Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shiloh Gastello, Clay Sculptor, Tells His Story

“It's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
 Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures In Wonderland)

My work is inspired by the ephemeral nature of the human body and the instability of memory. Memory is vast and incalculable, prone to doing whatever it wants. Even mundane associations can become important moments when recalled through the lens of memory. Recollection of events and things in our lives can become fragile with time, slowly changing until they no longer resemble their original context.

Harbinger of Hope Series, dimensions from left – 24” tall to 10” tall, wheel-thrown stoneware, iron saturate glazes

The influence of the Arts have allowed me to forge new memories and shape my identity. I began as a painter in 2005, taking classes in my late teens at San Joaquin Delta College in my hometown of Stockton, California. I also took classes in drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. Sculpture became my main focus, as it allowed me to physically wrestle with the materials of clay, metal, and stone to record the imprint of my emotions directly. Realizing that I had found a means of expressing myself and discovering my identity through art, I decided to earn my Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of the Pacific in 3D Media. In 3D Studio Art classes, I discovered functional pottery. I was amazed to learn that there was a platform where I could combine my love of painting, sculpting, and my growing appreciation for making functional vessels! After earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 3D Media in 2011, I was excited to expand my knowledge of ceramics and gain a deeper understanding of the medium.

Continuum, ea approx 14” x 5” x 13”, wheel-thrown stoneware, black & white slip

Although I had never lived outside of California, the generosity that I had witnessed in the ceramics community stirred my passion for clay, resulting in my urge to travel and gain more knowledge. I began searching for residencies and assistantships nationally and found a six-month Production Pottery Studio Assistantship at Terra Cottage Ceramics in Paducah, Kentucky in 2013. The artist community in Lowerown Paducah was vibrant and diverse. During my time there, I learned techniques in printmaking, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. More importantly, through the rigor of being a studio assistant, I developed a strong work ethic and a new appreciation for the technical possibilities that clay had to offer. My mentor, Michael Terra, a masterful sculptor and potter, spent months helping me to hone the new skills that I was learning.

A cart full of tumblers made over the course of 2 days during my 6 month assistantship

I was able to accompany Michael to National Art Festivals and NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) to gain a deeper appreciation of Business Administration in the Arts, including how to discuss art with customers and fellow artists alike. I learned how to run a successful gallery while making thousands of pieces, including how to ship them nationwide. I taught classes on glazing ceramics, and was even able to assist in the communal production of over 1,500 bowls for the Paducah Empty Bowls Project Fundraiser for a local soup kitchen. Michael gave me the tools to grow independently as an artist, and I learned skills that will serve me throughout my life. I left Paducah with valuable and cherished friendships and an increased appreciation for the power of the arts.

 ½ of the bowls the Paducah community made for the Empty Bowls Project

After my adventures in Paducah, Kentucky, I sought a return to academia to gain more knowledge in the Arts. This goal led me to the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, OR, where I earned my Post-baccalaureate in 2014 and my MFA In Craft in 2016. During this time, I took advantage of the opportunity to attend residencies at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine and Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado. Travel provided me with the time to contemplate on the valuable relationships I was building with the wonderful people I met at these residencies. I treasure those memories.

Rock & Crag Ware Yunomi, ea approx 4” x 3” x 3.75”, hand-built, rock-formed bare porcelain exterior,
satin-matte glaze interior

Working with so many talented artists engrained in me a love of collecting a diverse array of artwork. I often traded my wares for various art objects and mementos that my national art family made, which helped me to better appreciate their impact on my artistic development. It was at this time that I became enamored by the manner in which objects find their way into our lives and accumulate meaning over time. Even simple and seemingly mundane objects develop a rich patina of experience, becoming wellsprings of memory, and symbols of relationships.

Contemporary Fine Mingei, 10” x 14” x 5”, slab-built, hand-pinched porcelain, satin-matte glaze

Upon returning from my residency in Colorado, I focused my thesis body of work on locating the emotional value of seemingly mundane objects from my past that carried strong positive and negative associations to me personally. More specifically, I began recording an object's form by covering it in a blank canvas of porcelain to remove the visual associations of the object's previous history. I then fired the original object in the kiln to preserve it in porcelain. The loss of the original object illustrates how the function of memory vacillates between clarity and ambiguity, freedom and preservation.

By burning out objects in the kiln and then preserving their form in shells of porcelain, I learned that I was transferring and releasing my negative associations into the work itself. Simultaneously, I was also preserving the positive associations that I had with the objects. I discovered that through the act of releasing objects through fire, I was releasing my own negative associations with those objects and replacing them with fresh associations. Burning out objects served as a way to acknowledge that I had learned from an experience so that I could move forward and build new ones.

If You Don't Know Where You're Going...Any Road Will Get You There, 8” x 10', slab-built porcelain

Upon concluding Graduate School, I was reminded of my favorite childhood book Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Young Alice finds herself in a place where all aspects of proper decorum are turned upside down, causing her to respond emotionally or intuitively. It is only when Alice rejects approved social behaviors that she can move beyond her own pre-conceived barriers. I saw Alice's adventures as a journey of learning to respond more presently to situations. I was inspired by the manner in which she learned to look inward for her answers, reacting to situations intuitively and with an assured sense of self, even after returning to the waking world.

Alice learned to respond without allowing herself to be held back by her own negative associations with those around her. The burned-out porcelain remnants carry the ability to serve as a means of remembrance to learn from the past. Inspired by this revelation, I am reminded to cherish lived experience, learn from my own mistakes, and in the end, move forward with renewed affirmation of self.

Degradation: Symbolic Gestures, 12” x 24” x 10”, hand-built, hand-pinched porcelain, satin-matte clear glaze

This is Week 24 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Shiloh’s story today. To connect with him and see more of his work, please use the following links:

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