Neighborhood Gem. Clay Artist Darin Gehrke

Neighborhood Gem. Clay Artist Darin Gehrke

Greetings friends and collectors!  One of the features of the A&L blog this year will be to highlight working artists and small businesses  in the Village of West Greenville.  The talent in this little artsy neighborhood is second to none and it’s all within a several walking blocks!  This Saturday, Jan. 31st,  Art & Light will host Circa Doughnuts, another excellent and delicious locally owned business that has taken Greenville by storm.  Along with Circa, we’re pouring hot coffee from the neighborhood’s newest and hottest coffee shop, The Village Grind. AND to top it off we’re doing a mug giveaway – gorgeous clay mugs from neighbor, Darin Gehrke.

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This week’s featured artist is clay artist Darin Gehrke.  You can find Darin in the Flatiron Building just a block away from A&L on Pendleton Street.  After Darin’s successful adventure with Artisphere in 2013, he and his wife, Cherington (who is from Greenville) decided it was time to make the move from New York City to Greenville.  I spent a little bit of time getting to know Darin this week and thought you would love getting to know him as well!  If you haven’t visited Darin in his studio, don’t walk, run all the way – you will love the beautiful simplicity of the Asian inspired pieces – so contemporary, so lovely and so much fun to use!

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Tell me a little bit about what lead you back to Greenville? Darin:   I am originally from Pennsylvania so this is the first time I have really set roots in the South.  My wife, Cherington is from Greenville, so for her we have moved back home. We had been living in New York City for ten years and a series of life events got us thinking it may be time to move on from the city. Our three year old daughter was ready to start preschool and the building where my garment district studio had been located for ten years was being converted into residential apartments. My studio in NYC was a great spot for producing pottery but it was located on the fourth floor and lacked a good display area for my work.

 When I did Artisphere in 2013, I was very happy with the response my work received. We thought Greenville might give me a chance to set up a new studio that was street level and had     a gallery portion. After reading about the positive changes going on in the Village of West Greenville, we knew that is where we wanted to be.  I was very fortunate to find a spot in the Flat Iron Building and moved in July 2014. Getting to know all of my artist/neighbors in the Village has been a lot of fun and motivating.

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Who are the artists that influenced and inspired you in the beginning of your career? Chris Staley, my professor at Penn State would be my biggest influence. When I first saw him throw, I thought the clay was coming out of his fingers. He was able to explain so well why and what he was doing when making pots. He really caused me to fall in love with clay and I just took off from there. Another huge influence would be Warren MacKenzie who is still making pots in his nineties. He is responsible for bringing the Japanese Mingei style of pottery back to the United States and creating an East/West aesthetic. MacKenzie’s work is a great inspiration to me.

Do you work both sculpturally and with functional vessels?  I do make sculptural pieces from time to time but prefer to make functional pottery.

What lead you to focus on one or the other? Sculpture is very interesting to me but I find it much more challenging creating work that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also functions well. There will always be a bit of a barrier between the viewer and a piece of sculpture but with pottery we become quite intimate. Everything I make, from cup to teapot, I think sculpturally about positive and negative space and proportions. Then I also think functionally about how ones hand will fit in the handle, how your lip will feel when it touches the lip or how a spout is going to pour.

Your work is very clean and contemporary. Do home trends play into your inspiration for your pieces or  has this always been the direction of your work. Home trends interest me but I don’t think that really influences what I make. When I lived in New York, I used to go to the Met’s Asian galleries and look at all of the ceramics. I have always been drawn to the Chinese Song Dynasty pots and the Korean celadon and white ware. These forms are timeless and are always in the back of my head when I am making. The Asian influence and glazing with a focus on the form are probably what give my pots a contemporary feel.

Clay is part of our lives and relevant to everyone – what keeps you going, practicing, making and trusting in your intuition? As with many art forms, a potter never stops learning and as many artists, I keep trying to make better work, so I keep making. Every time I make a group of pots, I discover or see something new which excites me to get started on the next batch.

Having a gallery space within my studio is also motivating. Everyone who comes in is encouraged to pick up and touch the pots. It gives me a chance to see how the pieces are handled and to explain something about the process or design. There are many urges I can’t explain that keep me wanting to create. However, the most encouraging is the occasional person who will come back to me and let me know the mug I made has become their favorite. It is so simple but very special.