In January Adrienne Eliades visited us here in Savannah, and did a workshop on surface decoration at Savannah’s Clay Spot. After the workshop we got a chance to sit down and ask her some questions.
SAVCC: What got you interested in clay?
Adrienne: I’ve always done clay, since I was a little kid. My mom was an artist. She always made it really easy for me to draw or paint or take classes. I worked with Sculpey clay and did projects in elementary school and high school, you know the embarrassing stuff. Once I went to college I ended up in North Carolina and as you know NC has a great history with clay. Honestly I went to school there because I wanted to be near the beach. It didn’t have anything to do with knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. UNCW only has a BA, but the professor there Aaron Wilcox is really great and really engaging. He went to Cranbrook and has all that theory in his teaching. I decided to do clay for my major there. I did an honors thesis about the local clay and the history of NC potters. I fell in love with the lifestyle of it. After school, it felt really natural to find myself working in the studios of different artists. I worked for a tile muralist Gayle Tustin, and Justine Ferreira who had a gallery in downtown Wilmington. I was seeing all of these different ways of making a living as an artist that I didn’t learn in school, and thought “I can do this”. The love of making things that can be useful in people’s lives kept drawing me back. I always had another job, like working for artists, or working in restaurants. Something part time that allowed me to be in the studio at night.
SAVCC: What took you to Florida?
Adrienne: When I was investigating grad schools I was looking for a school that was ranked. From going to an undergrad program that wasn’t well recognized, I knew that I needed a school with credibility. So that was one thing, looking into the top programs, who was teaching there and what their work was like. I applied to five schools, all pottery centric, something I think is going away in a lot of good grad programs. Some programs I approached and they did me the favor of saying don’t apply here with a functional portfolio. I knew Florida was very supportive of functional work with Linda Arbuckle teaching there. They had really great funding. I got into two of the five schools and they had the better deal. I had a really great time in grad school. The people there are great, both the professors and the grad students are what make it great. I followed the money because I knew I wasn’t going to be a lawyer when I came out. Working in the restaurant industry for so many years I was making great money, but it was soul sucking. I think they had me at health insurance. UF gives you health insurance while you are there.
SAVCC: Why did you decide you needed to go to grad school?
Adrienne: I think it was about a change of lifestyle for me. Like I said I’ve always found a way to make it possible to be in the studio, but because I was working at night as a server and I was kind of getting comfortable with that I felt I needed a change. The last 2 years I was in California I was working at a place called Seersucker. I worked 30 hours or less a week. Every opportunity I had to work I knew I would make hundreds of dollars. So, I would think I will do it so then maybe I won’t go to the studio tomorrow. Or I would go to the studio and do my duties. To have access to a studio I was working at San Diego State as technical assistant firing kilns etc. So, I would show up and do those things cause they’re kind of mindless, but I wouldn’t put the thought and the effort into my own work. I just could feel myself getting comfortable with this lifestyle, and I wanted the opportunity to stop and explore why I love clay so much. What I love about it, what compels me to make what I make. All of these things that I was becoming a zombie about because I was making a comfortable living elsewhere. I needed a change of scenery, I needed to totally disconnect myself from any kind of job opportunity. I knew I couldn’t stay in San Diego because I would still be able to work a few days a week and I wouldn’t have enough of a separation from the lifestyle that was affording me good money and a comfortable day to day life. I needed the financial stability of a grad program paying me to go to school, and the time to explore what I was doing.
SAVCC: Why is art important to you?
Adrienne: I would say my mom is a really good artist. She would always draw me doodles and notes and it would make me happy and that was a place I derived joy from. As I was growing up I learned art was a good thing, it is a way you express emotions when you can’t articulate what you want to say in words. Which I was never very good at as a child, I was very shy. Art is visual vocabulary rather than a written one.
SAVCC: What is your greatest challenge as an artist?
Adrienne: Making money. Isn’t that everyone’s greatest challenge? Also, time. There is never any time, you make time for things that are important. Making money is the hardest. It’s this negotiation between making what I want to make and making what sells. I get bored making what sells, I don’t want to make mugs all day long, but that is what sells more often than anything else. The challenge is feeding myself, and feeding my will to make work. That is the balance that I really haven’t figured out too successfully.
SAVCC: How do you fire your work?
Adrienne: I now fire electric kilns to almost cone 7. That was something I was really resistant to in grad school at first. When I was at SDSU with Richard Burkett we fired soda kilns. We even went up to San Jose State and built a soda kiln. He taught me about how you do it, and why you do it, and I was really, really into it. When I got to grad school I wanted to keep high firing, I said this is what I want to do. Linda Arbuckle convinced me if you want to live in a city and live the lifestyle I see you being interested in you need to let go of that romantic high fire living in the middle of nowhere kind of life that you don’t have an interest in; and fire your work lower so that you can fit into any studio anywhere you go. I was pretty resistant at first, but now I am glad that I found a way to have work that is good for that type of firing. Where I am now at Ash Street Project they only have electric kilns, and I would not have been able to fit in there if I had not changed my firing style.
SAVCC: How do you like the Ash Street Project?
Adrienne: I love it there. I’m pretty new, I’ve only been there a couple of months. Thomas Orr who used to work for the Oregon College of Art and Craft and his wife Joanna Bloom run it. It’s their retirement project. It melts my heart that they’re working so hard in retirement. The pride and joy of it is their mentorship program. They take on people that may be just out of undergrad, interested in clay, pre-MFA is the general rule. They take them in for a year. It’s this residency with this organic flow of teaching them to be a working artist and seeing what they need and teaching to their interests. If they need glaze calculation he does that or setting gallery shows they’ll talk about that. The way that they manage the studio is that every day from noon to 1 we all have a group lunch, we stop working wherever we are, even if it’s inconvenient, we all bring our own lunch or get it from a nearby restaurant and talk about issues. They invite people from the community, it’s kind of a known thing in the Portland maker community that you can come by for lunch Monday –Friday anytime you want. So, people just show up. It’s an alternative to academia that I think is so important, because not everybody survives in an academic environment. It gives them an idea of what it actually means to be a working artist, because they pay tuition, which is basically their studio rent. In school, maybe you’re paying your tuition, maybe your parents are paying your tuition but you’re not paying to make every single piece of work. You don’t really know what it takes to produce your work versus selling your work. They’re getting this very real life experience of being in a cooperative studio, but also getting their hand held a little bit. My role there is that I’m a visiting artist. I’m just hanging out for a while, and giving my two cents when it’s asked for. I’m really grateful to have this opportunity, especially right out of grad school because their other visiting artists are a little more established. To see not only how they are structuring this alternative studio experience, but also to get to hang with these mentees that are asking questions and are really interested in what I’m doing. I think it’s a great model and think it needs to happen more. Because it’s so new I think they are kind of feeling their way through it. I think that they are doing a great job, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the future. They are the most kind, generous people that I have ever met. Moving to Portland and not knowing many people, I feel like I have a lot of resources there and it’s basically all because of them. The studio is clean and immaculate and highly I recommend it. They help set the mentees up with jobs, and housing and really take care of them.
SAVCC: What is the Clay body that you are using?
Adrienne: I use Laguna #16 which is Miller porcelain for cone 6.
SAVCC: What is your next project or exhibition that you are working on?
Adrienne: I kind of have 2 things on the horizon, but they are a little bit vague in my mind right now. NCECA is coming to Portland, and Ash Street is doing 3 exhibitions for it. “Pots at Ash Street” 10-12 potters they've invited. Dan Anderson and Victoria Christianson curated it. They also have 2 gallery spaces that they are setting up exhibitions for, so we are basically cleaning out the studio and getting ready for those. We’re transforming this space that is generally a working space into a gallery space, so I’ll be doing a lot with that. I’m also presenting at NCECA doing a process room demo. Then right after, in the middle of April I’m going to Guldagergaard in Denmark for a residency. And that is to make a body of work. And to make the molds for a slip cast body of work. I know the end goal, but I don’t know the steps that need to be done. That will take me until June basically. In June, I’m going to Idyllwild Arts Academy and assisting Linda Arbuckle at her workshop.
SAVCC: Have you done much slip casting before?
Adrienne: Here and there. Simple molds. I wanted to go there because they have a great plaster room, and I could really just focus on making the molds. I just want to focus on making the molds, and not casting them. And then bring them home to work from them. It’s definitely going to be outside of my comfort zone.
SAVCC: What made you decide you wanted to do slip casting?
Adrienne: I think it was to put some pieces into to production to sell for less, that won’t have surface design on them that will be very concerned with form, and trying to remove myself from some of my crutches. And to work in a completely different way, just keeping things fresh. Maybe I’ll go over there and find that I don’t like it. That I went all the way over there and didn’t do what I thought I would do and end doing something completely different.
SAVCC: What is your dream project?
Adrienne: I think I would like to do more things like my thesis, but it just takes so much money and time to execute them. More performance type work would be nice. I have a couple of ideas for that. This goes back to my biggest challenge, making money. I don’t have a ton of time to put into these projects that are essentially a financial drain. Right now, I am thinking more pragmatically.
SAVCC: How do you balance personal life and art?
Adrienne: I’m a bit of a workaholic and I think you have to be just to scrape by. I have a partner I’ve been with for 7 ½ years who is not an artist and it’s been this constant struggle. First making him understand that what I do is an actual profession, and getting him to appreciate that me going to the studio is not just play time, it’s work time. And then making him understand that it has to take a lot of time to accomplish what I need to accomplish. Most recently, now that I am done with grad school, why am I still working so hard, why do I work 7 days a week. Why don’t I have more free time now. I guess the short answer is that I’m not that good at balancing. I’m hoping, and maybe this is naïve, that this is the hard part in getting myself established and that things will get easier as I get farther along. There are tiny specks of balance in my day, like having supper with my partner every night, or the lunches at Ash Street Project, and finally getting enough sleep after leaving grad school. However, my life is very clay centric right now.
To view more work visit Adrienne's website http://www.adrienneeliades.com/
on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/adrienne.eliades or Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bugaboo_eyes/.