Rick Epstein: Forests of Clay

Rick Epstein: Forests of Clay

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epstein_tree-trunksFor Rick Epstein, ceramic tile is his canvas. Unlike a painting on canvas, Epstein’s clay landscapes have tangible depth and texture that play with light and create shadows that shift around on the tile throughout the day. They are often of a scale that makes you feel as if you are about to step into a forest or dive into a lake.

What is your background, including art and other degrees… or are you self taught?
I grew up in the Connecticut River Valley, Holyoke actually, and while growing up it seemed like I was always around art. Whether it was weaving, sculpting or photography someone in my family was busy making art. I do not possess degrees in art so one would definitely call me “self–taught”. For one reason or another I was drawn to clay. It was such a strong connection – I really enjoyed working clay in my hands. In college I took a clay studio class and was “hooked”. The first half of my adult life was spent working at our family home-furnishing store. During those years clay was a hobby but I kept a small studio in my basement.

epstein_portraitWhen did your hobby turn into your career?
Sixteen years ago I became a full time potter. I created a body of decorative wheel thrown vessels with sculptural lids. All the work was Raku fired. It was with this work that I began selling in juried art and craft shows, predominately on the east coast. My first presence at Paradise City was almost eleven years ago.

You have become very well known for your monumental wall pieces. How did this body of work come about?
At a certain point, I yearned for a more illustrative direction. At the same time I was in a number of shows in New York City. I would often wander over to the Metropolitan Museum on a Friday night, and it was their collections of bas-relief antiquities that honestly led me in this direction. Sure those “sculpted surfaces” from ancient Egypt, Syria or Greece were speaking of a battle’s outcome, a deity or a king’s legacy, but could I sculpt clay and tell a different story? It was from that historical perspective that emerged this series of bas-relief tiles depicting my New England landscape.

a-walk-in-the-woodsYour imagery is quite striking and the richness of your colors and textures are breathtaking. Can you describe your techniques?
Like many ceramic processes, mine is long and arduous. I start by rolling out sheets (slabs) of clay and sculpt the landscape using photographs as source material, much like a painter. Once completed, the tiles need to dry slowly and are eventually fired in my kiln. The painting of the surface starts with ceramic mediums that are fired in and finished with a post- firing painting with artist acrylic in a matt medium. The process can take up to 3- 4 months.

The tiles are then mounted on wood panels with hardware for hanging. My clay landscape tiles suspend framelessly (2”-5” off the wall) with a sculptural presence, as the 3-D qualities of the once wet clay remain for the viewer. Trees branches approach you while others recede. Forest paths entice you to enter and inhabit the landscape. Shadows form and shift across my sculpted clay surface. Thus an ever changing relationship is made between the viewer and landscape.

enchanted-forestYou must have a large studio to work on such big pieces…?
Two years ago my family and I moved to a new home on a lake in Westfield, Ma. Besides being a beautiful place to live, I was able to build a new studio whereby I have 18 foot high walls to work on. This has without doubt opened the door to larger scale projects.

Some artists can be a bit diffident when putting their work out in front of the public. How do you feel about the “Show Experience”?
I really believe that exhibiting my artwork in art shows and craft exhibitions, versus just showing in art galleries, has contributed greatly to my development as an artist and to my career. For one, many people have a dynamic experience on entering my booth and engaging with my clay landscapes for the first time. It is energizing to witness first hand their impressions. Secondly, many of my sales have become commission based. Clients will fall in love with my sculptures at a show, but after talking to them I am often able to sculpt an original landscape in a subject, size and palette that best suits them and fits that particular space in their home.

Rick Epstein is excited to exhibit his newest clay-based landscape bas-reliefs at Paradise City Marlborough November 18-20. Do you have a special project in mind? He welcomes your ideas, and would love to create a commissioned piece just for you!