Ceramics are the foundation of incoming RedLine resident artist Stephanie Kantor’s magical carpet ride through a history of the decorative arts, which she references in culture-crossing installations. A Pennsylvania native who landed at the University of Colorado Boulder as an MFA candidate, Kantor is a Black Cube alumna, artist, craftswoman and world traveler who turns her experience and knowledge into a hybrid medium all her own. Take a trip through Kantor’s brave new world via the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Stephanie Kantor: I’d collaborate with the anonymous craftsmen from the Song Dynasty in China or the painters from the Ottoman Empire in Turkey. History has a huge influence on my practice, and to have the opportunity to observe and work alongside these artists would be fascinating.
I would specifically work with the artists who produced Cizhou ware in China during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Cizhou is black-and-white decoration painted on elegant vases, ceramic pillows and geometric boxes, often depicting peonies, abstract patterning and some figurative landscapes. The bold decoration and brushstrokes demonstrate confidence with an enviable ease. There’s much to learn from these ancient masters.
I’d also travel back to Istanbul in the fifteenth century to both paint Iznik ceramics and install tiles in the great mosques and palaces. After making my second trip to Turkey last year, I continue to be captivated by the foliage painted on the surfaces of Iznik ceramics, which includes tulips, chrysanthemums, artichokes and pomegranates. I find a comforting beauty in such visual density, rhythm and segmented patterning that exists inside mosques like the Rustem Pasha, Sultan Ahmed and Topkapi Palace. I would be honored to take on the impossible task of tiling a massive structure and potentially being one of the only females in the mix.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Matt Wedel, a ceramic sculptor working out of Athens, Ohio, makes monumental clay sculptures based on memory of landscape and mythology. His modeling, subtle abstraction and fluidity of glazed surfaces are visually striking and gorgeous. I especially appreciate how he’s built his own studio to make his work possible; huge kilns, forklifts and pulley systems enable him to move around 2,000-pound sculptures by himself. That’s just insane. The fact that he’s not willing to compromise his practice or scale for the sake of ease is commendable and admirable. He also talks about his relationship to the landscape, gardening and local food initiatives. I really appreciate this outlook, especially as someone who began gardening this summer as research and development.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Extremely poor craftsmanship. I am all for the sloppy craft movement, something I identify with in my own practice. But when a piece falls apart in front of you due to lack of knowledge or care, it’s kind of disappointing.
What's your day job?
I teach adjunct at Arapahoe Community College. I’ve been at ACC for a year and have taught two sections of Ceramics 1 and a two-week intensive course on the Majolica glazing technique. I also work at Uncle, the ramen shop in the Highlands. This was my favorite restaurant before I started to work there, and now that I do, it still is. I am currently collaborating with chef Kevin Lewis to create a small run of plates to complement his food. I am basing some designs off of historic Japanese ceramics, including Oribe ware and the Kenzan style from the Edo period. We’re starting with small appetizer plates and then will possibly move on to some larger hot-pot dishes. We should be ready to launch sometime this fall around October or November — stay tuned.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
This is a complicated question, unlimited funds for life…we could solve so much. But I would definitely self-indulge, buy my dream house and build my ideal studio. I’d travel the world and support my friends and family in any way they wished. I’d create a scholarship/foundation for students wanting to study art. I already love collecting things, so I would continue collecting carpets and mid-century-modern furniture, and get more serious about collecting art. I used to work for the Belgers in Kansas City; they’ve got a great collecting model, where they focus on the lifetime work of seven artists. It’s amazing to look at the breadth and evolution within one person’s practice, so I’d find a few artists I really believe in and purchase their work over my lifetime.
I would also give more attention to my two small businesses that I’ve been pushing on the side: Beaded Shrimp and Polka Dot Socks. Beaded Shrimp are mini-sculptures that come as keychains, magnets and necklaces that are handmade and fair trade from Guatemala. Polka Dot Socks are sheer pantyhose socks in various colors that I’ve imported from China. With unlimited funds, I would totally hire some sleek designers to come up with super-sexy branding, marketing, advertising and websites.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I’ve lived in Denver for one year (and in Boulder while at CU for the previous two years) and have been loving it, and things just got even more exciting since I was recently accepted to RedLine’s resident-artist program. With that, I will definitely be in Denver for two more years. I really enjoy my current situation. I have my days free to work in the studio and then work/teach at night. I would love to do some international residencies, and I’ve had my eye on Red Gate in Beijing and the Residency for Ceramics in Berlin. Trips and traveling are very important to my well-being.
After two years, I think I’ll be ready to relocate. We — my boyfriend, George Perez, and roommate, Chris Kelly — talk about moving to the big city, either L.A. or New York. After living in medium-sized cities like Pittsburgh, Kansas City and now Denver, I’m ready to move somewhere bigger where I can get by without a car and have more opportunities at the tips of my fingers.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Buy artwork! If artists were better supported by consistently selling their work, we would have an easier time affording our expensive rent and not have to work multiple jobs to get by. If people were more apt to regularly buy artwork, it would impact Denver’s perceptions of how art is valued and the importance of artists as contemporary culture-makers. Get out there, find an artist you like, and buy his or her work, people!
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I think Bruce Price’s work is fantastic. We share a love of decoration and ornamentation and can definitely geek out on all things pattern and, now, ceramics. And of course my boyfriend, George Perez, who explores ideas of the collection in really interesting ways by altering found vintage photos. His portraits and long-exposure techniques are also killer.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I just moved into my new studio at RedLine, and I am excited to experiment with some forms and ideas I’ve had in mind. I’m working on a new body of work, Trees of Life, inspired by the far-reaching global motif and ceramic Trees of Life of Mexico. I’m thinking about the ephemerality of flowers, garden as site and ideas of paradise. I want to be more playful with my backdrops, and I’m breaking and creating mosaics with old pots.
Other than experimenting in the studio, I will be participating in RedLine’s Epic Arts Program this fall. I will have new work in the annual resident exhibition at RedLine curated by Daisy McGowan in January. Sometime in 2017, I will have my alumni project with Black Cube. I am super-excited to create a new installation and evolve my ideas from Mock Pavilion, which happened in San Antonio at Sala Diaz this past March.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I’d love to see attention shift to new work and people. John Defeo’s paintings of gardens, landscapes and flora are handsomely energetic, and he’s getting really playful with paintings. Ben McQuillan is making charming arrowheads and tools from recycled porcelain toilets and displaying them as museum artifacts. Amelia Lockwood is making delicately built sculptural vessels that warp and distort in the kiln. Josh Elliot’s writing and poetry is heart-wrenching and utterly honest; he recently published a book in Budapest. And finally, Chris Kelly is about to release an EP under the name Whomever. His beachy vibes will get us through the winter.
Learn more about Stephanie Kantor online.