Conversation with Ceramist Lily Fein

Lily Fein is a Massachusetts based artist who primarily works in clay.  Early this year she released her first artist book, a series of photographs selected from her ceramic work over the course of 2017.  The following is a conversation about process and inspiration.

[Free Witch] How did you get started creatively?  When did you realize you were an artist?

[Lily Fein] I was always doing stuff with my hands as a child. I feel like I haven’t realized I am an artist unless it is happening right now. I almost went to school for medicine! But now I’m looking at illustrations of internal organs and I feel good on this side of things. This decision to keep working in clay has never felt definitive or life-changing, maybe that’s why it sticks.

[FW] What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?

[LF] I’ve been taking a fairly long walk to and from the studio and it feels really important. A good sandwich of a studio day. If I’m doing a fulltime studio day life-style for a certain period of time I get to the studio early, drink tea/coffee/water, finish things I worked on the day before, start new objects that come to mind as I’m working. I gain momentum from just starting anywhere which is easy to forget and it is great when I remember. I eat around noon these days, sometimes talking to people, then I go back to studio nook and make more. The other day I ended my day by drawing which felt like a good night cap.

[FW] I like how your work is textural and rough yet at the same time it’s has a really delicate feel…a sort of intimacy and tenderness especially in your small stuff.  Can you talk about how you approach these formal elements, like form and surface quality and if there is any conceptual work that plays into it?

[LF] Thank you. So the texture is a result of the process of coiling and pinching the clay and I do it cause repetition feels good and the pace is slow and steady which is how I walk. Conceptually I like that people touch the work and could connect to my process and hands. This notion of intimacy is loaded I love it. Perhaps my desire for it shows in the surface and in the forms in how they are characters in my life that I want to get to know by making them. Or maybe they are the blobs in between two people, or in their insides.

[FW] How about your work with vessels?  It’s such an ancient form.  Your works brings a lot of animation into it…some of your pieces feel like multiple entities leaning into each other or sinking in on themselves or bulging…more emotive that I think about with a cup or a vase.  What about the repeating ring-like forms you have attached to some of your vessels?

[LF] “multiple entities leaning into each other”, That’s great I’d like to save that quote. That something abstract can be emotive in a relatively specific way is wonderful, who know? Sinking is a good one too. We had a creek where I went in the summer time called middlebrook and there was sinking sand and we would see how far we could sink before it felt terribly dangerous. Sinking in on oneself though, that’s another can of worms and maybe that happens as you grow. I like to see how far I can bend or push a vessel before I can tell it will rip or fall over.

[FW] Where do you stand on the spectrum between usable things and art objects?

[LF] I’m a fan of both. Yet, I can’t kick the habit of hollowness. That something could hold water if necessary is important to me. Maybe because I love water.

[FW] Where do you go for inspiration?

[LF] I hadn’t thought about it as for inspiration but that sounds about right. Bodies of water. Out of city. In to water.

[FW] Do you have an sort of parallel endeavors that influence your work?

[LF] My band, The Glue! I put less pressure on this endeavor which is good for me and reminds me that it could be that way with clay too. And residencies I have done make me travel which I like. My work ends up looking like a new body when I transition to a new space. I like to think of my pots as people so I’m pretty sure that having interaction with people is essential to the work too, but also being alone and by bodies of water.

[FW] What project/piece/etc. are you most excited about now?

[LF] I’m excited about looking at images that might influence my forms. Shells and organs are on the list. I have this idea that the things that I see daily directly relate to what comes out of my hands, so I want to be more intentional about what I look at. I made a thing today and someone asked what it was and I said “a tree organ.”

Also RULES! I decided I’ve been too free, and want to make up small rules to follow while making. Like for this new series I’ve decided no flat bottoms. Something real simple can change form drastically. I can’t make the same forms I was making before with a round bottom it would just be ridiculous.

[FW] What motivates you to keep working as an artist?

[LF] That I will surprise myself with something better later on down the line.

[FW] Who is your work for?  Where do you want it to exist?

[LF] What a good question. I definitely love giving my work to people I love. I think I show affection by making things. Galleries though too, for money, and having more people see it- I want people to buy it too so I can keep making it. The price points are often not that accessible. That is why I love the cup though, cups are cheaper than your average painting, and you could even try hanging it on the wall. Maybe I would prefer a showroom in my “house” or something, because I like when the exchange is personal and the home as a gallery is ideal. Or anywhere as a gallery, everywhere is a gallery!

[FW] What’s something you’ve done in your creative work that you’ve been really happy about?

[LF] This book!

[FW] Have you done any projects that have really failed?

[LF] No projects specifically, but singular pieces ALL THE TIME. The ceramic process is relatively long because a piece goes through two or more firings and a lot can go weird in that time. I threw out a whole lot of work in 2017- it felt great. Also though, I love when things don’t go as planned which may at first seem like a failure but if you keep it around it grows in your eyes to be just right.

You can purchase Lily’s book here, or find out more about her here.