Simon Levin has been working in clay since 1990, when an elective ceramics course changed the arc of his life. Simon is a full time studio potter working exclusively with wood firing. He holds an MFA from the University of Iowa. He exhibits, teaches, builds kilns, and is published internationally. Though a writer of many bios, Simon still dislikes writing about himself in the third person. In 2013 he was a Senior Fulbright Scholar researching local materials in Taiwan. Between 2004 and 2020 his apprenticeship program has trained and influenced 22 potters. He hosts a video series on the Ceramics Arts Network, where he brings dialogue to process. Currently the Director at Large for NCECA, Simon seeks everyday to advance the frontiers of clay, and evangelize for this empowering material.
Several years ago I stood back and looked at my work, taking stock of what I saw I decided where I wanted it to go. Being overly ambitious, and seeking an ideal rather than the practical I aimed high. I decided I wanted my work to reach past the contemporary, beyond style and taste, touching something primal in all of us. I wanted to make work that reaches that which is first in the human experience, pottery that draws from tradition but resonates regardless of when it might be experienced.
In the 6th century a monk named Dorotheus of Gaza wrote a beautiful metaphor for God. Dorotheus spoke of God as the hub on a wheel, and we are all spokes around that center. In order for us to move closer to God we must move closer to everyone else on that wheel, and in the center is oneness. Anything that is divisive and exclusionary moves us away from all other people and thus moves us away from God.
In Judaism we have a core prayer called the Sh'ma. The Sh'ma says "Listen of Israel, the lord is God. The lord is one." The concept of unity, togetherness, oneness, center as divine permeates almost all religions, and spiritual disciplines. It is root theology.
For my own pottery I want it to speak to a broad audience but to do this by reaching core ideas rather than dilution and syncretism. The spokes on the wheel that I use to approach the center are, clay, elemental processes, simple drawings and line, functional pottery, and community objects.
Clay is pervasive. It crosses almost all cultures and time. Clay is accessible, it is underfoot, it is in our homes, our industry our daily lives. We discover pliable clay as children playing in the dirt, and we bring it to our lips as we drink from a cup in the morning. Clay is in our theologies and how we think about ourselves. Clay unites us in these ways and allows me as an artist to discuss universality.
Fire, earth, wind and water are the tools of every potter, and are the common experience of humanity. Firing with wood allows me to evoke colors from the raw earth, capture the path of flame as it travels on the wind of the kiln. In this way my work makes reference to things we all know and see.
We are mark makers, and have ever been so. From cave painting to impressionism, pictographic languages to keeping track of time, marks can decorate divide space, tell a story or make the simple statement that we were here. I use crude marks in my work looking to avoid cultural specific symbols but rather create an invitation for personal interpretation. Circles and lines, the simple geography of a wheel or a square are clear evidence of my hand in the material.
We all eat. Food is the most common of experiences. Making functional pottery offers me access to the home. I make recognizable ware for daily use, as well as objects that are for special occasion. A cup held in the hand, placed against the lips delivering sustenance is a deeply intimate space for an artist to connect with another person. Not only does the tradition of pottery cross cultures and time, but the metaphor of human as vessel resonates in most theologies.
Pottery that either serves multiple people or makes reference to a communal meal speaks of generosity. Serving bowls, cauldrons, or sculptural houses that extend ideas of singular home into neighborhoods are ways to talk about the larger human experience as social animals.
As my journey in clay continues I may discover more spokes, and more ways to speak eloquently outside of my own narrow world. Travel and the continued exploration of core human connections strengthen my belief in this new artistic direction.