10 Questions for Benjamin Cirgin
*PRODUCTS are at the bottom of this page
What was the impetus for becoming a ceramic artist?
That could be a long answer but I feel that first I am a maker who sometimes works with clay. Other times the materials used are a means to formulate an idea into becoming some-thing. I have many influential people in my life who have taken the time to show me ways of making, seeing, thinking, and understanding the world around me. In 2008 I met a fabulous maker, Daniel Evans, who works in clay and owns the Bloomington Clay Studio. I took a community clay class at his studio and found that clay was like no other material I had worked with. I felt like I could make just about anything with my carpentry background. Clay on the other hand did not follow the same material rules and logic that other mediums do.
What inspires your forms and surfaces?
This body of work came from an interaction that I “thought” my father and I had while looking at a limestone sculpture I presented in at an exhibition. I remember him telling me a story about my grandfather working at a local limestone mill several years ago. I developed a body of cleaved, stone like mixed media sculpture works referencing this story and familial history. Using the vessel form, I translate many formal elements from the sculptures into an accessible and functional piece that most people could use. I feel that pottery is a fantastic way to sneak art into people’s hands.
Who are your favorite artists?
I look at a lot of work by as many people as possible resulting in a deep respect for anyone who makes anything. I work with some fabulous makers and thinkers at the University of Arkansas; Mathew McConnel’s recent work from the exhibition More Possibilities for Distance and Mass; Adam Posnak’s reverence for the vessel and the possibilities of utility; Linda Lopez’s color pallet and design centered personification of personal objects; Jeannie Hulen’s mind, work, and relentless effort to expand art education in Northwest Arkansas. Art world artists Hito Steyerl’s work and in depth viewpoints within the contemporary image is outstanding; Glenn Ligon’s recent exhibition Blue Black; Julia Haft Candell’s exhibition The Infinite; Nathan Lynch’s Ceramic Subterranean Homes; anything by Future Retrieval—Guy Michael Davis and Katie Parker; Tosha Stimage’s pointed work and upcoming group exhibition The Black Infinity. There are so many people making so much amazing work right now.
How did your current aesthetic style come to be?
These dark clay body forms reference the shadows cast from stone quarry walls at dusk. Geometric shapes and colorful designs mimic graffiti that exist on the stone faces of the now abandoned quarry. The titles “Uncertain Image” and “Work-Around” are descriptive signifiers meant to pose questions about how we remember stories. I recently asked my father to tell me more about the work that my grandfather did at the limestone quarry. His response was “grandad didn’t work there much, but your uncle did.” I’ve been questioning whether I remember this differently, I’m going crazy, I made it all up to deal with family stuff, or my father has early onset Alzheimer’s as my grandfather did. In the end I hope to think I am exploring a family that I do not remember much of.
What is your favorite form to make?
Most of my favorite forms have some references to existing objects. Some very explicit like egg crates. Others are quite removed from their original context. I attempt to remove as much visual information or indicating techniques used to create forms as possible. I prefer the user or viewer to have a sense of mystery or a question as to how the piece(s) are made or installed; as if they fell from the sky just as they are.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
I teach as a way to give back what others have given to me; time, technique, visual language, and a new way to understand vast cultural shifts and world views. I talk a lot about making work that asks questions rather than providing answers. If you think it needs to be created, then do it. But ask questions along the way and use work to explore the people and world around you.
Do you have other creative outlets/practices?
Everything is a creative practice in my mind. Everything I have done, seen, heard, and felt shapes the human I am right now. Questioning what those practices are and my privilege as a human who gets to make things is extremely relevant in my life. Self-expression is not the only form of art. I attempt to look out into the world to see where my life exists. From there I can attempt to understand people, ideas, and a multitude of varying viewpoints.
If you weren’t an artist, what would your dream job be?
This is it. The simple fact that I have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work with people in a field that supports a vast understanding of different cultures, human beings, and world views; while making whatever I want to make is gratifying, horrific and confusing; all at the same time.
Any favorite meal/food?
Breakfast for dinner
What has been your most memorable trip/vacation/residency?
Driving a twenty-six foot Uhaul, that was supposed to be a fifteen foot Uhaul, from California to Arkansas, by myself.