Honest Forms: An Interview with Kyle Bauer by Cara Ober

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On the eve of his solo exhibition, Charting Course, opening June 7 at Pinebox Art Center in Highlandtown, sculptor and ceramicist Kyle Bauer discusses the subtleties of slip casting, the allure of maritime navigation, and the significance of balance, tension, and control in his work.

Kyle Bauer is a native of Southern Illinois. He graduated in 2007 with a BFA in Sculpture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in 2011 with an MFA in Ceramics from Louisiana State University. Bauer’s work is an exploration of both traditional and alternative ceramic processes that are realized within the context of mixed media sculpture.

In August 2011, Bauer moved to Baltimore to become an Artist in Residence at Baltimore Clayworks. He currently works as the Conservation Technician of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Bauer also teaches classes at Baltimore Clayworks that cover a range of ceramic processes, while maintaining his studio practice and an active national exhibition record. In 2013, Bauer’s sculptures will be featured in three solo exhibitions and four group exhibitions, with the highlight being an international exhibition with the artist collective, Expanded Draught, in Galway, Ireland. He was also selected for Maryland Art Place’s THIRTY: 30 Creative Minds Under 30, an emerging artist lecture series. He will be speaking on June 12, 2013 at 6pm.


Cara Ober: For readers who are not familiar with the Baltimore Clayworks, can you explain the residency program there? What does it include and why did this program make you want to relocate to Baltimore?

Kyle Bauer: Baltimore Clayworks is a non-profit ceramic art center that exists to develop, sustain, and promote an artist-centered community that provides artistic, educational, and collaborative programs in ceramic arts. The organization’s residency program is filled through a national application and jury process. Artists awarded residencies are offered a five year tenure that includes a 10ft x 12ft studio space, opportunities to teach, a solo exhibition at the end of their first year, discounted firing rates, and overall vibrant community that is actively involved with guest artists, educational presentations, and workshops.

During my last year of Graduate School, I made the decision that the next step in my career should include a residency because it would allow me to focus full-time on my studio practice, strengthen my exhibition record, and aid in refining the marketing and promotion of my work. I wanted to take a break from academic teaching and just be an artist. I applied to six different residencies across all the U.S – several here on the East Coast, one in the South, one art center in the Rocky Mountains, and finally, one in the Midwest. Baltimore Clayworks gave me the first offer, and after visiting their facilities in July 2011, I decided this would be the place.

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CO: Your work does not immediately communicate ‘ceramics’ – your pieces come off as contemporary, mixed media sculpture. How do you use ceramics in your mixed media works? Can you tell readers more about your process?

KB: I fabricate plaster molds from both my own constructed forms and objects that are found in the vicinity of my studio, home, and work. These components are then slip-cast and combined into mixed media, large-scale sculptures and installations that convey balance, tension, and control. Slip Casting is an industrial technique that has been adapted to the personal studio and is excellent for producing multiples. (For example: toilets and sinks are cast using ceramic slip-casting methods.)

My method of building these structures through arranging, stacking, and piling is closely related to my background in restoration and preservation, particularly of houses and furniture.

CO: How do you incorporate found objects and other ‘mixed media’ objects with ceramics? Having a very limited experience with ceramics – you have to build objects in clay that will shrink to a certain size, right? Is measurement an issue? How do you work around or with this process? Also – is this unique for a ceramics artist today – combining other materials in with the clay?

KB: I incorporate found objects into my work in two ways: the objects either become a base to build from or they become a part that is added onto an existing constructed form. Measurement is important when I use objects as bases or foundations to build upon, and through my experience in working with slip cast porcelain, I know to compensate for the ¼” shrinkage that occurs during firing.

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I don’t believe that my work is unique because it combines contemporary ceramic forms with other materials. There are other artists that are also working using similar methods. I believe that mixed media ceramic sculpture has just recently become more accepted within the greater ceramic community, which for the most part, is more traditional in its views. I personally view clay as a material, and I acknowledge and appreciate the rich history of ceramic arts; however, my main purpose in using ceramic materials is because slip casting continually gives me the best result when fulfilling my concepts.

CO: What is your new solo show at Pinebox art center about? What work will you be exhibiting?

KB: I am installing of a series of free standing and wall mounted sculptures that were created during my residency at Baltimore Clayworks. These sculptures cohesively combine a metaphorical reference to maritime navigation and the themes of a journey. The works will be constructed according to my formalist perspective, and their compositional schemes will convey balance, tension, and control.

I envision my sculptures to be navigational aids that invite the viewer into the gallery space. I attempt to engage their curiosity though color, pattern, and texture. Implied mobility, static tension and the placement of individual pieces invite the viewer to interact with the work and navigate the spaces between, around, and within.

Each sculpture in the installation will exist as an honest form. I strive to break down the recognizable components of objects into their common denominators, asking the viewer to investigate and interact with what is before them. The work, and my intention in making it, is evidence of the process of breaking down selective images or objects into what I understand to be their purest representational forms, such as squares, cylinders, pyramids, and rectangles. By using singular objects and their imagery in repetition, I reduce the known or recognizable images by means of texture manipulation, through sanding, painting, and polishing.

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CO: It seems that the ceramics community is largely separate from the rest of the contemporary art in Baltimore. Do you identify yourself as a ‘ceramics artist’ or ceramicist — or just as a contemporary artist? Why or why not? How does this context affect the meaning of your work and how do you, as an artist, handle this?

KB: I see myself as a contemporary sculpture artist who uses ceramics and its processes to construct my sculptures. When people ask me about my artwork I tell them: “I am a mixed media ceramic sculpture and installation artist.”

I enjoy using materials in unexpected ways, and I encourage other artists to experiment with alternative practices. For example, I do not glaze the ceramic components of my work. Before I fire them, I clean and polish the casts so I achieve smooth surfaces that appear to be machine manufactured. Once the pieces are fired to a mature temperature (Cone 6 or 2232 degrees Fahrenheit), I apply a spray primer and then layers of brushed or rolled-on latex house paint.

CO: Who are your favorite artists and mentors?

KB: My favorite artists are Martin Puryear, Robert Rauschenburg especially his “Glut” series, Rachel Whiteread, Anders Ruhwald, Dylan Beck, Paul Sacaridiz, David East, Blue Curry, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Minimalism – Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Eva Hesse, etc., Tyler Lotz, Tony Cragg, and The Finish Fetish LA Art during the 60’s : Ken Price, John McCracken, Ed Ruscha, etc.

For favorite mentors, I have to give a fair amount of credit to my professors, studio mates, and family. They have all continually provided support throughout my academic and residency periods…. My MFA Thesis committee from graduate school: Mikey Walsh, Andy Shaw, Kimberly Arp, Leslie Koptchow, & Kelli Scott Kelly. Other mentors include my undergraduate professors: Ron Kovatch, who encouraged me to take another ceramics class, and Barbara Kindrick and Tim Van Laar for encouraging me to focus on a single subject/body of work for my BFA Thesis. I also owe a great deal to Brian and Pat Bauer, aka Dad and Mom, because they shared their affinity for old houses. They have provided me with a lifetime of skills and stories.

Charting Course, a solo exhibition by Kyle Bauer will be on view at Pinebox Art Center from 6/7 – 6/29.


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