Briefly describe the work that you do.
I had the privilege of being classically trained as a production potter and working as a journeyman for notable German craftsmen before arriving in the United States. Utilizing traditional ceramic craft processes, I have developed an innovative and distinct approach to making sculpture with wheel-thrown parts and my work seeks to render the formless material of clay into figures that resonate with wonder and makes the familiar increasingly strange.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I was introduced to craft early in my childhood through my parents’ modest collection of affordable folk art, dolls and pottery—all being difficult to find. I especially admired my mom’s pottery collection and used to steal cookies from a jar that was as big as I was.
When I was four years old, it happened that I broke my mom’s favorite vase. Dad rescued me from her wrath, but from that day, I was fated to become a potter.
When I look back at my childhood, it seems to be a fairytale. We visited castles, theaters and listened to Baroque music.
Being supplied by state-owned businesses in the GDR we all owned the very same things. People did not use phones and color TVs were rare. The inhabitants in my hometown spent their leisure time pursuing hobbies, socializing, telling stories and creating things and so did I.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I kept drawing and creating, and around the age of ten, I started to fool around with clay at the “pioneer house” in Halle—my hometown. We had only one wheel for the entire class, but my teacher prohibited all of us from using it except for one boy. Deprived of the object of my heart’s desire, I vowed to become a potter one day. I took art classes every day. I skipped high school art classes to bike nine kilometers to take pottery classes in a little village outside of town instead. By the time I was eighteen, I became an apprentice at a production pottery for three years and a journeyman for one year—being paid per piece. During this time, every evening after work, I took countless ceramic, figure drawing and painting classes.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
As a sculptor, my work appropriates historical figuration derived from the content of fables and myths that are then reinterpreted and pushed to physical limits through the materiality of ceramics. My artworks offer a glimpse into the ominous side of fables that presents a history that is at once revealed and concealed through figurines, fairytales and myths. The history of the figure within art history in general, and ceramics in particular is a complex and rich base for me to work from. An often-overlooked art, these historical works offer an uncanny union at once wonderful, elegant and fanciful but also uncomfortable and awkward as stories about statues come to life and illustrate the undercurrents of contemporary culture.
Devoid of color and increased in scale, the objects I produce move away from the seemingly whimsical nature of their original source both in terms of physical size and technical virtuosity. I find great power in working from this historical base, and the opportunity it presents for questioning the boundaries between kitsch and high art.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
In terms of method, when I work I keep myself focused and restricted by guidelines. Some of these might seem very strange. For instance, for years I did not allow myself to use black until I woke up one morning and asked myself, why not use black? and it was introduced back into my artwork. I would set myself certain aesthetic rules at certain times until I could not justify using them any more. During one period in my work, everything had to be extremely colorful and gloss glazed. Every bit of surface had to be covered until, years later, I forced myself to remove the glaze and then even the color. What I discovered then was an attractive stone-like apparent clay body in which the throwing lines simulated the feeling of skin. Earlier in my career, I was smitten by Pop and Funk art and now I’m drawn to Baroque and Renaissance art. It was only after many years in my own aesthetic development that I finally learned how to digest this complex historical work. It is now my inspiration, and I get shivers and goose bumps from looking at such mastery.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
The ceramic work of artist Margit Kovacs (1902-1977). While Kovacs is known in certain decorative arts circles, her work is far less known within the context of American studio ceramics and scholarship. There are relatively few of her works in public collections outside of Hungary, and the work of Wiener Werkstatt artists Vally Wieselthier. As woman working in the early to mid twentieth century they were pioneers in developing new ways of working in ceramic materials, and extending the traditional process of wheel throwing from its utilitarian base into a tool for the production of narrative sculpture works. These Wiener Werkstatt artists are the only historical precedent I am aware of that connects to the manner that I have developed in my own working process; specifically that of creating large scale figurative works through parts generated on the potters wheel.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
Recently I moved to Wisconsin to teach ceramic art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The minute I moved to town I joined the Hoofer sailing club, known as the second largest inland fleet with more than 120 different boats and sailboards. When the boats were put away for the winter, I started Tango dancing. Those two fantastic hobbies keep me sane, happy and focused, because no one can stay healthy without some relief from studio practice when work breaks, collapse or moves and twists in unexpected ways. One of my newer rules: if the piece does not survive because of technical issues, then I attempt to resolve these issues by building the same sculpture again but bigger.
Gerit Grimm was born, and grew up in Halle, German Democratic Republic. In 1995, she finished her apprenticeship, learning the traditional German trade as a potter at the “Altbürgeler blau-weiss GmbH” in Bürgel, Germany and worked as a Journeyman for Joachim Jung in Glashagen, Germany. She earned an Art and Design Diploma in 2001 studying ceramics at Burg Giebichenstein, Halle, Germany. In 2002, she was awarded with the German DAAD Government Grant for the University of Michigan School of Art and Design, where she graduated with an MA in 2002. She received her MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 2004. She has taught at CSULB, Pitzer College, Doane College and MSU Bozeman and has worked at major residencies like Mc Coll Center, Bemis Center, Kohler Arts & Industry Program and Archie Bray Foundation. In 2009 NET Television created “Fantasia in Clay” a Nebraska Story about artist Gerit Grimm. Grimm is now an Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison. The National Council for Education on the Ceramic Arts conference published on Mar 12, 2014 a 2 hour DVD: NCECA National Council on Education for the Ceramics Art Gerit Grimm 2013 Demonstrating Artist (ISBN 978-1-935046-60-8).
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.