Resident Ceramic Artist Drew Ippoliti Discusses Chinese Porcelain, Teaching at Sheridan

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There is a fresh new face in Sheridan’s Ceramics Studio: our resident artist, Drew Ippoliti. I met with Drew to ask him about his experience in ceramics and what he brings to the Crafts and Design – Ceramics program.

Gord Thompson, Co-ordinator of the Crafts and Design Program, had this to say: “Drew brings a wide range of international experience and a rich and committed professional practice, which provides a wonderful opportunity for our students. They can drop in to chat with him at any time and observe his work in progress. We tried this for the first time last year, to great success, and this year we were excited to bring someone from further afield with no previous connection to Sheridan. He has been a great addition.”

For the second year, Sheridan has taken on an emerging artist to serve as a resource for Ceramics students. Drew sees the position as an opportunity to bring his voice to a group of students that may not have heard it before, to share what he has seen and “activate the atmosphere a little bit.”

Drew has been living in China for three years, and his work has been exhibited in Taiwan, China and Japan. He originally made his way to China through a year long Fulbright Fellowship, and then stayed on after receiving another grant to study Chinese. Drew credits his effort to learn Chinese for his deeper insights into Chinese Ceramics, because he was able to ask people “I see this as this, but what does it mean from your perspective?”

Drew began his ceramics studies in his home country, the U.S.A., and came from that third-country perspective when observing Chinese arts and culture. Drew’s original introduction to Sheridan College came when he was in graduate school in the states and he met Sheridan students. They spoke of our college as a place to “hone your hand skills” and get “that tactile touch.”

A Chinese writer said of ceramics that it is an art form that pertains to the touch of the maker, and is especially close to humanity through the labour of one’s hands, said Drew. It is a rare art in which you make something very temporary (clay) into something very permanent (once fired). Drew’s work has been profoundly affected by his time in China, where he says that the country’s economic development has led to a boom in the art industry. He is now specializing in the traditional Chinese Blue and White Porcelain.

Porcelain is made of a clay with distinctive elements of white colour and durability. The material caolin – from gaolin in Chinese – is very white, and when fired to 1500-2000 degrees Celsius, it becomes a lustrous stone. Caolin is only found in China and Japan, and was prized by European colonists who traded with the Orient. In fact, Drew said, porcelain was the original impetus of forgeries, as the demand for porcelain led to knock offs and fakes produced in Europe.

Drew is trying to take blue and white Chinese porcelain in a different direction. He is redesigning the form, avoiding the relative ease of ceramics made on a potter’s wheel to “break the round” and create hexagonal shapes.

Interestingly, of the full-time faculty teaching in the Crafts and Design – Ceramics program, all have been to China. Drew can’t deny the history of Asian influence on ceramics. Now that he has explored Chinese ceramics, his interest is in what ceramic techniques that are a thousand years old mean in this current era.

Drew is teaching and supporting student work in a way that provides students with experiences that parallel real life, giving them a taste of what they could be doing when they get out in the industry. He has found Sheridan to be a very interactive and dynamic workspace, with active students from diverse backgrounds. He emphasized that there is no invalid perspective in ceramics, but you need to be able to explain where you’re coming from. “Paralysis by analysis is common among students,” Drew commented. “They want to do it all, but mastery isn’t picked up in one semester” (this is a lesson often learned in our Animation program as well!) Drew hopes to help students get “deep into the material, and develop intelligence and processing that is not happening on a conscious level.”

Drew is teaching the following courses:

Ceramic Design 3 (CERM 37576) – This third year course, taught along with program coordinator Gord Thompson, prepares students for a critical dialogue, to be able to explain their work.

Ceramic Design 2 (CERM 23250) – this second year course involves a project in which students develop a meal plan, and then create the tableware on which it is meant to be served.

In addition, while he is not directly teaching any of the first year classes, he has been developing a special project, which will involve students from all three years, producing pieces he has designed to be sold as part of a fundraiser to support the visiting artist/faculty project in an ongoing way. Drew will act as the Lead Designer, preparing students for the kind of work flow they would experience working in a Design House.

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