Thinkspace is excited to present New Works by Michael Gates who is multi-generational pottery maker based in Asheville, North Carolina where he studied art at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and Deakin University in Australia graduating with a fine arts degree in 2001. After some time spent traveling and painting, exhibiting in group shows, he is back in Asheville, NC where he returned to working with clay. He uses traditional methods of wood firing and digging clay from the same locations as his ancestors, while at the same time, embracing advancements in the field and forging a unique path ahead.
Our interview with Michael discusses his creative process, his inspirations and influences, and about his 6-generation Reinhardt pottery tradition.
Can you share a little about your background and how you first heard of Thinkspace?
As typically said, I was a big drawer as a kid. I also grew up surrounded by my great grandfather’s pottery in the house. Following the path of my interests, I got a college degree in Art, ceramics concentration. I then traveled around some, worked in graphic design, painting and ultimately made it back to clay. I obsess in the studio daily usually with music playing, or podcasts, which is probably where I first heard of Thinkspace.
What was the inspiration behind this body of work?
I love the idea of combining the simple historic pottery of my ancestors with ideas of the complex, rapidly changing times we are in. The unknown, psychedelia, spiritual, online culture, tech, ceramic history, urban culture are all inspiring. I love having a little fun with these ideas.
What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days?
I always begin with coffee, and the sketchbook which I’ve always had handy as long as I can remember. Then, on to the studio, I do what needs to be done in the ceramic process, or choose something new to start on from the sketchbook, often working into the night hours.
Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?
Seeing online what others are making, talking to artist friends, and getting that sense of community going really seems to help… and coffee
What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process? Who are some of your creative influences?
Favorite would be working on the fine details such as underglaze painting and slip trailing. Least favorite is large coverage glazing and cleaning that up. Influences are the potters of the Catawba Valley, NC pottery tradition. Other early influences were surrealists like Dali, Magritte, and more recently Murakami, Ryden, English…
What was your trial and error process like in fostering your pottery skills? Do you utilize any family tips or tricks in your process?
Learning the limitations of the clay bodies and different kiln environments was the most important part of the sculptural aspect. Lots of testing of clays and glazes in the early days was crucial. Having the art school education really made for a solid foundation and deep well. I was definitely obsessed at one time with my families pottery history, duplicating the swirl-ware technique, the forms, alkaline glazes, copying the whimsical face jugs, firing in the same wood kilns, and even digging from the same clay pits. All of this is still a part of my process in some way.
If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do/ be an expert at?
Some kind of productivity skill would be top priority. Seems like I’m always struggling to be more productive.
What has been one of the most rewarding aspects of your creative journey thus far?
It’s been fulfilling to continue the Reinhardt pottery tradition going back at least six generations. Also, sparking artistic interest in my kids, and hearing from others that I have inspired them are nice.
Who would be on the guest list if you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive? What would be on the menu? What would be the icebreaker question?
I’m not sure if this is the best combination, but I’d for sure want my great grandfather Enoch Reinhardt to pick his brain about pottery. And I guess you can’t not have Jesus there…and going even further back, the Buddha also to make things interesting. Dave Chapelle for some comic relief. Marilyn Monroe maybe, for the stories of course. The menu, water to be turned into wine served in a large Rebecca Pitcher. Selfishly I’d choose Indian food and lots of desserts. Start off with asking: what’s your favorite work of art?
Exhibition on view July 8 – July 29, 2023 at: Thinkspace Projects 4217 W. Jefferson Blvd. Los Angeles, California 90016