Lillstreet Gallery is currently hosting Made at Lillstreet — a juried exhibition of artwork created by students of Lillstreet Art Center. These 24 artists have been selected by juror Kate Jordan and are represented from Lillstreet Art Center’s Ceramics, Digital Arts & Photography, Drawing & Painting, Metalsmithing, Jewelry & Glass, Printmaking & Book Arts and Textiles departments. Works are currently exhibited in both the Main & Annex Galleries.
We took a moment to sit down with one of our Made at Lillstreet artists, Christina Gola, to talk about her history with Lillstreet and her current practice. Christina’s bold, vibrant ceramic work consists of intricately painted or carved pots that use microscopic images as inspiration.
Welcome! Congratulations, and thank you for being part of Made at Lillstreet. Can you us about your work and the important processes that go into it.
Thank you! My work focuses mainly on vibrant color. I use red clay to form mostly wheel thrown pieces. Once the piece is formed, I’ll section off a piece of the pot and paint that area so that it can act as a white canvas. On that canvas, I’ll paint these intricate illustrations using underglaze that cover the white area entirely using the tiniest paint brushes on Earth. The illustrations change for each piece, but are mostly based off of microscopic source imagery and will be loaded with color. The area without painting will remain blank; sometimes covered with a clear glaze and other times left raw.
Is there a signature element on your work we can look for?
I always try to add some element of painted surprise on the foot so that whoever takes the piece home can discover it later.
When and where did you start making ceramic work?
I took my first ceramics class at Michigan State University the summer after my sophomore year. To be completely honest, the only reason I took a beginner’s hand building class was because it was the only 3D class offered that summer, and I needed to take one to declare my concentration in the MSU BFA program.
Were you into ceramics from the get-go, or did it take a while to grow on you?
I really wasn’t sure what to expect; but after day one of working with clay, I was completely hooked. I clocked more hours working on my sculptures in the ceramics studio that summer than I did sleeping.
After that, how did you end up making it through Lillstreet’s ceramic studios?
A few of my professors in college told me to check out Lillstreet when I first moved to Milwaukee. I ignored them because the commute to Chicago was less than appealing. Later, one of those professors (Paul Kotula) asked me to show work alongside him and some of his other students with Lillstreet when NCECA was in Milwaukee. I agreed, ended up dropping off my pots in person so that I could see Lillstreet Gallery; I became mesmerized with the space and ultimately ended up making subsequent trips down to purchase handmade wares on a few day trips to Chicago.
What finally convinced you to take a class?
On one of those trips, I was given a tour of the ceramics department. That tour was what encouraged me to bite the bullet. I signed up for a Simply Soda class. My intent was to just take one class assuming I would get sick of the drive; but that one class has turned into a year and a half long adventure with no end in immediate sight.
You have a bachelor’s in ceramic & graphic design, but also a degree in packaging. Does that combination inform your artwork? If so, how?
You know, I’ve thought about this question a lot over the last few years. I’m still not entirely sure how to address it. I could give you an answer that states “the definition of a package is something that contains and protects its contents, and one could argue that a cup is just a vessel that contains a beverage… so isn’t a cup technically a primary package?” but that seems like a really loose link.
As of right now, the influence doesn’t necessarily come directly from my packaging background, but what I’ve learned during my career in RD&E working closely with chemists, consumer researchers and industrial designers. Most of this equates to a heightened sense of functionality of how someone may use a piece or how I can scientifically approach a problem with a DOE (assuming I’m not too lazy to execute.)
What accomplishment are you most proud of as an artist?
To be honest, I’m most proud I haven’t lost my sense of identity with clay after art school. Right after I graduated, I had a difficult time making for almost 2.5 years, especially with clay. I often say it’s because I didn’t find the right studio; but when I think about it, there were a lot of factors and not finding the right studio was just an excuse.
Since taking classes at Lillstreet, I feel like my identity with clay came back and has gotten stronger. I’m excited again to spend my weekends working in the studio (either at home or at Lillstreet.); and I think my forms have gotten infinitely better because of it.
What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
I have two: my red rib and my Amaco Semi-Moist underglazes.
What projects or goals are you working on now?
I’m ultimately working on my portfolio, so next on the docket are pouring and serving sets. I also need to get much faster at making, and especially decorating, my work. I’ll probably work on a mini-series where I give myself decorating time deadlines to see if I can loosen up a bit more and paint a pot in under 30 minutes or something like that.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in a ceramics class at Lillstreet?
Take advantage of the community and interact with the pieces in the gallery. It’s amazing how much you can learn just by picking something up.
Where can we see your work?
I have a few pieces in the Made at Lillstreet show up through mid-September; otherwise, I tend to share pieces I’m working on through Instagram (@christinagola).
Made at Lillstreet is showing in the Lillstreet Main & Annex Galleries now through September 17, 2017.