Bradley Klem caught his first fish when he was three years old, marking the beginning of a life-long concern for water, wildlife, and conservation. Today, his art addresses the influence of man on the environment, focusing on the impact of our pollution.
He was a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation, the Mesa Arts Center, and Project Art 01026 and his work is in the collection at the Mesa Contemporary Art Museum. He has spoken at the Office for the Arts at Harvard University, Iowa University, Western New Mexico University, and NCECA in Kansas City.
He attended Arizona State University, earning a BA degree in art studies, focusing on both painting and ceramic studio art, and in 2018 he received an MFA from Penn State University. While in graduate school, he was presented with the Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award and the Creative Achievement Award. He continues to teach at Penn State in his current role as a faculty member.
There are two types of people in this world; those who like to fish and those who like to catch fish. Throughout my life, this statement was reiterated to me by my father continually. So often was it repeated that I began to consider its meaning as a metaphor for life. Preoccupation with a specific outcome often hinders our ability to appreciate the endeavor. The beauty of any experience is realized through both participation and observation, it is never perfect, and is usually best when shared. This expresses the foundation of my interest in using the functional ceramic object as an artistic medium because of the connection it has to everyday experience.
My father made a decision early in my life to take me along on regular fishing trips, usually to the mountains of Northern Arizona or sometimes to the Pacific Ocean. Something memorable about those trips is that at some point during a hike, sitting in a camp, or fishing a stream we would always discover a mylar balloon or other such significant plastic debris. One of us would point and say “There it is,” and in that statement, we would have a mutual understanding of what the other person meant. The plastic debris symbolized one of the countless interruptions which reminded us of the ever-present impact humanity has had on our natural setting.
It seems that no place on earth is so remote that human-made objects have not infiltrated. When we let go of a balloon and watch it until our vision can no longer define it, how long do we think about where it has gone? Once the balloon has disappeared from view, it may as well have disappeared from reality itself. Perhaps discarding trash is the same for us. I am both amazed and dismayed by the truth of where our trash ends up - notably the plastic that accumulates in our oceans.
We live in a geologic age that has been defined by the dominant influence of man over the environment resulting in a planet that is changing forever and for everyone. I make objects that address this influence focusing on the impact of our pollution. My work references vessels from another age but is meant to be understood above all as being from our current epoch, and so I make pottery that is of the Anthropocene.
I use illustration in my work to express these ideas about our environmental impact. I pair this imagery with handmade pottery to exploit its universal familiarity and utilize the relationship we have with objects found in our everyday lives. The illustration becomes part of the overall experience with the object and adds to the conversation that takes place around it.
Pottery is a medium; I utilize it to create momentary pauses in response to touch, use, or the notion of function. The user responds to an impression made in the clay or wonders at the weightlessness which a thickened rim can deny. I take advantage of these momentary pauses to allow the viewer to build a new understanding of the imagery. Pots can accomplish this because they are familiar. A cup or a bowl, for instance, are recognizable objects whether made from ceramic, metal, bone, Styrofoam, or plastic. The oldest known cups were made nearly fifteen thousand years ago from the top portion of a human skull, and the earliest known pottery shard is roughly five thousand years older than that. Variant forms of the vessel have been with us through a large portion of our development or evolution as a species. We understand pottery uniquely because of the depth of our history with it, and it is this understanding that allows it to function not only in our hand but also in our mind. It can be used to infiltrate thought like a Trojan horse which is hiding ideas rather than soldiers. Of course for this to work correctly, the horse must be pleasing or alluring in some way. A question that I often ask myself is how then do I express abject subject matter within the context of something beautiful?