“Masterworks in Clay” shows Gustin’s ceramic evolution

January 31, 2014

Ceramist Chris Gustin’s 90 piece “Masterworks in Clay” opens Saturday at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art at State Fair Community College.

Thursday morning Daum Museum Director Tom Piche gave a walk through for museum docents explaining Gustin’s beginning and smaller early work and his progression to creating large scale vessels.

Piche said that Gustin was born in 1952, and lived in Los Angeles, Calif., and came from a surfer type culture.

“But his parents were involved in art, especially decorative art,” Piche said. “And his father owned two commercial potteries. And by the age of 19, Chris was seriously involved in helping run one of the smaller potteries.”

While there, he learned about production and molds and making decorative art that was sold in gift shops.

“So at a young age he knew one side of the business of ceramics,” Piche said. “His older brother was studying to be a painter at the Kansas City Art Institute and he encouraged Chris to quit the family business, because you’ll be stuck out here forever if you don’t make a leap. So Chris went to the Kansas City Art Institute as well, and he studied with Ken Ferguson and Victor Babu. And right there you get the dichotomy between artist, the ceramist who is very interested in functional, plain, useful ware— Ken Ferguson — and Victor Babu who is more interested in surface decoration.”

Piche said Gustin thrived under Ferguson whose works were influenced by Japanese folk tradition. Later, Gustin went to finishing school at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y.

“He did his graduate work there,” Piche said. “And he was influenced by William Daley who is from the same school as Ken Ferguson, the Japanese aesthetic.”

Gustin’s exhibit is arranged in chronological order spanning 40 years of work, beginning in the Scott Gallery and ending in the Douglas Freed Gallery. Quotes from the artist are also placed on the walls.

“They help set the stage for specific areas of the show,” Piche said.

Gustin’s earlier pieces were examples of the modernist functional potter, such as ergonomic teapots. His work eventually transitioned into sturdier vessels and pieces that have been sandblasted after they were fired. And he began dealing with form, color, light and structure.

“He’s also playing with the relationship of ceramics to the human body,” Piche said.

Gustin moved away from the utilitarian pot to the smooth roundness of human organs and eventually to large four-foot sculptural vessels.

On Friday, Gustin hosted a workshop in SFCC’s fine arts department. While working with clay on a pottery wheel he spoke to college students from the Kansas City Art Institute, the University of Central Missouri, St. Theresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri Valley College in Marshall, and SFCC.

“This could become a vase depending on what I do next,” he said. “Or it could be a big ice bucket, this form is consistent with what I work with.”

A student asked if he produces his work from sketches.

“Drawing sets up a huge amount of barriers, I like to be spontaneous in the moment of thinking,” he said.

He added that the idea of sketching can sometimes stress a ceramist, but he produces what he calls doodles.

“I doodle a lot, and only in the last few years have I taken those and used them,” he said. “When I’m building a new body of work I use big rolls of newsprint.”

He said he uses ink and brushes or pens doodling on the newsprint, often filling the studio walls with ideas. He also uses glass panels and ink to create monoprints, often using them for ideas.

He said he enjoys stretching his creative thought process.

“Boundaries are something I love,” he said. “Boundaries to me is creating. It offers the construct that you can respond to in multiple, multiple ways. Defining the thing, and then getting right on the edge of it.”

He told students that if he added two inches to the diameter of the pot he was working on it would involve another week’s worth of work.

“Pots are all about relationships, it’s a conversation about how all this melds together,” he said.

Gustin will present an lecture at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Stauffacher Theater at SFCC. It will be followed by a 4 p.m. reception, and is open to the public. His exhibit will show through May 25.

Daum Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information call 530-5888 or visit