10 Questions for CJ Niehaus
*PRODUCTS are at the bottom of this page
What was the impetus for becoming a ceramic artist?
I was an art therapy major in my undergrad program at a Jesuit university. The focus at Xavier was how each individual would improve the world once they left school, no matter what the major was. Because art has always been integral to my being, I thought art therapy was the best way to utilize my talents in service to others. I resisted clay until the last semester when I was told that I must take ceramics to receive my therapy degree. Like many clay people, once my hands were in the material, I KNEW that clay was my future. After graduating, I came back to take a couple more semesters of clay. Clay allowed me to work in both 3D and 2D and the immediate sense of connection, with hands immersed, appealed to me.
What inspires your forms and surfaces?
I began clay by making functional forms. The relationship of the user to the shape was the first thought. Considering how a shape is held, or what a shape holds was my primary interest. When I returned to work on my Master’s of Fine Arts, I was a very non-traditional age and I had been making clay work for a couple of decades. I went through some huge life changes that influenced what I make now. A rebirth of sorts led to a “pod” form where life sprang, and my new way of being emerged. With the new shape came an interest in what makes a person that particular person. Who was I really? I wasn’t the roles that I had taken on, or had been told. I began to look at my own past and the person I started as. I loved to draw from a very young age. I was a solitary child that made the woods around me my playground. These ideas began to inform the surface and I started to incorporate family members and things that I associated with them into the imagery. I use avatars (animals) to represent different people and create stories for each of them. Using the underglaze pencils allows me to work the surface in a unique manner that also refers back to the books of natural illustrations that were available to me as a child. The functional forms of today have more to say about the rituals of food and family.
Who are your favorite artists?
So many favorites! Georgia O’Keefe, Dr. Suess, Salvador Dali, Van Gogh, Beatrice Wood, Ruth Duckworth, Frida Kahlo, Judy Chicago, Barbara Hepworth, Hans Coper, Sergei Isupov, Betty Woodman, Ernst Haegel, Grayson Perry, Michael Lucero, Beth Cavener, Jason Walker….so many I probably didn’t catch here!
How did your current aesthetic style come to be?
I think I answered in question 2! A childhood love for drawing and nature, a search for self and a history of naturalist books in the home.
What is your favorite form to make?
Whatever is next! My newest work is involving more handbuilding combined with altered thrown forms. But whenever I am coming back to work after a break, I start with cups. They are my comfort form!
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Make, make, make. Find workshops and residency opportunities where you can have hands-on learning opportunities. Listen to the voices of people who make work you admire and ignore the other voices. Never be satisfied but don’t get discouraged. Make what your heart insists, not what your mind justifies.
Do you have other creative outlets/practices?
When I have time, I love to cook fun stuff! But I really love my flowers and sneak into the garden when the weather becomes warmer. I almost always have dirty hands.
If you weren’t an artist, what would your dream job be?
The only thing that might pull me away from clay would be to have a job where I travel all over the world for a living. A travel blogger? Different people, different food and different terrain would please me greatly!
Any favorite meal/food?
I really enjoy almost any food, but when I make my own baby back ribs, it is a treat! Fall off the bones with homemade pasta with mushrooms…
What’s your spirit animal OR if you were an animal, what would you be?
I looooooove the dreams where I am flying, so I would have to be a red tailed hawk.