Guest Q&A with InFlux: Kelly Kessler


 If you wouldn't mind, tell us a little bit about yourself. Your background, etc.

I came of age running around Chicago, acting like I owned the place. I went to tiny Berea College in Kentucky, and when I got over the culture shock I fell in love with Appalachia. That love fits a pattern of deep curiosity I have about how other humans in other times have flourished and handled life's challenges. Alongside visual art, I've invested a lot of time and heart into live music and teaching.

When did you start making art and why clay?

The clay question is easy and embarrassing: you had to work for the college at Berea, in return for no tuition. All my friends said the pottery apprenticeship program was the best place to work on campus. At that point I had no particular interest in ceramics, I just wanted a way out of my waitressing job. But clay snuck up on me - it was truly an earthy, grounded medium tied to our everyday needs. It is a great counterbalance to my love of music, a medium you can't touch, hang on to, or push up against in any literal way.

What inspires your work?

I have several distinct threads of influence. There are the 20th c. artists, Picasso, Miro, the Expressionists and the Color Field folks, stretching to trust something other than the rational in their work and make sense of the upheaval from the World Wars. There is the endless inventiveness of natural forms, which beggars my imagination. And there are profoundly resonant objects from every century and every continent, ritual vessels and utilitarian objects that call out to be held, to be hefted, to be understood and appreciated, like those you see in my proto-language timeline.

What led you to help start InFlux and why do you think it is important to the culture of ceramic art in middle TN?

There is a history of fine clay work in our area. A lot of what I've seen is tied to regional traditions. There are accomplished ceramic artists here who explore new ground - Susan Demay, Timothy Weber, Donna Rizzo, Carolina Cercone, Helen Hooper-Hirst and David Heustess, just to name a few. In InFlux we hope to encourage more of that exploration, and we want to bring in wider influences. There has been a ceramics renaissance going on nationally and internationally, and we'd like to see more of that here in Nashville, and find out what our own mid-Tennessee vision of new clay will be.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

It wasn't so much advice as permission. Walter Ostrom, grand old man of Canadian ceramics, was looking at my slides one day. He was doing what we all used to do before digital: crooking back his neck, holding a plastic page with a bunch of my slides in it up toward the light bulb and squinting at each of them one at a time. Meanwhile, I was confessing to him that everyone else I saw seemed to make work that looked effortless, like the material just sang in their hands. Mine seemed to all have evidence of the struggle I had with getting the clay to do what I wanted. He dropped down his arm, looked me dead in the eye and, "I like struggle."

And it turns out, I do too. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, I like the unexpected that emerges from struggling with the process and the ideas.

Kelly's work along with other pieces created by members of InFlux will be on exhibit at The Arts Company until December 23, 2015.