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Featured on the blog today is Josephine Heilpern of Recreation Center. Josephine is based in Brooklyn, NY currently, but her work is inspired and influenced by her travels around the world. Her simultaneously whimsical and practical designs demonstrate her ability to create pieces that both satisfy the need for function and aesthetic beauty. We had the opportunity to catch a glimpse into her inspiring practice and are excited to be able to share it with you!
When was the first time you threw clay on a wheel?
JH: High school!! I went to an arts high school in NYC. The schedule was pretty much half day regular high school curriculum and half day studio classes. We had everything, including ceramics. But the truth is, I think I only sat at the wheel once and very quickly gave up.
You have a background in print and sculpture, how did you fall into making ceramics?
JH: After college I lived and worked on a farm for a couple months. It was a very small farm upstate NY run by a friend and a professor from school. There was a ceramic studio there, so after work sometimes we would hang out and make things. It was cool and the clay was cold so it felt good after a long day. We ate mostly from the farm, we raised pigs, chickens and had some small fields with vegetables. A lot of the dishware that we ate on was made on the farm as well. After the farm, for many years, I work at a printshop, and thought that was my path. One day a friend offered to take a ceramics class with me and something happened. I remembered how much I loved clay. I'm an earth sign, dirt feels good to me, I think it's why I liked farming so much as well. Everything fell into place, and everything started to make sense. I was addicted.
Can you take us through your creative process from inspiration to production.
JH: Inspiration is so hard to explain! I have no idea where my ideas come from, really it's like they just pop into my head at the most random times. I am very image based, I love art books and design books, I think I have an image library in my brain. All these images probably get mashed together and come out as ceramics eventually. I've tried keeping sketchbooks but usually only go through two pages and give up. Since I am in my studio pretty much every minute I am awake, if an idea pops up I can execute it almost immediately, so no need to write it down. Most of the time things don't work out but when they do its the best!
You live in Brooklyn currently, but grew up in Woodstock, NY and spent time in Argentina, amazing! How do the cities you’ve lived in inspire your ceramics?
JH: Yes! I moved around a lot. I was born in NYC then moved to Woodstock when I was a kid. When I was 9 my parents decided to move back to Argentina, they are both from there. But my mom hated it so when I was 14 she decided that I would move back as an anchor, hoping that the rest of the family would follow. I moved back to NYC, alone, in September of 2001, a week before the towers fell. A week after that the economy collapsed in Argentina and my family lost almost everything. They couldn't move back and I was on my own! So with all that said, the biggest inspiration all of these places have given me is the concept of survival. NYC is my truest love, I am so obsessed with this city. It keeps a fire under my butt, and that is exciting to me. I have to work my ass off to survive and I think that makes me really strong and focused.
How would you describe your work to someone who couldn’t see it?
JH: I find my self having to do this a lot! I make functional ware, mostly objects you use to nourish yourself. I like speckled clay and mostly only white glaze, although most people describe my work as colorful. I focus on patterns and texture because I like the way the textures feel on my mouth and hands while I eat and drink. I like being reminded of the object I am using to do the things I need to do everyday, that are essential to our survival.
What do you like to do for fun?
JH: There are fun things to do that aren't work!? Seriously though, my work is the most fun. My studio is full of other incredibly inspiring people that also happen to be some of my closest friends. When I am not "working" I'm still at my studio, with the garage door up, drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette and joking with my friends while listening to music. I feel so lucky to be able to call what I feel most fun my actual job. Besides that, I love to cook, bake, eat, take care of my plants and pet my dog. I also like spending time with my brother who is my best friend although very often I want to kill him.
What can Josephine Heilpern do that no one else can?
JH: Hard question, I'm really good at Ebay?
What would you like your legacy as an artist to be?
JH: I'm hoping that when I'm old, a friend finds a mug I've made on Ebay or a flea market for at least double the price of what it's worth now. Besides that, thinking of the future scares the crap out of me.
Thank you Josephine! Thank you Elli, who shot all these beautiful photos! See more of her work at: www.ellilaurenphotography.com
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