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Ceramic artist Chris Casey works on his vases Sunday afternoon at the Arita Ceramics room for an upcoming art show. Casey sculpted 67 vases in total; 50 will be shown at the Harwood Art Center.
Ceramic artist Chris Casey works on his vases Sunday afternoon at the Arita Ceramics room for an upcoming art show. Casey sculpted 67 vases in total; 50 will be shown at the Harwood Art Center.

Artist Christopher Casey drawn to Arita medium

The Daily Lobo asked Casey about his experience with Arita porcelain and being a professional artist

What is the job market for artists like?

“A day job is a necessity for a newly graduated artist. It’s impossible. Self-motivation takes effort. Sometimes you wonder ‘why make art?’ Having Kathryne Cyman to bounce off ideas is helpful. Finding passionate people, finding inspiration is a must. Keep in touch with ceramics friends and the art community. No one cares if you don’t make art. That’s the scary part. No one cares what you produce and make. When working full time, art falls to the side.

“There is that harsh realization. School is idealistic. The real world, you have to make a balance out of school; you have to think about work, life and bills. Being an artist is producing artwork. Having an outside job gives you a break from art. Sometimes you don’t want to do art. Having a job that is somewhat connected to your practice is helpful.”

What is your “artist’s journey”?

“I started throwing in high school. In 2005, I got into Arita when it was at Central New Mexico. When I came to UNM, Kathy (Cyman) saw me spiral wedging in the studio and when she asked me where I learned it, I told her I learned it from her. In 2010, I ended up taking her class. I do abstract sculpture. Both Arita and sculpture are challenging in their own way. I went from big abstract sculpture to dainty thin bowls and cups that need to be perfect. It’s a contrast.

“Art is an escape. I’m interested in the process of heavy art. With Arita you have to enjoy the process. If not, you’re not going to fully enjoy the end result. With ceramics you have to be okay with the finished result, especially with the nature of porcelain.

“Arita gives a blank canvas. I feel that after you throw and trim that’s when the art begins. It’s pristine and smooth. Porcelain, you can carve into it and make it as accurate and detailed, as you want.”

How was your time at UNM’s art department?

“At UNM’s art department, I took everything from small metals to printmaking. I stuck mainly with sculpture and ceramics. Here you have resources and what I liked was freedom: freedom to do what you want to do. No hovering. As always, you can be more prepared. It’s a critical task as an art major to do art shows. You can graduate without a portfolio. It’s not required for classes. The thesis is voluntary. You have to sign up for it. But it gives you that pressure, and it’s the thing to do since it shows you what it’s like to really be an artist. It gives you a real world impression. I know if I screw up, it’s not on no one but me. You’re worried about the presentation. It’s a good motivation not to have a terrible show. Pressure is good, makes you rise to the occasion and prepare for the real world. I would suggest everyone take the arts management classes. It should be required. The likelihood that everyone is going to be rich off of their art is slim to none. The better prepared you are, the better it helps to distill ideas and be an artist.”

How did you enjoy taking Arita porcelain?

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“Arita’s main thing is that attention to detail that doesn’t allow you to be a slacker. It’s time-consuming, you struggle: wedging clay, making the bowl, making hammas, trimming the bowl, trimming hammas, sharpening your tools, and then glazing. It makes sense when you see clay become porcelain. The time element is necessary for any great art. If you want something rare and valuable you have to earn it. Cheap stuff isn’t usually cherished.

“Ceramics is unique in the way that you have to interact with it. If I’m ever wondering why I do it, I know at least it’s always a functional object. It won’t lose its function. I could add artistic aspects, but it will always have its function. There is the struggle to make it interesting and unique. Some people say it’s not worth the cash without a thought. When they buy hundreds of dollars in cheap plastic plates and then scoff at the price, it’s frustrating. I have to keep my romantic idea.

“The cruel thing is you have to do it. I come where success entails failure.

“For the process, you have to embody it and embrace it to get the final product. It’s necessary to get the job done. If you want something you have to work for it.

“Cyman is the most passionate, dedicated and focused champion of porcelain. She believes in the Arita practices on a fundamental level. She takes take time to appreciate work as a way of life and appreciating fine details in life and beautiful things around you. She loves that kind of stuff. She’s dedicated to the standard of the Arita process.

“We are both stubborn people and buttheads. We can bounce ideas off of each other. It’s nice to be around someone that is honest, knowledgeable, and it has a huge impact.”

What is your definition of art?

“Art is whatever you want it to be. Good art brings you to your knees and makes you think. It gets you in some way. Hard to pinpoint but it speaks to you, every medium in a certain way. Anything can be art. You don’t need to go to school to be an artist. Something thought provoking and stunning. Good art takes you out of your head. Great art movies make you focus on only the movie. A good song sucks you in. It’s difficult to make art that traps in that way.”

Imani Lambert is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @DailyLobo.

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