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Brent Pafford and the Meaning of Everyday Objects

A conversation with the Portland-based ceramicist about creating objects that make people stop and think.

A conversation with the Portland-based ceramicist about creating objects that make people stop and think.

As long time admirers and stockists of Brent Pafford's ceramics, we sought to dig deeper into his recent works and the meaning they hold for him as well as the ideas they explore.

What’s your story? And how did you get into ceramics?

I grew up in Rock Hill, S.C, attended Winthrop University graduating with a BFA in General Studio Arts then went on to complete an MFA at Clemson University focusing in ceramics. I got into ceramics at a young age – I was lucky to grow up on a farm and had the imagination that could turn piles of earth into anything. Upon re-discovering the material in school I was hooked. Making objects that are latent with meaning, objects that are catalysts for change – things that make people stop and think, reading between the lines and unpacking value, worth, meaning, and reason. These inquiries, questions, and explorations have kept me coming back to ceramics both sculptural and functional throughout my practice.

“I was lucky to grow up on a farm and had the imagination that could turn piles of earth into anything.”

You've mentioned that working in the grocery industry inspired your work in functional ceramics. Is there a pivotal moment that motivated you into your POPJCTS series?

In a number of ways, POPJCTs reflect my development as an artist. They epitomize a journey of exploration which began with abstract sculpture, transitioned to utilitarian forms, and has arrived at body of work which invokes the everyday – the functional, the found, the ordinary – only to subvert it through individualization, through queering. From that early practice in utilitarian ceramics, I came to recognize that everyday objects are intimate catalysts for thought and conversation; they are vessels of experience and reference, and their tangible usability enables them to be shared through time. I wondered, however, how might an object’s latent capacity to evoke and challenge and endear be activated, such that it could be shared through memory, not only time? How could the experience of the everyday be remembered, and last across interactions? Indeed, it is memory which differentiates an object from an heirloom, and this recognition led me to a critical element of POPJCTs and my practice as an artist: to enter memory, to gain meaning, objects must occupy the intersection of contrary forces, and further, they must facilitate the interaction of the contradictory. POPJCTs tested this recognition: what is born from in the interaction of the tactile and the fragile, of the useful and the absurd?

“From that early practice in utilitarian ceramics, I came to recognize that everyday objects are intimate catalysts for thought and conversation; they are vessels of experience and reference, and their tangible usability enables them to be shared through time.”

We have the very unique experience of seeing your POPJCTS series change over the time we've featured them in our shops. What has motivated this evolution?

From disparate materials, contrary textures, and incompatible forms, POPJCTs are intended to manifest harmonious but revealing interactions. These interactions are of the individual with culture, and evoke the ephemerality, disposability, function, utility, value, and experiential worth found and lost in individuality, by the individual. The evolution of the objects stem from life; environmental changes, landscapes, the everydayness of it all, POPJCTs harness the everyday. My aim is to situate this work at the intersections of tactility and fragility, anxiety and absurdity: to create objects which demand physical interaction, and that react to contemporary dialogues of queerness, embodying my own explorations of queer identity and belonging, the commodification of queer identity, and the reduction of queer meaning into object, form, and gesture.

Are ceramics your current focus or are there other media you're working through as well?

Ceramics is my current focus , specifically expanding the variety of POPJCTs. I am constantly testing new materials and seeking way in which I can allow other aspects of the everyday to become apparent in the work. I am currently exploring two dimensional works as well as entertaining ideas of installations created to operate in tandem with POPJCTs and the core conceptual aspects of the work.

Are there any ceramicists or artists inspiring your work lately?

Always, ceramicists are ever evolving, dedicated craftspeople who continue to develop the material process as well as the conceptual content of contemporary ceramic works. The spectrum of people working in clay is a vast from potters in rural settings to conceptual artists working with clay as a material to academics who are constantly working to push the next generation to explore the material with a new lens. Artists who have inspired POPJCTs specifically, and this is by no means a complete list, are Wesley Harvey, Roberto Lugo, Allegheny Meadows, Sam Harvey, Birdie Boone, Lindsay Ostierier, Ron Geibel, Dustin Yager, The Hess Brothers, Ling Chun, among countless others.

You did reside in New Orleans for a time, is there anything about New Orleans that has shaped or influenced your work?

I lived in New Orleans after completing my MFA at Clemson in S.C in 2014 – 2016. The city certainly influenced my work – in many ways. Upon moving I volunteered at Tulane – making clay for their undergraduate students in exchange for studio space. I met Sarah House along the way and she offered me affordable studio space in the attic of the auto body shop connected to Cooter Brown’s near The Fly. I worked at a custom frame shop Monday through Friday in the French Quarter as well, often my days began by cleaning up revelers detritus from the previous night. Getting to know New Orleans, mostly on bike, allowed me to get to know myself and the city on an intimate level. The in and out of daily life, the pace – the slowness of things really had a profound effect of how I place value on objects, how objects can hold meaning and well, the glitter.

“Getting to know New Orleans, mostly on bike, allowed me to get to know myself and the city on an intimate level. The in and out of daily life, the pace – the slowness of things really had a profound effect of how I place value on objects, how objects can hold meaning and well, the glitter.”

Places you miss most in New Orleans?

The steaminess of summer after a afternoon storm, I guess it isn’t a physical place - so, Lost Love, Lilly’s Cafe, Il Posto, Parasol’s. I also worked as a custom framer in the quarter for a while and I miss that shop and the people I met there.

What’s your unwritten rule?

Always carry an extra bike tube and be able to change one in the rain.

A purchase you treasure?

I bought my first kiln while living and working in New Orleans - my kiln is a purchase I treasure as it continues to perpetuate the ability develop my practice.

The last thing you made?

A pair of sequin chaps to wear while visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year.

What does DNO stand for?

Develop New Outcomes.

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