The Boundaries Issue

State of Clay: Los Angeles Ceramics Artists Break the Mold

These six fine artists add new energy to California’s celebrated ceramics tradition.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the bold character of California’s vibrant ceramics scene took shape thanks to a group of groundbreaking artists who elevated what was once considered mere craft to fine art. The California Clay Movement soon gave rise to such luminaries as Ken Price, Viola Frey, and Stan Bitters, who defied convention by playing with scale, abstraction, and sculptural forms, rightfully earning coveted spots in galleries and fine art institutions. Los Angeles became the epicenter, fostering a tight-knit community of contemporary artists who continue to break the mold. 

“People like Peter Shire and Peter Voulkos bridged craft and art in a way that might have been rejected by East Coast collectors,” says Tom Morris, a design critic, consultant, and author of New Wave Clay. “They simply did their own thing.” The ensuing roster of fine artists, upholding California’s rich history of ceramicists, are following suit.

Eric Roinestad
Highland Park

“This series was originally inspired by ancient Greek vessels. I wanted to blur the line between ancient and modern, forms that feel familiar but are of the moment. All of my pieces are one-of-a-kind—no two forms are the same. The finish is a white slip that is fired on and then sanded to reveal the clay color below.”

Bari Ziperstein
Montecito Heights (East LA)

“The design practice helps my team and I sharpen our skills, gain dexterity with materials, and experiment with craft and engineering. When called upon—either for an exhibition or for the need to make art myself—we all have these skills at our fingertips. The art becomes more about research of content, imagery, and an execution of those ideas with my skills at hand.”

Ben Medansky
Frogtown, Los Angeles

“This 50-foot ceramic mural is an exploration of surface design and glaze experiments. It’s a project in collaboration with Kelly Wearstler for one of her new buildings. Working at this scale has challenged me to think about pattern and non-pattern in new ways.”

Anna Sew Hoy
Cypress Park

“I think of musical improvisation, and I attempt a material correlation that is equal parts precision and abandon, spontaneous experiment, breaking with conventional use of material and yet maintaining control. To make sculpture is to materialize thought.”

Jonathan Cross
Santa Monica, Twentynine Palms

“My studio’s floor typically looks like this when I’m carving. It’s a sight that I love, reminding me of the archeology images I once obsessed over in National Geographic. My forms are an amalgamation of things I’ve been interested in since childhood: post-apocalyptic sci-fi, comics, manga, archeology, brutalism, modernist sculpture, and architecture.”

Julia Haft-Candell
Glassell Park

“I work intuitively—my pieces are expressive, yet rooted in a conceptual framework that questions language, semiotics, identity, and gender. These new sculptures refer to symbols of intersection, such as hands interlocking, a foot stomping on mud, or water slipping between fingers.”

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