A. Blair Clemo is a potter and Assistant Professor of Craft and Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He received his MFA in Ceramics at the New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University in 2010. Originally from Doylestown Pennsylvania, Clemo spent many years out west studying ceramics and working at small production potteries in Idaho and Montana. He has been an Artist in Residence at The Northern Clay Center (Minneapolis, MN), the Da Wang Culture Highland (Shenzhen, China) and the Zentrum für Keramik (Berlin, Germany) and The International Ceramics Studio (Kecskemét, Hungary) funded by the 2013 NCECA International Partnership Grant. Clemo’s utilitarian and installation work has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions both nationally and abroad.
My current work is primarily made from both wheel-thrown and press molded pieces combined into utilitarian forms. The visual language of wheel throwing provides me a link to contemporary studio pottery practice and references making through skilled craft. Also evident in the finished work is the repetition of using molds. The mark of the mold remains obvious in the work and reveals a serialized method of making. Combined, these ways of making question how we assess the value of one-off hand making versus more industrialized serial production.
The ornament that makes up this work begins as a press molded strip of fancy clay. As it becomes form, it is squished and distorted by the act of scoring, pinching and assembling. What remains is a tangible display of the struggle between form and ornament. The more complex and visually assertive the form becomes the more the ornament recoils, yielding to the demands of form and utility. The illusion of meticulous ornamentation is threatened by the act of making pots.
Much of my work is glazed in a manganese saturate glaze, resulting in a metallic façade on the surface. At first glance, the viewer may expect that the object is cast from precious metal, the form and surface heavily referencing ornate silver service ware. Upon closer viewing, this façade becomes evident and calls into question how we assess an objects value based on the material it is made from.
The red claybody also comments on material value. It is smooth and vitreous, qualities it shares with porcelain. The visual references in my work point to a time when objects made with porcelain were inherently more valuable than objects made from other clays. From a contemporary ceramics prospective however, value is identified more in making than in material. Red clay is my assertion that skilled craft and meaningful content are more significant than material value.
There are moments in my work of utilitarian consideration where the vocabulary of contemporary studio pottery is unmistakable. There are also moments of opulence where utilitarian concerns are second to elements of visual pleasure. These pots balance on a fine line between sincerity and irony. They are sincere in their careful craft and potential for use; yet their assertion of material value and wealth is as transitory and uncertain as our own status in an unsteady world.