Ceramist Ben Medansky crafts “honestly made ceramics” at his Los Angeles studio, seeking to make pieces that are as beautiful as they are functional. He also incorporates playful elements — vases that slump, seemingly from the pull of gravity, for one, and a cheeky “implied use” Buff Peace pipe. Currently for sale online and at select West Coast boutiques, Medansky’s work is made sustainably and all by his own hand. We spoke by phone while he manned his potter’s wheel:
ARCHETYPEME: What have you been up to recently?
BEN MEDANSKY: I just got back from a West Coast tour. I decided to get in my car with my puppy, Banjee, and drive up through San Francisco and Portland. I met a bunch of amazing people that have been trying to reinvent the way makers are selling things. It used to be you’d go to all the trade shows every year, and I like to have a more personal relationship with the people I work with.
I just drove up to Big Sur last weekend, which is the most beautiful place I’ve been to in a really long time. I was really intrigued by the Bixby Bridge, a beautiful arch going over a tributary out into the sea. In my work I’ve been dealing with arches, and when I’m on the road, I see it a lot in the architecture across the country. It’s such a constant form.
How important is aesthetics versus utility in your work? Does one tend to win out over the other?
I think aesthetics are useful; I think the way we look at the objects around us is important and expresses how we as human beings act in our environments. Some people pay attention closely to those details and others disregard them, but in my work it’s very important that something works just as beautifully as it looks.
At the same time, though, I’m also producing a lot of art that does nothing. But it acts aesthetically, or is affected by gravity, just slumping and falling. It has formations resembling skin, or the rolls in my grandma’s elbow fat. I love how ceramics can function as just representation. I can’t be making just pots and cylinders and vases all day long, I’d get so worn out.
You often use Instagram to give your fans a look into your studio. Why show your work through social media?
In the generation I went to art school with, we were using every tool there, and I was looking at the internet as a tool for communication. After leaving art school and moving across the country, the conversation all of a sudden ended — talking about art, seeing what my friends were making. I had no idea what was going on; a lot of my artist friends were using [Instagram] to show what they were working on.
It’s also become a very important way to keep my family updated. And I think it’s very important to share what is happening in an artist’s studio. For so long it would be this hidden thing, only gallerists or the elite got to see inside the artist’s studio.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m coming out with a new line of candles — all American-grown soy, American cotton wicks — candles that have arches at the top of them named after the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur. I’m doing a whole new line of drinking vessels for the summer and also a new line of terra-cotta pots for planting all your succulents, and a lot more pieces in this cyan blue [glaze] I’m obsessed with.