwined with handmade ceramics and the materiality of clay. From a young age, I have used handmade pots on a daily basis. I have a very clear memory from when I was about 6 years old: I was eating a bowl of soup for lunch. Every bite of food I took would expose more of the beautiful glaze that decorated the bowl. When I finished my lunch, the whole interior of the bowl was exposed, and the sunlight shone through the window to light up the glazed surface. My eyes were drawn in closer and closer. I began studying the ebbs and flows of the glaze that had melted down the wall of the pot and formed fascinating pools of intense colors in the bottom of the bowl. I looked closer and closer until my little nose was touching the inside of this bowl; I was truly captivated.

So, over the years, I’ve continued to appreciate pottery. But as I got older my interest in ceramics grew stronger. As a hobby, I began making pottery when I was 18. After a couple of years playing with clay, I began to take it more seriously. At a certain point, I knew that I wanted ceramics to be my career and livelihood. I realized that I knew very little about ceramics in the grand scheme of things and decided to pursue training and education in the art of ceramics; therefore, I pursued and earned my B.F.A. from Indiana University, Bloomington in 2014. After that, I purchased a small plot of land and built a fully functioning ceramics studio in Porter, Indiana. Once this large task was complete, I got to work and started making and selling my ceramics at art festivals around the Midwest on a full-time basis. 

For this article, I focused on making a vessel that is about 18” tall and 12” wide. The piece is made from two separate parts: the body and the base. Once these two separate parts are combined as one, I added a pattern to the piece using slip (watered down clay).

Every pot begins with preparation of the clay. I wedge (or knead) the clay until it is consistent and free of air bubbles and debris. After this, I take my clay to the potter’s wheel, where the fun really begins.

The artist working on his wheel.

As the potter’s wheel spins, I center the clay and begin pulling the clay into a cylinder.

Once I establish a cylinder, I stretch the clay into the desired form. In this case, I am creating an orb-shaped form and a separate base for the orb to rest upon.

Finishing off the initial forms.

After the initial forms are created, I let the clay dry out until it is stiff enough to handle for the next step of the process.

Once the clay is firm enough, I flip the pots over and trim off the excess clay with a metal tool.

Readying the pieces for attachment requires scratching the connecting surfaces and applying slip to ensure they bond and secure.

After the pots are trimmed to satisfaction, I attach the body of the vessel to the base. (When attaching two pieces of clay, one must scratch the connecting surfaces and apply slip to make a proper bond.)

Once attached, the artist has one whole piece to embellish.

Now that my parts are securely attached I have one whole piece to add decoration and adornments to.

For these pots, my decoration will be a geometric pattern that forms a register on the belly of the vessel. I will be creating my pattern with an additive process where I apply slip (watered down clay) over a “resist” (in this case, tape).

Removing the tape a nice, clean pattern emerges.

When I remove the tape from the vessel, a nice clean pattern will emerge.

Adding some flair to the shoulders of the pots.

Then, I add some adornments to the shoulders of the pot; a decorative element to the profile that reference handles and add a sense of completeness.

Now that the making process is complete, I let the clay dry completely.

Applying the glaze.

Next, I apply the glaze. The glaze is a mixture of crushed minerals suspended in water. After the glaze is applied, I load the piece into the kiln and fire it to a high temperature, 2232 Fahrenheit.

The completed vessels!

 Here is the end result!

To see more of Joel Pisowicz’s work, come visit us at the Paradigm Gallery: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm.

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