Faces: Ceramicist B. Zippy Is Knee Deep in Clay
California is known for beaches, deserts, and mountains, sure, but it's also a pottery powerhouse. With a rich and deep history of heritage 20th century potters like Heath Ceramics out of Sausalito, Bauer Pottery out of Los Angeles, and Metlox Pottery out of Manhattan Beach (to name just a few), it's no surprise that California's ceramic culture is still vibrant.
The ceramicist du jour and one that's caught our attention on more than one occasion is L.A.'s B. Zippy. Known for her juxtapositions of sharp geometry with organic shapes, from Brutalist lamps to hexagonal coasters, we had visit the Glassell Park studio and get a closer look to see what makes modern potter Bari Ziperstein tick.
When did you know you were an artist? Was there a singular moment?
I haven't known anything else since I was very young, so there was never a singular moment but rather a series of mentors, activities, and materials that challenged, reaffirmed and nourished my creativity. I did have to make a decision to have a daily practice, to be a creative citizen and learn to make work that is politically and personally radical.
What the best part of working with your hands on a daily basis?
I've only recently returned to the studio from an eleven-week break after giving birth to my first son Lawrence. The return to the semi-daily practice in the studio has become more sacred, pointless, and precious as I smooth out edges of clay, prep clay slabs for the next day, and listen to books on tape. Through my sleep deprived haze I'm starting to again imagine new forms, concepts, and identities—keeping my hands ever busy while breaking to pump ever three hours.
Victorian Busts by B. Zippy
As an artist, a business owner, and a mother, how do find yourself dividing your time? Is it a free flow or hyper-planned schedule?
Recently, my time has been very scheduled. Having a newborn, I'm only sleeping three to four hours at a time, but within this rigorous schedule I find the days full of adrenaline to create in a super efficient way allowing daydreaming to happen on my drives to the studio and during long breast-feeding sessions in the middle of the night.
What's your favorite time of day?
During those long night feedings for little Lawrence, the middle of the night at 3:30 AM is particularly surreal, clear, exhausting and magical. The house is quiet, dark, and I'm able to process my daily thoughts. I often wonder, who the hell else is up at that time and why? But I usually quickly scurry back to bed.
What's your witching hour?
I'm naturally a nighttime person. I used to stay at the studio till 3 AM some evenings listening to music knee deep in clay at the studio.
Your work seems to masterfully straddle both sharp geometric lines and organic shapes, what's more instinctual?
Definitely the sharp geometric lines with its architectural influences are more instinctual, as it's so satisfying to turn mud into structure. But the juxtaposition of organic and geometric is a crucial aesthetic choice. It keeps the eye moving and brings about odd pairings that speak to many of my conceptual choices.
Ceramics are such a process with flipping and drying and heating, how has the time-sensitive process affected other facets of your life?
Ceramic production is extremely time sensitive and a particularly demanding medium with its various drying stages where carving happens in one stage and glazing in another. I plan production work the night before, knowing I need to roll out soft slabs in order to have leather hard slabs the next morning to work with. Obtaining flat high fire coasters are a particularly rigorous process, as I dry them between stacks of drywall for two weeks flipping them daily so the porous drywall sucks out the moisture evenly. If I try to rush the process even by a day or two, they always end up coming out of the glaze kiln curved—which ends up in the reject pile.
Clay has memory, and demands its own timeline specifically based on the moisture in the air and season. Southern California is wonderful on its hot summer days, which go late into Oct where greenware dries out on my back patio in a matter of hours. During colder seasons in California, greenware takes longer to dry and production is slower but allows for more working time during various stages.
What is it about the California weather that inspires your art?
The California landscape and weather is reflected in my often moody and odd juxtapositions of horizontal glaze pairings. Los Angeles is a sprawling landscape where the weather is radically different whether up at Big Bear, in Redondo Beach, at my Glassell Park studio or in Joshua Tree all with in a few hours drive from one another.
Don't be antisocial, follow B. Zippy on Instagram @bzippy and see more of her work (or shop) on bzippyandcompany.com.