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Happy Wanderer

Happy Wanderer

Happy Wanderer

June/July 2012 issue of American Craft magazine
Mediums Mixed Media

The colorful ceramic creations of Eric Boos are just the latest byway in his vagabond journey.

“I’ve been doing ceramics since forever,” Eric Boos says. “I’m one of those old baby-boomer-back-in-the-’70s kinda deals.” 

Boos is funny and irreverent when he talks about making art, though clearly it’s a serious passion for him. He still sounds a little like what he was in 1970: a young surfer dude/anthropology major who one day wandered into the ceramics studio at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and thought: That looks pretty neat.

Today, the works in his Almost Edible series resemble creatures from some hip parallel universe. Bulbous, primitive shapes with an early-’60s mod vibe, they function as artful containers for fruit or flowers, or simply as sculpture or wall pieces. As the name implies, they come in a variety of juicy colors, from candy-apple red to licorice black. “I was doing bright colors and thought, ugh, that’s so ’80s,” Boos says. “So I did more quiet colors. Then I decided, nah, that’s OK, let’s get bright again. You go back and forth.”

The series evolved out of quick, almost subliminal sketches he began translating to three-dimensional form last year. “I was just making what happened to appeal to me at the moment, without really having a bigger picture,” Boos recalls. “Then one day my wife came into the studio when I had these things sitting around, and she said, ‘Gee, they look almost edible.’ And I thought, perfect – that’s my phrase. I really like that slick, glossy, high-color, low-fire surface. That is such a cool surface.” But then he reconsiders. “Now, I like it today. Who knows what I’m going to think a couple of years from now?”

Boos is the restless type. A native Californian, he set up his first pottery studio in San Luis Obispo after college, then, itching for a change of scenery, headed to the Virgin Islands. Bored there after a few years, he returned to the mainland to get his MFA at California State University, Long Beach. Next came a three-year stint designing products and equipment at a decorative tableware factory in Guadalajara, Mexico; then back to Long Beach to teach ceramics at his alma mater before moving on to become the production manager at a tile company in Los Angeles. By the early ’90s, he was married with children, and finally put down roots in Prescott, Arizona, where he’s been a full-time artist ever since.

Creatively, however, Boos has never stayed put. While clay’s malleability has held his interest for four decades, he’s experimented with different techniques, forms, and sometimes materials. He made the requisite “brown stoneware mugs,” practically a rite of passage for ceramists in the ’70s. In Mexico, inspired by the local scene, he made colorful folk-arty pieces incorporating wood and plastic lucha libre wrestling figures. He’s done large vessels (“sculptures with holes in ’em somewhere”) and platters carved with Southwestern landscapes (“10-pound postcards”). Occasionally he’ll do something purely abstract or enigmatic, like pour clay over crumpled-up sheet metal. Or he’ll make an imitation of an ancient Greek geometric pot, smash it, reassemble it as an archeologist would, then superimpose “very odd” contemporary imagery on the surface.

“It’s really all the same batch of ideas I’ve been caught up in forever,” Boos says. “I just interpret them differently in my own mind.”

His adventurous spirit is a gift, according to his friend and fellow artist Jacquelyn Rice. “Eric is a three-dimensional thinker. He’s very smart, very deep,” says Rice, who taught ceramics at Rhode Island School of Design for nearly 30 years. “He’s searching for a way to make you, the viewer, go on alert and not feel comfortable. I have to think about [his work] before I understand it, and a lot of that understanding can’t be verbalized very well. It’s like seeing something for the first time.”

These days his creative output is in high gear, fueled by endless inspiration (“too many ideas, too little time”), a mature vision, and a sure command of his medium. “I figure at this point, I can do anything with a lump of clay. I can make it sit up and bark like a dog if I want to. It does not matter. There are no limits whatsoever.”

Add to that scenario a dream living/working environment. Four years ago, Boos and his wife, Laura Bloomenstein, also a ceramist, had a home and studio built for themselves and their 12-year-old son. (Boos has two children from his first marriage, a son who recently graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and a daughter at Oxford getting her Ph.D. in archeological science.)

“Imagine two two-story cubes shoved next to each other, connected but a little off-­center,” Boos says of the functional, elegant design. “One box you live in, the other box you work in.”

The open, light-filled interiors are accented with handmade touches (including concrete countertops Boos crafted himself), art by the couple and their friends, and “chunks of coral and bones and things piled up” that the couple collects on trips. In the studio, Bloomenstein has the upstairs space, but is often away at her job as professor of art at Yavapai College in Prescott. Most mornings Boos walks a few steps from his kitchen straight to his own first-floor work area, where he spends long hours indulging his “workaholic to the extreme” tendencies.

Even as he continues to mine the expressive potential of Almost Edible, Boos is looking ahead to the next thing – whatever that might be. He recently bought a 3D printer. “I don’t know how to run the damn thing,” he admits, but with help from his son, the mechanical engineer, he’s been playing with ideas for printed objects.

“There are interesting design possibilities that have nothing to do with that handcrafted approach I’ve always worked with,” he says. “I want to embrace all that myself.”

Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.