What It Takes to Come up with a Really Fresh New Ceramics Idea
Zoë Kantor might describe herself as a ceramicist, but she’s really an inventor. Through an intuitive process of R and D, the NYC potter created a technique for making vases and bowls that come with moving, interactive loops and links—a mix of functionality (you can use them as a handle) and ornament (it’s like your vase got a piercing!). Hear all about what it took Zoë to get here—and where she looks when she’s trying to get the juices flowing.
Q. Your pieces are so original. How did you land on this idea of piercing the clay?
A. “A lot of my work is about improvisation on the wheel, where there are so many factors at play. Sometimes clay is really hard, and sometimes it’s really soft. I’m just building on that and respecting wherever I am that day. It’s about finding the right way to manipulate the clay and push it to its limit because it definitely has a limit. It’s not like painting where you can paint over something. Clay will be like, ‘Nope, I’m done, I’m tired, and I’m going to collapse into myself.’ So, stopping just before that point has been the key. For the links, I’m always looking around at fixtures and locks and industrial things that have a function because there is so much design involved. So I wanted to capture that.”
Q. Do you have tips on how to use the loops?
A. “I always tell people not to grab the ring and lift it in one swift motion. You don’t want to bang it against itself. That should be somewhat intuitive, I hope. You can use it as a handle, but you have to learn the limits. But it’s beautiful and special, and I think objects that require a little bit of extra care allow you to develop a stronger attachment to them—because you are caring for them and about them. A lot of my ideas about that came from jewelry design. There’s this jeweler that makes these weird, black bubble pieces. Her name is Jane D’Arensbourg. They’re so beautiful, but, at the same time, they could break and cut you, so you have to be gentle.”
Q. Aside from industrial design, are there other realms and creators you look to for ideas when you’re stuck?
A. “I’m inspired by some of the classics when it comes to designers—Frank Lloyd Wright for how he played with hard and soft elements. Brancusi for the same reasons. In today’s world, we have the opportunity to be exposed to design constantly. There are also a lot of architecture and interior and furniture design people working who I follow on Instagram, and it’s nice to be able to scroll through my feed and see what they’re working on. I really like Harry Nuriev of Crosby Studios. His work is really cool; he’s a furniture and interior designer. Everything is super colorful and playful, but there’s also something cold about it—he plays with a lot of metals, and some of his chairs seem super uncomfortable, which I think goes back to the notion of the unfunctional function of the handles that I make. Also, the first poetry book I ever bought was Grapefruit by Yoko Ono. This book is a prescription for inspiration when I need it. Something about it feels connected to how I hope people will use my pieces—literally, optionally, and in a personalized way."
Q. That’s such an interesting take on your own work—and also Instagram, which feels like something people mostly complain about these days! Who else is on the must-follow list?
A. “I mean, there are definitely two sides two it—but as artists and designers, it’s amazing that we can share our work and also open this thing up and be exposed to so much amazing stuff. I just discovered Hilary Robertson. She’s another interior designer in New York who has a similar aesthetic to me, lots of playing with muted tones. Also, Jenny Hata Blumenfield makes really beautiful sculptures, and Gemma Correll is a funny, feminist, body-positive cartoonist.”