10 Questions for Didem Mert
*PRODUCTS are at the bottom of this page
What was the impetus for becoming a ceramic artist?
In elementary school we would have days each semester called “clay day(s).” Each time I worked in clay at this time I was fascinated with the material. It felt incredibly satisfying to make such direct marks on a material without having to be terribly forceful and working against it. In high school I was able to take Ceramics and Sculpture courses each year and developed an overwhelming obsession, often finishing coursework in other classes then begging to be excused back to the ceramics studio. Clay keeps things interesting, really. There’s always more to learn, more to tweak within a body of work, formal qualities that can be improved on, etc. I’ll never forget something my undergraduate professor, Ana England, said to me my first year at Northern Kentucky University. Just as you think you know what you’re doing in clay something happens to show you you’re not always in control and clay pushes back at you. Maybe you load a kiln full of semi-wet work and several pieces blow up, or mix a glaze incorrectly, or forget to wipe the glaze from the bottom of a cup. It keeps us humble.
What inspires your forms and surfaces?
Several years ago I began an Instagram based project, hashtagging images #inspirationalphotosfor33daze, in which I took at least an image a day for thirty-three days. Taking at least one image a day I was able to better understand what inspires me in the world around me on the daily. I’ve since continued the project, now using the hashtag #imspirationalphotosforevaaa. Simple geometry inspires many of the forms which relates back to my father, a woodworker. I grew up spending time in his wood-shop and going to clients establishments to install projects. Many of my textural surface qualities reference my observations in rough sawn wood in contrast to the finished cabinetry. My father taught me simple drafting around the age of 6 which has helped in developing new forms.
Who are your favorite artists?
Oh dang. Well, relating to ceramics most definitely Lauren Gallaspy, Shoko Teruyama, Ron Nagle, and Bandana Pottery (Michael Hunt and Naomi Daglish). Painters include Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin. Quentin Tarantino, Alexandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and Jan Švankmajer are several of my fave directors. The list goes on and on. AHH.
How did your current aesthetic style come to be?
Well, I started off making sculptural ceramic work with mixed media elements. My last semester in undergrad I realized I was spending more time making pots than I was making sculptural work. At this point I decided to focus on making wood fired pottery and attempting to add pops of color into the work using different oxides. Using wood as a fuel source was a way to pay homage to my father’s woodworking background that influences me greatly. I’ve always been attracted to earth tones and varying textural surfaces in wood fired work, but love the added contrast of bright colors. When I moved to Edinboro, PA to attend Edinboro University of Pennsylvania’s MFA Ceramics graduate program I quickly realized I was a city girl and did not want to potentially spend my life in the country wood firing. I felt that my firing method should relate back to the way I wish to live and I wanted to begin using an iron-rich clay to bring out earth tones in the work, but with the addition of brighter colors. I felt that my wood fired work became a bit disconnected from my hand and the mark making I like to see in work. So after a handful of explorations in bodies of work using iron-rich clay I found my current body of work. Using mid-range iron-rich stoneware and terra sigillatas I’m able to bring in earth tones. AMACO Velvet Underglazes and liner glazes I mix up and add Mason Stains to give me the variation in bright color combinations I was looking for all along. Using all of these surfaces I’m able to bring in the different textural surfaces I adore in my fathers woodworking and in the wood fired work I had previously made.
What is your favorite form to make?
Dang! Honestly I am most happy when I tweak current forms and when I’m exploring the new. Changing the proportions and scale of forms gets me jazzed to then try the new. Currently I’m most happy when making plates and bowls.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Ooo I have a few pieces of advice. Practice, practice, practice (I’m a broken record). Know your limits and be upfront with others in sharing your limits and let them know when you’re unsure about things. Be true and honest with yourself about when you’re ready to showcase new work. If you believe in something and no one else does, prove them wrong.
Do you have other creative outlets/practices?
Cooking, drawing, painting, and letting my mind wander. Oh, and trying to figure out creative ways in which I can better utilize my 11’x11’ studio space. NEED. MORE. SPACE.
If you weren’t an artist, what would your dream job be?
Beet farmer by day, bartender by night at a self-owned bourbon bar. A gal can dream, right?
Any favorite meal/food?
It definitely changes here and there! Biscuits and gravy is my favorite breakfast meal, for sure. My fave lunch/dinner meal to make right now is okra stew. Okra, poblano peppers, eggplant, garlic, jalapeño, onion, tomatoes, brown rice, and turmeric. Andddddd bourbon on the rocks to top it all off!
What has been your most memorable trip/vacation/residency?
Definitely Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts. It’s in beautiful Maine. You walk down a gravel road and on one side of the road is an organic farm and on the other side is Watershed. When you get to the end of the road there’s this large barn turned into a studio that is full of character and great energy. The group of artists within a session attending the residency develop a bond that is immensely strong. There’s nothing to worry about there and it’s an intensive time to create new work and better know the other residents. Can’t wait to go back a third time, hopefully!