A Conceptual Artist on Embracing the Joys of Object-Arranging
“I don’t necessarily think of myself as a ceramicist. I think of myself as an artist who happens to make ceramics,” says Erica Prince by way of explaining how she ended up developing a line of mind-bending, sculptural vessels. A printmaker and painter, Erica’s also dabbled in performance art with a series of transformational makeovers, designed to help the subjects explore all the different facets of their personalities through makeup and wigs. Here, Erica spills on how she thinks about art, styling tips, and a whole lot more.
Q. Can you explain why you don’t think of yourself as a traditional ceramicist?
A. Ceramicists are really in love with the process, and the forms kind of come as a result of their love of the medium. I had this very particular idea that I wanted to execute, and ceramics was the most direct way to do it—but I did end up falling for the practice after I worked with it. It is totally addicting, as anyone who does ceramics will tell you. It’s so fickle and difficult and so much harder than people realize, but then with that comes this very zen thing where you just have to accept failure and experimentation. But it was originally a means to an end for me. And I combine handbuilding and extrusion in a way that a classic potter might not—but I like that my pieces have a bit of that mark of the hand. They are slightly wonky, which ads personality since I’m not really into perfect symmetry. We have mass production for that.
Q. How do you use the pieces in your other projects?
A. The pieces have so many different lives, including being a part of my installations. I have a relational project where I give people transformational makeovers. It’s been ongoing for years, and the containers are part of that—they hold makeup, and then they also live in my studio and hold art supplies. I call them protean containers because it means multi-faceted and versatile, and I wanted to design something that could bend to the priorities of its owner. That’s much more realistic about the way people live. Especially in New York, people only have the objects that they absolutely need because you don’t have a lot of space, and therefore things that have multiple functions get bumped up on the list. I like this idea that all of my containers can evolve, so one minute they could be hold a floral arrangement, but the next minute, it can hold makeup. And when it’s not doing those things it’s just sitting there like a sculptural object.
Q. Let’s talk about styling! How do you make everything you touch look so good?
A. I’m not a professional stylist; I’m just a person who has a very strong opinion on how things should look. So I’ve created these ceramics that you can’t style in a bad way. That’s what I like about them. I get really elaborate with how I style them for photography, but you could also just take six roses, cut them all the same length and stick them in, and it would look awesome. They are frameworks. I don’t necessarily think more complicated is better. I like minimal ikebana arrangements in the floral realm—there is sometimes a fussiness to floral arranging, but also it can be super simple.
Q. How else do you make great arrangements if you don’t have a big fancy flower budget?
A. I do 90% of my styling with bodega flowers or things I’ve picked up off the sidewalk. It doesn’t have to be expensive. I mean, if you can afford expensive things, they are definitely going to be easier to make beautiful because they are already beautiful. But I look for items that have interesting colors and lines. It could be the most basic thing like pink roses, and as long as they’re not dead, then you’re fine. Or if something’s dead, it should be totally dead, not halfway! Then I look for interesting lines, like a cool-shaped stem or a stem you could bend. I look for weird grasses on the street that have a lot of energy—imagine a dynamic line drawing, and then try to mirror that with grasses or sticks. That being said, there’s a difference between arranging for IRL and a photo.
Q. Ah, good point! Can you talk a little bit more about how you approach those differently?
A. Things in real life are three-dimensional and you have to be able to move around them and appreciate them from different angles. A photo is a static point of view, and therefore it’s much more about this perfect composition. I was in the floral market recently, and I was talking to the people there about how the floral industry has changed because now it’s much more about photography than it is about things in real life. So people are buying flowers in a different way. But either way, it’s about colors and shapes that spark joy, to use a Marie Kondo-ism.
Q. Where do you get inspiration when you need it?
A. There’s something so uplifting about having plantlife in your home, especially during the winter. I recently read an amazing book called Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton. She’s one of my favorite authors, and this is basically one of her journals about her renovating her house. But she goes on these incredible tangents about her garden and her floral arrangements. It’s about this woman who lives alone and puts a floral arrangements in every room, and it’s just the most beautiful thing ever. I started making these ceramics when the world felt like it was going to shit. Before this, I was making this much more conceptual, research-driven artwork that’s about the cosmos for a certain niche of the art world. Instead, I started looking to what really made me happy, and practically overnight, I was like, “I love flowers. I need flowers.” It’s just interesting how in hard times people go back to the simpler, quieter joys. Object-arrangement generally does that for me—even with things on my vanity or in my studio. When all of that feels considered, then suddenly my whole life feels uplifted. Not that I’m a clean freak. It’s not about being clean. It’s about paying attention.
Q. What other kinds of non-floral stuff do you put in the vessels?
A. The holes in my containers are a really specific size, and so they fit a lot of different things. You can get really creative. I have one at home that has all my paint brushes, one that has all my makeup pencils, and one that I sometimes put fresh herbs in in the kitchen in water. And food-styling is something I’ve only scratched the surface of—I have friends who were like, “Can you do a hot dog one?” Why not! I’ve seen people put all their chopsticks in it or flatware for a dinner party. The possibilities are totally endless. Lollipops are really fun. It’s the perfect size for a taper candle.