Ceramics of VACI’s East take viewers to heart of suburbs


Benjamin Hoste | Staff Photographer


David East, a visiting ceramist at Chautauqua Institution’s School of Art, grew up in a ranch-style home in the suburbs, and that house design has proliferated his work ever since. East uses ceramics, sometimes coupled with plastic figurines and wooden tables, to talk about Americana and its legacy.

“I work in a mashup of sleek Modernism, told in the vernacular of Home Depot,” he said.

East speaks at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center as part of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution Visual Arts Lecture Series. He wants to talk about new approaches to making ceramic sculptures. For East, that includes the use of 3D modeling and printing. He will also discuss the various art forms and research methods that drive sculptural practice. It is his first time at the Institution.

Lately, East has turned to computer technology. In a recent piece, he recreated a gingham pattern, the look of the quintessential American picnic blanket, with 3D drawing software. He used a 3D printer to create a low-relief version of the gingham and then cast the piece in ceramic.

“The ceramic process is one of the most archaic techniques,” East said, referring to pottery’s prevalence in ancient civilizations, such as those in China and Egypt. “But I use it in combination with these new images and technology.”

East’s ceramic techniques are inspired by architecture and design. He wants to expose the thought process behind the form and function of the design choices that built suburban America, as both a place and a mindset.

“We think of aspects of architecture and design as transparent,” East said, “because we expect places where we live to behave in certain ways. But design elements carry cultural meaning.”

During his time on the grounds, East will work with the student artists as well as with Chautauquans who take ceramic classes at the School of Art. For the student artists, he plans to discuss a selection of readings to make them think about the choices they make while producing a piece. He will also work on final critiques with the artists before the Open Studios night later in the season, when Chautauquans are invited into the artists’ studios to haggle for any final work.

East said he was also excited to work with Chautauquans who are new to ceramics, helping them realize how compelling material can be, both in traditional and nontraditional forms.

“Teaching is a big part of what I do,” East said. “I find a way to facilitate people in their relationship to material, wherever they are in that relationship. I explore what objects and making [them] mean.”