‘My studio is fairly compact,’ says Jenny Hata Blumenfield, a mixed-media ceramic artist. ‘I have a wheel, I have two kilns, a test kiln and a regular-size barrel kiln, and I have a slab roller and an extruder. It’s everything that I really need.’
From this base in Los Angeles, the Japanese-American artist is engaged in trying to make us reconsider the place of ceramics in contemporary art. ‘I see clay as having the widest range of expression,’ she explains. ‘By working with it the way that I do, I hope that steadily people will start to receive this idea of ceramics or clay as something beyond just functional.’
After graduating from The Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in ceramics in 2010, Blumenfield settled in New York. The brilliance of the West Coast sun, however, has recently seen her relocate to her native California. ‘I really do love being here in LA for the light,’ she explains. ‘I’ve been using that as a material with my work as well. Utilising the light here has been a huge component of my work.’
Blumenfield incorporates Lucite, an acrylic resin, into some of her works. In the short film above, she describes transforming a two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional sculpture, which truly comes into its own when taken outside. ‘I wanted to explore how light penetrates these Lucite planes. How does it then translate into a shadow? How does it create another three-dimensional space?’
Christie’s has invited the artist to exhibit her work as part of Asian Art Week in New York, in response to a superb grouping of 18th-century imperial monochromes from The Alsdorf Collection, which are offered in New York on 24 September.
‘I’m really drawn to the high quality of the work that the Alsdorfs collected,’ she says. ‘I am mostly inspired by the glazing process. I can't replicate those glazes, but I would love to try and do so as much as possible with the language that I use.’
Blumenfield also incorporates photography into her work, but arguably the most striking aspect of her process is her embrace of division, dissection and separation.
‘Being half-Japanese and half-American, I always felt stuck between two cultural identities,’ she explains. ‘I’m these two halves that really can't seem to connect — I just exist in the in-between.’
But there is a second duality at play here, too. ‘I just would love to cut everything in half or into quarters just so that I can continue to break down this idea that ceramics can only be functional and can only be used in a day-to-day setting.
‘That allows me to really incorporate other materials — Lucite, wood, paper, photographs — because it takes away the formalism of the vessel itself, and allows me to get experimental.
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‘So it starts with the vessel always, and then just cutting it apart. I like the idea that ceramics can be seen as more than just art — as another language of expression.
‘The possibilities of clay are endless,’ she muses. ‘It just speaks to all of my needs.’