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Meet Cassandra Brown of C’EST BON . CLAY & CLOTH in Oakland

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cassandra Brown.

Cassandra, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Like many people, art has been with me all my life and has played a crucial role in how I understand and enjoy the world. I’d studied and practiced the spectrum of works on paper, canvas, and fabric in both fine art and design capacities, but somehow had pretty limited experience with dimension until I worked with Jonathan Adler as a textile designer. He came up as a potter but had a sort of media-impartial attitude that felt very liberating. Like, it’s all good, why limit oneself? I definitely credit the creative atmosphere there with opening my eyes to ceramics especially. Colleagues would host casual hand building nights in the in-house ceramic’s studio. That’s where I first started to feel drawn to work with space and form. Sculpture still excites me in part because I feel so incredibly challenged by it. I don’t “think” in dimension and can’t plan for or predict the outcomes. The only way to figure anything out is to engage with the material. That feels very intuitive and essential to me.

I’ve maintained a personal art practice alongside my career working as a textile and home goods designer but kept these two areas of my life separate for years. When I moved from New York to the Bay Area in 2013, starting C’EST BON was a break toward so many new terrains: a new coast, a relatively new medium, and a desire to finally share what I was working on. Since then, I’ve shown at West Coast Craft in SF and LA, been featured as an emerging artist at the American Craft Show, and sold work in some awesome stores like Gravel and Gold and the Contemporary Jewish Museum shop in SF. Next, I’m looking forward to growing my wholesale base, having work in some small group shows with artists I admire, and a residency next summer at Watershed Center for Ceramic Art.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The biggest puzzle for me right now is knowing how to grow and how to position my work to the outside world. Some days, I question whether I should even call C’EST BON a company, because it’s literally just me doing everything, and trying to keep art at its core. I want to make special things, which are almost never an easy or quick bake. Making things by hand is something I really enjoy, but it’s the freedom to constantly experiment that keeps it exciting for me – repetition is kind of a creativity killer. Currently, it seems like two production extremes exist: one-of-a-kind, slow, expensive work, or mass produced, fast, and cheap work. There isn’t much in between or much of my process that I can hand over to someone else. Figuring out how to scale is a real problem at the heart of many small businesses.

C’EST BON. CLAY & CLOTH – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
My career making objects for the home was a bridge into art. The goals of practicality and function gave me permission to create beautiful, usable things. I still see those goals as valuable, and in a lot of ways find the art vs. craft discussion pretty silly, but the longer I work at it, the less “practical” some my work has become. It’s recently gotten to the point where I am seeking totally separate venues to show two discrete bodies of work. The design line of fun and functional work, under the project name C’EST BON. CLAY & CLOTH, and my personal artworks, under my name, Cassie Brown.

The C’EST BON line is all designed and handmade by me, but they are slightly easier for me to replicate for shops, fairs, and online orders. I can’t play favorites but my little face plates and cups are a best seller and I really love them. I make them in five whimsical face styles- not exactly portraits, more like vibey little imaginary aura sketches. These are thrown, hand etched and inlaid with slip (a technique called Mishima), then the excess slip is carefully scratched off, I paint additional details, and give them a clear glaze so they are food safe. I also have had so much fun developing a line of little geometric animal sculptures. Some are made of up to 15 individually hand cut and joined pieces. I currently have a fox, a bull, a gator, a deer, a snake, a cat, and a bird, and I’ve recently started working on a turtle, a ram, and some mythical creatures. I guess it’s a bit hard to stop! Finally, my lathe cups are meditations on color and a celebration of the stripe. I throw them all the same thickness, then hand carve and hand paint inset stripes so each is a little different. I also make rainbow lathe vases that are much taller, multicolor, statement pieces.

In my art practice, I’ve been focusing a lot more on wall pieces and sculptural vessels. Sculpture in clay is a way for me to feel connected to and understand the world. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about an intuitive or childlike experience of the physical: grasping the laws of light and shadow via the object, capturing time through movement and stasis, and imagining new spaces, distorted in perspective and scale. Formally, I’m often drawing from games I grew up with. Sometimes I think of the vessels I make more as shrunken landscapes, dollhouses, and dioramas for another world or species. Spheres act as characters, the most reduced forms existing on the planes of the work. I am asking myself, where do these characters want to exist? Are they resting, or stuck, or is this a still from a movie – if I turn the pot upside down, how does it change their experience? You can see some of these explorations in my Instagram feed or the sculpture section of my website.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
The people I have met and worked with are my best examples of good fortune. I just think nothing happens without other people. Although I find my art practice is best when it’s focused and solitary, I really love and need connections with fellow artists and makers. The first example I think of is my and curator Arianne Gelardin. We met at my open studio and she very spontaneously invited me to sell my work at the pop up she was opening in the mission. The shop, called Parlor, was both a gallery and store. It was just so beautiful, and she was so generous and kind throughout. It was my first experience selling in a store, and it’s still stands out as one of my favorites! More recently after a long discussion about creating our own opportunities, artist Michelle Yi Martin invited me to a group show she was putting together with some amazing women artists who use craft language and materials. It’s been delayed due to COVID19, but we are all still holding onto the idea that it WILL happen! These are just a few people that I feel really lucky to have met.

I also feel so fortunate to have my own studio space, which was basically passed down to me by some super supportive neighbors who were moving away. It’s a very rustic but large shed in my neighbor’s backyard. I know it sounds a little strange, and it is exactly what I need… except that it isn’t kitted with the right electricity to have my own kiln! Up until now, I’ve rented kilns at a great community studio called Potters’ Studio in Berkeley, but the more delicate and complex my work gets, the harder that is to pull off. During the pandemic, everything is closed, and I currently have a lot of work that needs to be fired before it’s finished. It’s rough to have such a giant portion of the process out of my hands. Ceramics is an especially community-driven pursuit because it can be quite space and equipment-intensive. I think in the future I would also like to be one of those “lucky-to-know” people for other artists. I was just fantasizing with a friend about having a circle of ten sheds just like mine, each rented out to a different artist, with shared kilns and resources in the center. Either curating shows or buying land and running a shared studio or residency program would be a dream.

Pricing:

  • Face plates and cups are 58$ each
  • Animal sculptures range $48-$68 each
  • Lathe Cups are $52 each
  • Rainbow Lathe vessels Range $175-$250 each
  • Email me for pricing on my sculptural artwork.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Cassie Brown

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