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Nonlinear Path to Pottery

Nonlinear Path to Pottery

Celebrated ceramist Adam Silverman BArch 88 is an artist, designer, architect and craftsman rolled into one.

After starting out as an architect, Adam Silverman BArch 88 was irresistibly drawn to his lifelong love of ceramics. | photo by Kyle Alexander

Ceramics artist Adam Silverman BArch 88 continually examines his path and makes necessary (sometimes radical) adjustments along the way. Moving from architecture to apparel to ceramics, he has forged his path using the “nimble nature of a RISD education,” noted RISD Museum Director John Smith in introducing the Los Angeles-based artist as this year’s alumni keynote speaker at RISD by Design weekend.

Silverman was back on campus in early October to help celebrate the inauguration of President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID. Earlier this year he collaborated with designer David Wiseman 03 FD to create Huevos de Los Angeles, a pair of 15-inch stoneware and bronze eggs the two West Coast alums have contributed to the RISD Museum in her honor.

Silverman spoke to students and other members of the RISD community about the conflict he faced early in his career when trying to make his way “as an artist” while “providing a service to clients.” After graduating from RISD with a degree in architecture, he moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly began to feel bogged down by the need to “draft for dollars.” Despite the fact that he looked to architects such as Renzo Piano, Louis Kahn and Tadao Ando for inspiration, he found himself irresistibly drawn to throwing pots and making funky sheet-metal accessories for creative satisfaction.

Partnering with fellow architect Ely Bonerz BArch 99, Silverman opened a studio in LA’s hip Silver Lake neighborhood, where they began selling their own line of urban apparel, X-Large – which quickly took off thanks to exposure from their friend, Beastie Boy Mike Diamond.

The idea was to continue doing architectural drafting in the back room, but as their retail apparel business grew – with a second line, X-Girl – Silverman felt compelled to earn an MBA at UCLA to keep on top of it and found that he was having noticeably “less fun.”

Now or never
Realizing that he far preferred to work with clay than run an apparel retail business, in 2002 Silverman decided that “it was now or never” in terms of trying his hand at becoming a professional potter. So, after working to further hone his ceramics skills at a summer program at Alfred University, he took the leap and launched Atwater Pottery. The Los Angeles Times raved about his early work, noting that his “smooth clay creations marry an accessible aesthetic with an Eastside edge.” But after several years, he felt the need to decide whether to be a production potter or take a more artistic route.

In 2008 Silverman took another leap – away from functional pottery and into new creative territory via a collaboration with architect and fellow RISD grad Nader Tehrani BArch 85. Their Boolean Valley installation comprised a landscape of cones bisected and arranged mathematically and glazed in a compound of cobalt, silicon and carbide. The piece traveled around California – from the MOCA Pacific Design Center to the San José Museum of Art and Montalvo Arts Center ­– and is now in the permanent collection at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.

That same year, Silverman began a six-year partnership with highly regarded Heath Ceramics, opening a storefront location where he could sell functional “wheel-to-table” crockery while also exploring new and larger forms and ever-more-textural glazes. He started making eggs, spheres and abstracted torsos and created fascinating architectural installations for such venues as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX and the Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo.

Continuing to develop his earthy yet modern aesthetic, Silverman experimented with different firing techniques and built on his experience with traditional potters he met in Mashiko, Japan. Adam Silverman Ceramics (Skira Rizzoli), a sumptuous monograph of his work, surfaced in 2013, followed this year by Grafted (August Editions), a new book highlighting his collaboration with Japanese horticultural artist Kohei Oda.

Today Silverman continues to break new ground and to focus on form, color and the relationship between clay objects and architectural space. But despite the snowballing demand and accolades, he still struggles with the semi-contradictory notions of craftsmanship and artistry.

“The nice thing about calling myself a potter,” he said in a recent interview, “is that I don’t have to say ‘I’m an artist’ or ‘I’m a designer’ or ‘I’m a craftsman.��� I just say ‘potter,’ and that allows me to float between those disciplines and try to claim some real estate in each, in the cracks in-between and the areas where the three bleed together.”

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