A Q&A with Ceramic Artist Alex Adams

Mugs by Alex Adams.

“I am a little obsessive about throwing well-balanced objects that look great and work well to serve a function.” Spoken like a true artist. Alex Adams (aaclay.com) is a community-driven ceramicist who founded AA Clay Studio & Gallery.

LEO: What type of artist are you?

Alex Adams: I am a ceramic artist. I make pottery that is crafted with great scrutiny. Articulated forms are designed with a function in mind; wooden potter’s tools and artist-designed stamps bring each piece to life. Subtle glazes break over stamp impressions to expose the creative energy that is stored in each handmade object.

I am an artist who values the power of community, our ability to learn from each other, positive encouragement and support. These are the things that have made my career possible, and I reciprocate these values at AA Clay Studio & Gallery.

You are the AA” in AA Clay Studio & Gallery. What made you decide to open a studio, and then a gallery?

In many ways I am the ‘AA’ in the studio’s name; the space is my vision brought to life over the past five years. However, the studio and gallery are so much more than myself, and this what makes our space a success. We are a community studio with over 12 regular members and many more coming in for classes and lessons. When I was dreaming up a name for the space, I knew I wanted my name affiliated but not the main focus. I decided on ‘AA Clay’ as a play on words and a testament to the double-A quality of our artist’s work, class offerings and gallery representation. I opened the studio after witnessing similar things happening in cities [and states] all over the country including Seattle, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Chicago. We need this in Louisville. AA Clay Studio is different from other clay studios here because we keep regular, open-studio hours that give members and students greater access.

AA Clay Studio & Gallery is a shared working space with modern clay equipment. The studio is an access point for emerging and practicing clay artists. Resident members pay a monthly fee to secure private shelf space and 24-hour studio access. We also offer private lessons, group events and six-week classes in wheel throwing and hand-building.

The gallery is a natural addition to the space and is inspired by my experience at Berea College where I earned my BA in Ceramics. In college, I worked as an apprentice in the pottery where we made functional wares for sale in the school’s catalog. In a similar fashion, customers can visit our beautiful gallery, see the artist at work in the studio, and purchase a gift from the artist they just met.

“Limbwalker” mug by Alex Adams.
“Limbwalker” mug by Alex Adams.

Artists find inspiration from unusual sources. In your case, that would be from police mug shots of celebrities. How did your Mug Shot Mugs come about?

The Mug Shot Mug came to life in 2010 because I had a desire to create a ceramic product that is standardized, personalized, collectible and affordable. When I discovered that mug shots belonged to the public domain I saw a perfect opportunity. I come from a creative family, and we are always sharing ideas for art and possible mainstream products. I was encouraged to follow through with this project by my friend Ben Zoeller, who is a local musician.

The Mug Shot Mug was my opportunity to create a sell-able product that incorporated my skills as a potter. I still make the Mug Shot Mug, available for sale at AA Clay Gallery and Block Party Handmade Boutique, but my focus remains on wheel thrown art pottery such as the vases and lidded jars I am currently working on. These new vessels contain much more creative energy and excitement while the Mug Shot Mug remains a standard product that I can be emotionally detached from.

Why do you make the them?

I make the Mug Shot Mug because we live in a place where the human spirit has been commoditized in the form of ‘celebrity.’ The Mug Shot Mug is my opportunity to show a new perspective on the celebrity and create a new relationship for the viewer.

Are you concerned that the person in the mug shot may or may not be convicted?

No. These are not made to amplify the fact that someone has been convicted or not, it simply gives the viewer a new perspective on their favorite or non-liked celebrity.

Is there a message or purpose in doing them?

They are made to be fun and hopefully cause people to think about our celebrity culture and the individual’s role (economically and spiritually) in that culture. Speaking on our culture — ours feels like a destructive one because the individual is rarely allowed to feel good about one’s accomplishments when we are constantly shown a ‘better’ false reality in the form of celebrity. Often times the celebrity has amassed monetary wealth beyond their worth and this causes the non-celebrity to be confused and feel worthless. In a way, I hope that the Mug Shot Mug works to empower the individual to be proud of their accomplishments and not to compare their lives to a false reality that is our celebrity commodity.

How has your art changed over the years?

As a potter I believe that my art is in a constant state of change. I work hard to improve by artwork through my technical ability at the pottery wheel. As my skills evolve my ability to make the shapes and forms that I once thought impossible become real. This is the drive behind my passion as an artist and craftsman. I am currently working on vases and lidded jars inspired by AA Clay Studio potter David Westmeier. To the surface of wheel-thrown forms I add a variety of stamp impressions that accentuate smooth textures with sharp lines from wood block.

Mugs by Alex Adams.
Mugs by Alex Adams.

What do you want to do that you haven’t done?

I want to focus more of my time making wheel thrown and altered objects. This means throwing a pitcher, for example, at the pottery wheel and then using a knife, at the table, to cut into the round object adding flat slab or other clay shapes to enhance the form. Like I mentioned before I am obsessed with technical ability at the wheel, and, after 12 years of throwing, I am finally at the point where I can make my visions a reality. Now I need to spend more time perfecting my hand-building and wheel-altered techniques with an intention to enhance the wheel-thrown form.