Judd Schiffman (b. 1982) is a Providence, Rhode Island based artist working primarily in ceramics. He has lectured at Harvard University Ceramics and Brown University, and participated in residencies at the Zentrum Fur Keramiks in Berlin, Germany and Arch Contemporary in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Schiffman received his MFA from the University of Colorado in 2015, and his BA from Prescott College in 2007. Schiffman’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States, most recently at 1969 Gallery in NYC and Inman Gallery in Houston, TX. In 2016, he received an emerging artists award from the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts. Schiffman is currently the Visiting Assistant Professor of Ceramics at Providence College.
"Using clay as a drawing material, my ceramic wall sculptures are a psychedelic concoction of lived and imagined experiences that ponder the power of our personal stories. As social and political tensions continue to build in the world, there seems to be little room for compromise as we all become more identified with our own story of how things should be. Through exploring personal narrative, my work seeks to look beyond the story in order to find the space where collaboration can happen. The framed narratives open up a common ground where the viewer can enter into dialogue as a participant among the characters, objects, and landscapes.
The content and process of my studio work is informed by my life with my five year-old daughter, Franny and wife, Athena. As we navigate children’s stories, YouTube cartoons, songs, and art history books together, we discover and collaborate on images that I then refine and make out of clay. Utilizing the objects and images that Franny gravitates towards, the textiles Athena makes, and other powerful relics, narratives are composed reflecting the inner life of the contemporary family, rites of passage, and grappling with the complexities of being a father. My work explores themes of masculinity, discovery of self, sexuality, and family, and all the nuanced guilt, confusion, and elation that exist in tandem. Along with relics found in my own domestic environment, depictions of animals in museum collections have become the ideal actors in this drama.
Being a father, I am in the midst of one of the most significant transitions of my life, and my work over the past five years expresses the complexity of the patriarchal, nuclear family system I find myself in, as well as the tenderness and energy I receive through my new family. Raising a young child at its best is a collaborative experience, and my work follows suit. Ideas of authorship and the role of the individual artist are challenged as I copy and skew historical images and objects, and then invite my wife and artist friends into my studio to arrange and re-arrange the installation."
Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.
I grew up in and currently live in Providence, Rhode Island where I teach ceramics at Providence College. I played around with a lot of different creative activities growing up and in my early twenties including tap and butoh dance, acting, piano, and painting. Drawing was something I always did on my own, and I have obsessively filled sketchbooks throughout my life. Making art is a self-reflective, introspective activity to me. I learn about myself and the world around me through viewing art I love, and being in my own studio. Discovering ceramics 15 years ago transformed the way that I approach art because of the necessary focus on earth-based materials and processes. Working with ceramic materials also allows me to integrate drawing, painting, and sculpture fluidly, which I find extraordinarily gratifying. I love being in the studio and making my work.
What kind of work are you currently making?
I am finishing up a large body of work which consists of 21 ceramic wall relief sculptures each composed of several individual tiles and surrounded by a ceramic frame (I call them Outlines). With this body of work I am exploring personal rites of passage through imagery of animals, my wife’s textiles, my daughter’s drawings, children’s books, my photos and art historical references. I am also working on several free-standing ceramic sculptures considering similar themes.
What is a day like in the studio for you?
Meditation is an important part of my creative process and is how I start my day. I try to compartmentalize emails and tasks for teaching, for grants/shows etc, and family life. I don’t typically toggle back and forth between digital work and my studio work.
Failure is important…… I make a lot of junk usually towards the beginning of a series but once I gain momentum I am pretty organized and consistent with how I lay out and sketch each drawing and then make it out of clay. The process of ceramics dictates the flow of the day as far as making things out of wet clay, drying them out, firing, and glazing. Usually I spend 2 – 4 hours in the studio a day and then 2 – 4 hours teaching or doing other logistical stuff. I am fairly focused when I am actually working in the studio and methodical about how I use different techniques. It’s a balance between this orderly way of thinking and leaving myself open to spontaneity and trying to listen to what the work wants to do.
What are you looking at right now and/or reading?
I am reading Homer’s Odyssey, Women Talking by Miriam Toews, and I just finished A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I love classics, and also books about people dealing with incredibly difficult circumstances. Human resilience and suffering is unfathomable. I still have not returned to my normal routine of trips to galleries and museums but I have been scrutinizing catalogues of Ron Nagle, Helma af Klint, David Hockney, Medieval Bestiaries, and thinking a lot about a painting by Nikolai Astrup I saw in the New Yorker a while ago.
Where can we find more of your work?
Maake Projects, State College, PA (current solo show) https://www.instagram.com/maakeprojects/
Jane Hartsook Gallery (upcoming solo show)
The Valley (upcoming group show)