Eric Knoche's simplified cloud forms are full of engaging contrasts. They look almost like illustrations, icons, or diagrams of idealized outlines of clouds. With the centers cut out, allowing the eye to move into and around the form, they reference airiness, but the material acts as a counterweight. The weathered surface on each that results from wood firing adds both a sense of gravity and of exposure to the elements.
Interview with Paul Howey from The Laurel of Asheville
posted: June 21, 2012
Here is the full text from an interview I gave to the Paul Howey of Laurel of Asheville Magazine. The magazine has published a much abridged version.
Where did you grow up?
White Bear, MN
To what (whom) do you attribute your artistic interests?
This isn't the answer to your question, but the first artist I fell in love with was Joseph Beuys.
Other family members artists?
Everyone is an artist whether they like it or not.
Who introduced you to the medium?
I have had dozens of incredible teachers and mentors, some of them quite famous, others not at all. From my high school teacher, Todd Clercx, I learned about just diving into art without worrying. From my first pottery teacher, Kevin Flicker, I began to understand standards of craftsmanship and a considered, holistic approach that continues to influence my work. From my main teacher, Jeff Shapiro, to whom I was apprenticed for two years, I learned how everything fits together. From my Japanese teacher, Living National Treasure, Isezaki Jun, I learned about the power of slowness and lightness of tradition.
How did you know this would become your medium of choice?
I made a lot of paintings in high school and my first few years of college. Initially I was really snobby about clay work and was convinced it was a much lower form of art. Then I took a glass blowing class and fell in love with that material in a way that I never had with paint and canvas. But when I learned how much gas we used in a week of blowing, I just couldn't wrap my head around that number. So then I started thinking about clay as a kind of alternative material to glass. Also, the idea of a potters life really appealed to me. At the time, making a living from selling small functional things seemed much more feasible than trying to sell large paintings. At the moment I don't make too many small things and very few functional pieces, but that was what I thought at the time. And all of this was before I ever touched clay, so I got into the idea of working with clay, before I ever actually did it.
But then I touched the clay. From here its a story lots of people can tell. Clay is just such an amazing material and you can work it so many ways; additive and subtractive processes work equally well, it is both demanding and forgiving, it can be softer than water and as hard as stone, as delicate as an eggshell and more durable than anything else humans have ever made, it changes from second to second as you work with it which creates a feedback loop or a dialog. For me, the material itself is endlessly fascinating
Can you provide a bit more information about your Thailand experience?
I went to Thailand primarily to teach english, but once I was there I started volunteering at Ragamangala University, which is an interesting cross between an art school and a technical college. By the second semester they asked if I would teach a sculpture course. It was a little tricky since few students spoke english and my thai was pretty bad. But the fact that it was challenging just meant I had to give more in other ways and really stretch out to give the students a valuable experience. I think this made it fresh and exciting for them as well as me. And in the end they made some great work.
And then Japan?
I spent 6 months in Japan as a short term apprentice to Living National Treasure, Isezaki Jun. My american teacher, Jeff Shapiro, introduced me to Mr. Isezaki and facilitated that connection. I also received a grant Asian Cultural Council which made the experience possible financially. My time in Japan gave me a number of important things. While I don't make Japanese work, I do use some Japanese firing techniques and my time there gave me a deeper insight into these. It also gave me a fuller understanding of some of my artistic roots. My teacher spent about 10 years living, learning and working in Japan and so I feel that my time in Japan helped me understand my american apprenticeship better. I think it was really good that I went to Japan after working on my own for two years as well. The experience of going from a full time artist back to an apprentice felt like I was more prepared to draw more out of the experience. One of the most important things I think I got out of the experience was to see how slow, considered action can be much more powerful and efficient than strength and speed.
When you graduated from UM in 2002, what did you have in mind for yourself as a career? Were you set on art at that time? If not, when did that “transformation” come about?
I've heard many times that a person can't make a career out of art. My attitude since I first touched clay was that because I know that some people do in fact make a living from their art, I don't see any reason that I can't. From there it is a matter of figuring out how to do it. In my opinion, being an artist and making a living from your art are two entirely separate things. I know several amazing artists that make very little money and I have also seen terrible work created by artists making several hundred thousand dollars a year. I like making a living from my work because it gives me more time to make more work. With respect to making a living from my work I use a sort of backwards formula: I have found that the most effective way for me to make salable work is to not make anything with the intent of making it salable. I am grateful to have found out early that the work that people respond to and buy is the work that I make purely because I want to make it.
Who introduced you to wood-fired kilns? When was that? Describe, if you would, your attraction to that method?
Honestly the first thing that really attracted me to wood kilns was the sound. Depending on the burner design, gas kilns can sometimes sound like a jet engine. Once while firing a very loud gas kiln in college I walked over to where some others were firing the wood kiln. The only sound was a soft but powerful drawing sound from the entry and exit flues, though their kiln was just as hot as mine. Since then I have come to find the effects from certain styles of wood kilns to be uniquely appropriate for my current work. The process is also interesting and rewarding. To fire successfully its not a matter of jamming wood in a hole. I think of my relationship with the kiln like I think of my relationship with the clay.
What brought you to Western North Carolina and when?
Honestly I came to Asheville for the first time to visit a girl. That part didn't exactly work out like I thought, but once I had spent some time in Asheville, I was hooked. One of the times I was visiting Asheville I was walking through the Riverarts District, which as a bit grittier then, thinking that this would be a great place for a clay studio. Just as I was thinking that I walked past the Clayspace Co-op and stuck my head in. Josh Copus, the founder, was there and we hit it off immediately. We've been a pretty tight team ever since.
Without divulging proprietary information, would you describe your creative process? From conception through creation to completion?
I have no proprietary information. I'll tell anybody anything they want to know about anything I do. Knowledge functions best in the public domain.
My work tends to evolve out of itself rather than from a specific concept. Mostly I just make things that I am curious to see, but the interaction of pieces with each other is very important to me. I often think of my work as one huge installation that is made slowly over time rather than a series of autonomous pieces.
Tell me about your role as curator for Serendipity: Wood-fired Ceramics exhibition at Crimson Laurel Gallery?
Curating the Serendipity exhibition has been an really interesting experience. My idea was to put together an exhibition that explored a broad range of sculptural wood fired work. But I didn't want to just put together a survey show or a show of my friends or a show of big names. The wood fired surface, in all of its permutations, when married to sculptural forms has such enormous potential to be emotive and visceral. My goal was to explore the breadth and depth of that marriage. On one level I hoped to do the same thing with this show that I try do with my own exhibitions which is to produce a show which exists beyond the individual pieces in it. In this show there are figures, vessels and abstract sculpture but to me it all triangulates into a coherent, holistic exhibition. In some ways the process of curating was quite similar to the process of wood firing: I had a lot of macro control over the show, but ultimately the end result was dependent on a lot of factors that I could not control. It was an exciting role to play.
What other area galleries carry your work?
Blue Spiral 1, Asheville, NC. I have a three person show there right now through July 26th.
Crimson Laurel Gallery, Bakersville, NC
Signature Gallery, Atlanta, GA
Anderson O'brien Fine Art, Omaha, NE
Where is your studio? Is the public welcome to stop by? Or … ?
My studio is in the Clayspace Co-op in the Wedge building in the Riverarts District of Asheville. We are certainly open to the public, though I won't be around until late November as I have a number of projects that are keeping me out of the studio at this point.
A video about me
posted: June 17, 2012
Here is a video Chris Gallaway of Horizonline Productions made about me as part of his ongoing documentation of the artists who work in the Riverarts District of Asheville, NC.
This is an article published in the May issue of Ceramics Monthly. The PDF appears courtesy of Ceramic Montly. Please visit their website at www.ceramicsmonthly.org/
Because the text of the article is a bit difficult to read, I have included a text only version below.
Eric Knoche: Points of Connection
My conversations with Eric Knoche began with a fairly straightforward intention: I wanted to understand how the artist’s multiple bodies of work informed and enhanced each other. I had a hunch that each served as a distinct study of formal concepts, and that when viewed as a whole, these bodies of work would reveal Knoche’s style. To a certain extent, that seemed true enough. But perhaps more important was the discovery that Knoche’s bodies of work act as stepping stones for both the artist’s creative process and the viewer’s unique experience.
With hints of influence from the Japanese Bizen tradition, Scandinavian design, and adobe architecture, Knoche currently uses sparse but natural ash glazes across gritty, natural surfaces to make work ranging from hand-held to human-sized. The forms are loosely geometric and often exhibited in multiples, inviting the viewer to touch, arrange, or play with the pieces. Based on his website—which provides images of vessels, platters, sculptures, large works, and installations—I asked the artist if it was accurate to say he produces five bodies of work. “It would be more accurate to generate a mind map with thicker or thinner lines showing the connections between various series,” Knoche said. “To me, it is really one body of work.”
Interestingly enough, it was this connection that mattered more than distinguishing the work into separate bodies. From the outset, Knoche has been a process-oriented artist. In 2004, he apprenticed with New York ceramicist Jeff Shapiro for two years. From 2008-09, he spent half a year in Japan through the Asian Cultural Council apprenticing with Isezaki Jun, a Living National Treasure. “Initially, I was hesitant to subordinate my own creative drives to someone else,” said Knoche. “But I took stock…and I realized that it would be really helpful to see how everything relates. I wanted to learn how the business side and the artistic side interact, how studio life and home life connect, how a professional artist spends their day, minute to minute.” For Knoche, apprenticing was more about how to live like an artist, not how to technically construct something artistic. He came away from both experiences with role models for life. “I was really taken by how involved [Jeff Shapiro’s] whole family was. His wife, for example, doesn’t really make pots, but is a master at firing the wood kiln and an expert chef. I learned a lot from her too.” Likewise, in Japan, Knoche was interested in Isezaki’s process before the actual making.
Knoche’s vessels and platters serve as the first point of connection in his creative process. “I use them to explore special relationships between curves, planes, and angles. They are very grounding for me,” he said. Although made singularly, he almost always displays the pieces in concert with one another, waiting until after a firing to see which forms sit well together depending on surface design and shape. Most vessels stand between eight and sixteen inches high and four to ten inches across, with platters ranging between twenty to thirty inches. When venturing toward a new form entirely, Knoche likes “starting from the place of certainty” that this work affords because of its functionality—the vessels stand upright with an opening to suggest a vase or container and the platters meet the basic criteria. Viewers, likewise, can find an immediate point of connection through this functionality even though the works’ predominate feature is the sculptural shapes rather than the potential physical “use.”
Knoche’s second way of engaging his creative process happens as he constructs what he calls sculptures and larger works. These expand on formal concepts evident in the vessels and platters, but traditional functionality is a distant echo. The sculptures are stackable, puzzle-pieced hollow forms clearly made by the same hand, begging the viewer to step a little further from the comfort zone and into the realm of physical interaction. The pieces of Knoche’s “Arch Puzzles” can be picked up, restacked, or mixed and matched. Works such as “Ribcage” and “Untitled Puzzle” can be aligned to form what looks like one solid form out of three, four, five, or even more separate pieces.
Equally as interactive, Knoche’s larger work is too cumbersome to pick up and move, but still manages to push the viewer out of the comfort zone using the temptation of interaction. “There is something special that happens when forms approach human size. I’m curious about this and…the larger works are a way for me to explore the way my work affects the space around it,” says Knoche. Indeed, what’s affected isn’t just the external space, because the human-sized forms in dance-like postures provide an internal conceptual experience for viewers as well.
Employing all of his explorations—from the vessels and platters, through the sculptures and larger works—Knoche’s affinity for process comes to fruition in the final point of connection to his creative process: installations. Work such as “Aurora” or “Untitled Expansion No. 1” are less about form or size and more about surface and arrangement. “With these, I am exploring how the different surface effects combine in sequences to create something entirely other,” says Knoche. “My hope is that the whole, including the white space, transcends the individual blocks on the wall.”
Like many artists who have apprenticed, Knoche’s early experiences served as a sort of warm-up drill to transition from functioning in basic, survival mode as an artist into full-time, well-rounded studio life that’s ripe with opportunity. What’s interesting, of course, is that the touchstones in Knoche’s creative process build on each other in a similar way—the vessels and platters are functional, the sculptures and larger works push further into unfamiliar territory, and finally the installations are perpetually in flux, always waiting to be arranged and rearranged in an endless run of discoveries.
In 2011, Knoche will spend several months in Australia with ceramicist Ben Richardson. Look for his solo show of new work this May at Crimson Laurel Gallery in North Carolina, and another solo show in October at Anderson O’Brien Fine Art Center in Nebraska.
Eric Knoche currently lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina, sharing a studio at Clay Space Co-Op. He is represented by Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, The Signature Shop, Crimson Laurel Gallery, and Blue Spiral 1. Learn more at www.ericknoche.com.
Katey Schultz is Associate Editor of TRACHODON, a dinosaur of a little magazine. Her freelance essays focus on art and the creative process. Follow her two-year travels across the country at www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com.
June 2009 | by Sara Baker | Issue 68, October 2009
A wood-fired ceramic vessel by Eric Knoche.
There is much more to Eric Knoche’s work than what initially meets the eye. His ceramic vessels are abstracts of human figures, bones, houses or even machine parts. Each piece is hand-built using coils or slabs, and then wood-fired.“Wood-fired surfaces have a unique ability to reveal themselves to a viewer over time,” says the Asheville, N.C., artist.
“Clay is very sensitive to the way it is touched,” says Knoche.“Even if I show someone exactly how I make something, the way they touch the clay will be different, and therefore the final piece will be different.” As a result, he keeps no secrets when he’s teaching workshops.
Knoche began his career as a professional artist just three years ago, after working as an English teacher in India and Thailand. He is experimenting with a new series of large, human-size vessels and a series of interactive ceramic puzzle sculptures.
Knoche’s work sells for $90 to $9,000. It is available at galleries including Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville, N.C., Anderson O’Brien Fine Art in Omaha, Neb., and Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville, N.C.
My desire to create large scale work stems both from my ongoing aesthetic exploration of scale and mass as well as a need to challenge myself technically. While bigger is certainly not always better, with large scale work there is the potential to create a presence that simply isn’t possible with smaller work.
While it is difficult to make accurate generalizations about any art, for me, sculpture that approaches the size of a human body takes on additional meaning simply because of its size. Of course this is not to say that large sculpture is in any way better than small sculpture, nor would any random small work benefit from an artificial increase in size. However, I think due to the way humans intrinsically perceive the physical world, we interact differently with large sculpture.
To some extent, most ceramics involve taking the artistic vision from the right side of the brain and bringing the final piece to fruition using the left side of the brain. While there are exception, most ceramic artists have at least clay and glaze formulas to consider, drying and firing schedules, and perhaps structural aids like armatures and molds. The complexity of all of these technical aspects increases exponentially as the size of the work increases. When a solo artist can no longer pick up her work by herself, there is a significant difference in the making process. For me, creating these large vessels involved the help of others at numerous points in the process. Particularly since the kiln they were fired in was over twenty miles (some of it over bumpy gravel roads) from my studio. Thus, they had to be carefully loaded, transported, and unloaded in an unfired state. In making large scale work there is simply more planning and thinking ahead that has to happen for the piece to be successful. Both the artistic exploration and the technical challenge and how they interact are important to me.
Although my current work lacks an overt narrative and on one level deals largely with formal issues of line, shape, mass, texture etc., my hope is that my work communicates with others on a level outside the spectrum of speech and conscious thought. I endeavor to communicate directly with the viscera of my fellow humans. The spacial relations and formal visual components of my work are the result of an ongoing personal exploration into the ability of physical space to resonate within the human spirit. It is my belief that a similar line of inquiry over centuries led to the development of such ideas and philosophies as the Golden Mean and Feng Shui. I think of myself not only as a sculptor, but also as a temporal artist, exploring and crafting this interaction between humans and objects. Ultimately, I am searching for a deeper understanding of the human spirit and its relationship to the things and space around us.