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Meet Sasha Wachtel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sasha Wachtel.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sasha. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started doing ceramics when I was twelve, which means I’ve been at it for longer than I’d like to admit. I had a truly great ceramics teacher in middle and high school. He knew how to teach technique— that’s the easy part— but also how to spark creativity and how to turn his studio into a place of peace and exploration. I learned about the history of the medium from the little shelf of books in his studio, and about contemporary art from the lectures and exhibitions he recommended. I essentially lived in that room for six years, an incredibly formative experience I feel so lucky to have had. When I teach now, I’m just trying to emulate him.

That school was near the Metropolitan Museum, and I used to spend a few evenings a week just wandering through its galleries alone. That kind of close, inexpert looking carries a feeling I’m still chasing, and sometimes I find it in the slowness and detail of making pottery, in the precise angle of a spout or seam. I ended up studying the history of art in college and graduate school, and working in galleries for a number of years. Pottery was never the focus, but always something I returned to in downtime. And then five years ago I fell in love on a road trip and moved to LA, and ceramics shifted from periphery to center. It’s been a really organic process, just a lot of experimentation and finding what I love, now, as an actual adult. Trying to synthesize that love into a personal voice. I’m still getting there.

Has it been a smooth road?
I still feel a lot of guilt about stepping away from my academic training to pursue studio work. I love art history and miss researching and writing about objects. That part of my brain is softening and it scares me. I’m actively trying to find a way to incorporate it into what I do on a daily basis.

Also, it’s an exciting but challenging time to be a ceramicist in Los Angeles. The field is saturated! Ceramics is having a (long) moment and it seems like a new studio pops up every few months– or it did, before the shutdown. I love that clay is on the radar, and finding a bigger place in gallery and retail settings. I love that most folks seem to value the handmade and are interested in the work that goes into producing functional wares. But this popularity also means that it’s difficult to carve out a place for oneself, find a different approach. It means networking and being social media savvy, things that don’t come that naturally to me. So, soft obstacles, but things I struggle with.

Tell us more about the business.
I make small batch ceramics. Many of my pieces are one of a kind, and, while functional, are altered and worked in ways that are more associated with sculpture. I always want my work to be expressive, elegant, humorous, and a little surreal— to bring its own personality to the table, and also to be durable and useful. I am inspired by the gestures of living things and the inherent analogy between vessels and bodies, clay and skin. This is most directly expressed in my portrait and body vessels but it also applies to a teapot’s handle, thrust and curved like a dancer’s arm, a jug craning its neck like a bird, or a city of bottles speaking to each other in a language of subtle difference and encrusted surface. I’m also a little obsessed with making teapots— because they’re accumulations of so many pieces, teapots are great vehicles for creative expression, but they’re limited by the demands of functionality. I find that tension really challenging and productive. My goal is to make things that you may pick up without thinking, but that will surprise and delight you when you look more closely. Things that become part of everyday life and make it more fun.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I’ve been working out of communal studios since moving to LA five years ago. Still Life Ceramics has been my home since they opened in The Row DTLA almost two years ago, with a second, more recent location in Santa Monica. It’s a vibrant, engaged environment that I love– my own work is improved by being around other artists and, especially, by teaching. Like all small businesses, these studios are struggling right now. They’ve had to pivot fast to online instruction and outreach, and they’re doing a great job. This is a tough time and no one knows how it plays out, least of all me. All I can say is that I truly hope the LA clay community rallies and pulls through– and: support your local ceramics studio!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Robert August (only for portrait)

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