We are excited to introduce a new line of ceramics by Jessica Niello, a Bay Area artist working and living in Oakland, California. Over the past decade, Jessica has made a name for herself locally and internationally in both painting and ceramics, and for good reason. Her work spans a multitude of genres, from the beautiful, utilitarian bowls that she makes for Ramen Shop, to her large beaded necklaces that function as jewelry and hanging objects, and to her recent purely sculptural show at Øgaard Gallery. For this debut collection, Niello was inspired by a recent artist residency in Vallauris, France, a town with rich artistic legacy. Part Marie Antoinette and part Black Mountain College, the pieces are made from Rod's Bod clay, a textured clay noted for its durability, and hand-cut into French provincial serving ware shapes. Jessica stays true to her California roots through the grittiness of the clay, but creates a playful dialogue between functionality and decadence with the ornate French shapes so often reserved for porcelain. We spent the afternoon with Jessica in her studio to learn more about her stay in France, her artist routines and inspirations, and what we can hope to see from her next. Thanks, Jessica!
ET: Your most recent collection is directly inspired by a recent artist residency in France. Can you talk a little more about your time there and the program you were working with?
JN: I went to southern France for an artist residency in the town of Vallauris. It's an old town where ceramic artists have lived and worked for centuries, and there are still ateliers all over. It was the place where Picasso and Chagall went in the late 40s and 50s to learn ceramics as well. The residency was a month long, relatively quick, but the perfect amount of time to completely dedicate myself making work, mainly ceramics and a little bit of painting, too. The residency, A.I.R. Vallauris, is an international program for both painters and ceramic artists to stay and have access to painting and ceramic studios, create a collection of work, then have a show in the program's gallery at the end of the residency. I would definitely recommend it, especially since southern France is a fantastic place to get inspired, travel, and make art.
ET: Did you notice any major changes in your work style and process while you were working abroad?
JN: It felt good to indulge a little, play with Limoges porcelain and blue china paint and gold luster- materials that I don't generally use in California. So yes, I suppose my work moved into a bit of a more feminine, delicate, elevated direction. I was thinking about Marie Antoinette and 17th and 18th century ceramics; also the sort of ceramics I'd like for our wedding dinner that's planned for the end of the summer.
ET: What is your process like usually? Do you have any working rituals?
JN: It's always great to get to work first thing in the morning, when I'm feeling fresh and my thoughts are clear. The right music and vibe is always a plus- I love something with a good beat to work to. I love Lia Ices' new album, Karl Blau, Beyoncé, Beach House...all sorts of stuff. I love my studio in Oakland, there is a lot of natural light and space and my studio mates are great, too.
ET: Tell us a little more about your artistic background. Did you study fine art? You're also a trained painter- how did ceramics come about for you?
JN: I studied printmaking in school and focused more on developing my oil paintings after that. I lived in San Francisco for nine years, painting at different studios all over the city. When I first fell in love with ceramics I began by painting on slabs of porcelain, then a friend gave me a kiln and things just took off. As I've gotten older I've gotten more excited about utility and the beauty in function, everyday ceramics. I've spent time in Taos, New Mexico, Japan, and fired with a few different wood fire potters in California. [I] continue to learn more all the time.
ET: Do you still paint? Does one medium feel more intrinsically central to who you are as an artist? What do you gain, artistically or personally, from each?
JN: I still paint all the time, yes. Painting and ceramics sort of work hand in hand with my personality. Painting feels more light and creative and loose, where working with ceramics I find to be more of a quiet, grounding meditation. There's a time and place for both in my life.
ET: Who are your favorite artists and influences?
JN: There are so many incredible people in the world making work, [but] just to name a few: I love the ceramic artists June Kaneko, and Lucie Rie. I adore Takashi Takaezu's forms and philosophy behind her craft. I love the work of Carole Crews- she's a natural builder in Taos, New Mexico. She built her own incredible adobe house, the main room is just a gigantic dome that feels so good, calm, and spiritual, and has a lot of cool sound resonance, too. There are a lot of Danish ceramics and architecture that I admire as well, especially the work of the potter Kasper Würtz. He makes all the work for the restaurant Noma, and I love the way his simple lunar glazes look with Noma's totally heady far out food. That's something that makes me excited- the combination of something simple and classic with a more experimental element.
ET: Do you have any other projects or collaborations in the works?
JN: I'm taking the next two months off for my wedding and honeymoon, then off to Tokyo in the fall for a solo show as well as a group show of California craftswomen. It feels like there's a lot to look forward to.