Let’s Talk SHOP: Justin Rothshank

Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director

Artist Justin Rothshank of Goshen, Indiana has an impressive resume: he has exhibited and sold his own work nationally and internationally, made impactful contributions to both the ceramic community and where he calls home, and is a co-founder of the Union Project, the Michiana Pottery Tour, the Indiana Clay Conference, and the Northern Indiana Clay Alliance. An artist in residence, visiting artist, panelist, and presenter at numerous art centers, conferences, schools, and universities it is no surprise he has published in American Craft, Ceramics Monthly, Studio Potter, and The Log Book. You can even check his own book out, Low-Fire Soda. In this week’s “Let’s Talk SHOP”, Justin continues to share his process and provide a peek at his new body of work.

The artist stands, hands on hips, in his studio with two clay vases. The vases are unfired and in progress.
The artist in his studio. Photo courtesy of Justin Rothshank.

I’m interested in social justice and the natural environment. I create functional pottery with layered visual and narrative surfaces that reflect the complexity of these issues. I gather inspiration from the natural environment where I live and the world around me.

My family moved onto a 20-acre, undeveloped plot of wooded land in 2009. We built a house and studio using wood harvested from the land. We’ve chosen to raise our family here and we’re devoted to the protection of this land as a natural environment; however, we’re also faced with the conundrum of development versus protection. To use the land, we’ve cut down trees, poured concrete, and driven through the woods. We leave remnants and footprints of our existence wherever we go.

To maintain the woods as a safe place for exploration we’ve had to cut down trees, put in bridges, and remove vegetation. We harvest deadfall to fire my wood burning kiln. Some of my pieces are fired in my 2-chamber kiln using approximately 6 cords of wood, all harvested from the acres surrounding the kiln. The surfaces are decorated by the ash and flame created within the kiln firing atmosphere. Other pieces are fired in a variety of fuel-efficient kilns on my property, utilizing consumable energy that impacts my natural environment in significant ways.

I also make pottery depicting political leaders from our collective history and floral imagery, including the poppy flower, that represent remembrance and honor for those who have served, my opposition to war, and my interest in working towards positive social change through relationship building.

The issues I address, through imagery, form, and surface, impact us all, regardless of our individual political persuasions.  In making this work, I’ve reflected on the beauty, inspiration, and energy that the environment provides to me…the wildlife, changing seasons, flora and fauna, fuel and resource. Yet I recognize that we’ve changed the natural environment significantly since our arrival on this land. I make this work as a reminder of the responsibility I carry in preserving the natural environment, educating those around me, and understanding the history that impacts the present and the future.

Most recently I’ve worked on functional and decorative ceramics combining wheel thrown parts and hand-built parts. Using flattened, extruded coil-built handles attached to wheel thrown components I’ve added rainbows to my vessel forms.

After adding these structural rainbows and completing the physical forms of the vessels, I return to each piece to add rainbow colors.

In the last several years, I’ve become more and more interested in adding color to my work. Some of this is inspired by the zinnia and dahlia flowers growing in my garden but I’m also interested in the playful, happier expression I feel when seeing brighter colors.

I’ve learned much of this color application process by observing how my own children respond to color and the playful way they choose to add color to their own works of art. This collection of work feels like a return to creative play after spending several years focused on building my abilities as a small business owner and artist.

To see a variety of new work from Justin Rothshank, come visit us at the FWMoA Paradigm Gallery: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm.

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