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A Conversation with Renee LoPresti

CG: Your work has always been rich with imagery. This series is a little different in that some pots are void of imagery… more design and pattern oriented. Other works are loaded with imagery. Could you speak to winnowing and exaggerating imagery on your pots?

RL: For as long as I can remember, I have loved colorful patterns and graphic imagery. I spent my adolescence drawing, painting, cross-stitching and crocheting.  Specific imagery became prevalent on my pots a few years ago. I was spending a lot of time creating hand cut stencils of interlocking patterns and trying to figure out how they could wrap around a thrown pot [instead of strictly on rolled slab work]. Over time and through lots of trial and error, I realized that instead of having one all-over repeating pattern I could use multiple layers, colors and patterns to wrap continuously around a thrown pot.

Within these layered patterns, I started using images of llamas ‘living’ within empty spaces of the surface composition. Stories quickly began to develop, and the llamas were not only interacting with their surroundings but also with one another on each pot. I slowly built a visual library of images that were meaningful to me, and the narratives became increasingly more complex.

When I start decorating a pot, I like to think of different scenarios in which my images can be arranged and ask myself “what are some of the specific stories or messages here?”. I always find personal connection and meaning in these stories, while allowing space for others to find their own interpretations.

My pottery has become a sum of many parts; compositional design, multiple colors, matte surfaces next to glossy surfaces, luster, repeating patterns and imagery. Removing one of the most recognized elements of my pots [imagery], allowed me to shift focus onto the other components of my designs and how they relate to the form. New patterns and design elements have emerged, such as repeating x’s and arching gold lines. Removing imagery has brought the form back into the forefront, with surface decoration playing a ‘supportive role’.

CG: Underneath all of this wonderful surface work there are strong forms. Clearly there are decisions being made about what to make and what not to. Why are these particular forms intriguing to you? What keeps you returning to them?

RL: I definitely fall into the old adage that ‘form follows function’.  Function not only being the use for which a specific pot is intended, but also how it is used in my life and what functions I want  to improve upon. As a ceramics collector, I am always reaching for handmade coffee mugs and tumblers to fill with coffee or a cold beverage as I run out the door on the way to my studio each morning. A long, bumpy, gravel driveway means carefully holding a mug in one hand while steering with the other. I quickly realized I should consider my own work, and started making wide bottom mugs (dashboard friendly with a low center of gravity) and cup holder compatible tumblers.

During and after college, I  spent a handful of years working in the  restaurant industry. I quickly formed opinions of the mass produced ceramic service ware. Plates that were too heavy and painful to carry when full of food, mugs that were too thin and burned your  fingers when filled with piping hot beverages. I noticed which shapes were easy to walk with and contained liquids well (and those that didn’t).

Working in restaurants inevitably made me have a more discerning palate, and I became very interested in cooking complex meals at home. Olive oil is a staple item kept in a cruet close to the stove top alongside pink himalayan sea salt in a small canister where they can be quickly poured or pinched.  I love lunch plates because they naturally create the perfect portion size. I make bowls that are wide enough to eat a variety of foods from, with a turned foot that is wide and deep enough to grasp with your palm for those informal nights eating on the couch. Function is always a consideration for me, and I while my own needs and experiences shape my decisions  on what forms to make, I am always keeping in mind what the needs of others are and trying to find a happy balance.

CG: In some of your recent social media posts you have spoken about the importance of self reflection. How did the cat come to represent this idea and what does it mean to you?

RL: The cat became a recurring character in the stories once I had established a majority of my imagery was of or related to the domestic space. Before introducing the cats, the imagery consisted of inanimate objects such as chairs, ladders, mirrors, and paper airplanes playing out different scenarios. First I introduced a single cat witnessing the scene, solely as an observer. I relate it to the saying of “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”. The cat as a living creature observing its surroundings validates and actualizes the events.

This spring, I had the joy of watching four kittens grow and investigate everything in their reach inside the house. They were a

wonderful combination of contrasting characteristics: inquisitive, bold, meek, sneaky, and devious. They conquered every armchair, climbed to the tops of curtains, and hid in the most obscure places. Imagery of cats on top of chairs, pawing at fallen paper airplanes and looking at themselves in the mirror was not only a direct representation of my surroundings but also tells a more complex narrative that metaphorically relates to human experiences.

I intend for the cats looking at themselves in the mirror to remind us of the importance of self reflection. An internal process vital to the human condition, profound and impactful in order for personal growth to occur. With our ever increasingly busy lives, it is easy to forget the importance of stepping back and taking the time to self assess.

CG: Could you offer any insights into the other imagery you are using, e.g., paper airplanes, chairs, mirrors, and plants?

RL: The chairs serve as a way to indirectly reference the human figure; comprised of  arms, legs, a back and seat. Whereas the paper airplanes are more ambiguous; flying upward, crashing downward, piled on top of one another, or locked inside a bird cage. Dashed lines mark where they have been or where they are heading. They often conjure feelings of nostalgia at first glance, but I see them in a myriad of ways: representing aspirations,  failures, signifiers of freedom, messages sent, received or missed.

Personal growth and communication are themes that are represented not only by mirrors and paper airplanes but also by potted plants and outdoor plants. A potted plant grows well, but eventually becomes stifled and self destructive, whereas a plant growing outside has the ability to dig its roots  deeper to access more water and nutrients. Branching upward, even the outdoor plants are limited in their growth. Often, there will be an airplane soaring above the plants, unlimited in the heights that it can reach even though it is fragile and rootless. This is just a small sample of the metaphors I intend to portray with imagery, and every piece is a unique exploration of these narratives.

To view pots from Renee’s show click HERE.