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Meet Cooper Mcdonnell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cooper Mcdonnell.

Hi Cooper, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
My story as an artist has taken many turns and only continues to do so as I progress in my work. I get inspired by an idea and embrace change as that idea continues to evolve over time. Ceramics and art have literally always been a part of my life. At a very early age, I was introduced to ceramics by my grandfather, Ken Price. During my visits at his studio in Venice, I would experiment with clay beside him and watch as he created some of the most incredible sculptures I have ever seen. Though I dabbled alongside him each time I’d visit, it wasn’t until years later that I decided to make a career out of clay.

My career as a ceramicist truly began when I moved back home to Malibu after graduating from CU Boulder with an art degree. Unsure of life’s next steps as a post-grad, I followed the lead of many of my peers in LA and became a production assistant. Though I continued to make art in my free time and between jobs, I found myself longing just for more studio time. I realized there were unanswered questions I had about the technical and financial sides of art. To gain more knowledge I started taking jobs as an artist’s assistant to various artists. Working for these artists provided me with the insight and tools necessary to structure my own career as an emerging artist. It was at this point that I started my own business, Outfront Ceramics.

Even today, I find that my artistic vision is constantly changing. Outfront Ceramics is an outlet that allows me to explore art by way of everything from pottery to sculpture. I began by producing a simple mug which soon turned into me creating an entire line of a functional dish and dinnerware. Now, I am experimenting with the line between function and artistic expression. A mug does not need to be defined simply as pottery as it can also feature many aspects of sculpture. Using this idea, I continue to make work that is functional but also with my own sculptural elements incorporated. My most recent works have gone up significantly in terms of both size and scale with items like tables, chairs, large planters, and more.

Outfront Ceramics also provides opportunities for me to work with others to create collaborative pieces. Working with others, whether it be commission work for a home goods store, hotel, or a client order for custom dinnerware, has always helped me to explore new and innovative ideas in my own practice.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Starting a career as an artist is not always easy. Challenges and obstacles are common when attempting to find and distinguish yourself as an artist. For me, it is always important to remember that these challenges are ultimately what helped me to develop, grow, and evolve most in my career. In fact, creating Outfront Ceramics was the solution to knowing there was a certain void I felt from not spending enough time in the studio. What started simply as a hobby and passion then turned into my creating a pottery line to help keep a steady cash flow. Since Outfront Ceramics has evolved into a diverse business where I get to collaborate with others while continuing to explore my own passions and vision as an artist.

Starting Outfront Ceramics introduced me to a side of the art world that I knew little to nothing about…the business side. I soon discovered that making products for others is an entirely different feeling than making products or art for yourself. I learned that what others might like and appreciate may not always completely align with my own tastes. While reaching out to various shops, I realized that each was unique in its style and collection. This meant I would need to adapt certain aspects of my work to create a product that I was confident could represent both me and the store it was being sold at. Though collaborating to create these sorts of products brings me so much joy, in the beginning, I did find it difficult to adapt styles and / or ideas from those I was so used to creating.

Among others, another obstacle and challenge I’ve faced is simple time management. When starting Outfront Ceramics I envisioned an endless time in my studio making art, unaware of the fact that the business side of things would often be the thing consuming most parts of my day. Whether it’s making work to keep up with current orders or meeting to discuss various ideas with collaborators, making time for my personal art can sometimes be challenging.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Outfront Ceramics is heavily influenced by my background and the place in which I grew up. When making household objects and pottery I want the customer to feel a sense of comfort and familiarity. In order to create this feeling I often leave finger marks and subtle irregularities in my objects. I want people to understand and visualize the way in which my pieces are made. Each is different, no two are ever exactly the same. Perfection, to me, is found within all of the little imperfections.

While making a sculpture or some kind of abstract piece I try to work within a parameter (of sorts) but ultimately strive to leave previous influences behind. I like my work to come from a place of complete subconsciousness. It’s not until my work is done or almost done that I am able to understand what themes or experiences may have influenced me at the time.

I’ve found that most of my work is inspired by experiences and lessons I’ve learned over the course of my life. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside many great artists including Ron Nagel, Chris Gustin, John Gill, Rogan Gregory, and most importantly my grandfather, Ken Price.

I am continually impressed by others in my medium and can confidently say that learning from others has been the most important and formative part of my artistic journey thus far.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up I was always surrounded by art and ceramics. Seeing my grandfather’s work transition from his studio to a gallery space showed me being an artist can be a real profession.

I grew up in a very supportive community in Malibu, CA. At Point Dume Elementary I was taught the values of protecting the ocean. We often would walk to the tide pools as a class and learn about marine life. Today, I can see connections in my work with the marine life in Malibu. At Malibu High, it became apparent that academia was not my strongest suit of mine. I struggled a lot with most of my classes and found it very hard to be motivated in class. Ceramics was the only class I felt a passion for.

Another huge impact that helped me motivated in art was the community around me. Malibu is full of artists and everyone in this town is so supportive of one another. My friends and family encouraged the arts and always supported my passion for ceramics. The place I grew up in has a huge influence and impact on my art today.

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