Infinite Variety

Infinite Variety

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Jar (Op Dot ), 2011; porcelain, glaze, laser decals; 6 x 7 x 5 in. Photos: Andrew Gilliat

Andrew Gilliatt sees a creative streak in all of us. "We might drive cars that are maybe black, gray, white, but we'll wear T-shirts that are bright blue, bright pink, have Hawaiian designs on them," he says. "Whether you make objects or not, we're all constantly expressing ourselves visually through the objects we own and choose to own."

Gilliatt says he finds the practice fascinating, but it's almost more than that. "Soft spot" might be more accurate - a tender understanding of the human impulse to personalize, which drives his delightfully varied slip-cast porcelain work. Do you take your coffee with Tyrannosaurus rexes or a 19th-century textile-inspired pattern? In each mug, bowl, tumbler, and dish, Gilliatt imagines someone finding his or her canny fit.

While choosing glazes and imagery, "I think a lot about people," Gilliatt explains. "What kind of cereal bowl would I make for my 2-year-old niece or nephew? What mug would I give to someone who just got fired from their job?" While mass-market goods offer the simulacrum of endless choice, Gilliatt's wares are the real thing: an ever-variable body of work.

Yet, surveyed in toto, the line is a cohesive whole, anchored by groovy, repeated forms. For each shape, Gilliatt designs and builds a prototype in wood. He might turn a rough bowl on a lathe and then shear off sections with a band saw, before sanding and sealing it. He then uses that wooden form to build a mold, in which he casts his ceramics in colored porcelain slip.

"I had always had the understanding, working with clay, that you start with clay and you finish with clay," he says. But wood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard) lends itself to the clean lines he favors and makes a more durable model. One shift in process begat others: using stickers and tape to make relief patterns in glaze, using a laser printer to make decals. A style was born.

That's a meaningful leap for a relatively young maker. The 31-year-old's ceramics career began at Virginia Tech, where he completed a BFA in graphic design in 2003. The degree required one clay class. "I was young and naïve; I thought this is great, I'm never going to have to buy dishes again," Gilliatt says with a laugh. "And reality hits. It was really challenging, and I think that's kept me coming back to it." The school's graphic design and ceramics departments are housed in the same building; though Gilliatt never changed majors, as time wore on, he spent more and more time with clay.

After graduating, Gilliatt moved to Kansas City and dove in headfirst, becoming a resident artist at Red Star Studios, where he stayed for three years. ("KC as an arts town is amazing," he says, "a really vibrant arts community.") Next came graduate school at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he began using the wood prototypes. This summer, with a freshly inked MFA, he moved again, this time to Montana. A summer stay at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, then it was "down the road, Montana-speaking," for a longer residency at Red Lodge Clay Center.

In September, he was slated to participate in the Northern Clay Center's 13th annual American Pottery Festival in the Twin Cities.

Settling down a bit is an appealing prospect. "For the first time, I've made a body of work that I want to live in for a while," he says - play around with color, add some new forms. Besides, between tinted slips and glazes, relief patterns and decals, "there are still combinations I haven't done yet."

Julie K. Hanus is American Craft's senior editor.