An Interview with James (Alex) Ferrante

by Robin Gary

 James' Online Show | James' Profile Page

Welcome to the 2nd year of TCAA Featured Artist Interviews! Our artist for February and March is James Alexander Ferrante, an undergraduate in the B.F.A. program at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. He will be graduating in December 2014. With Louis Katz as a mentor, Alex has been experimenting with form and surface. He is skillfully producing wares that distinctively represent his attention and analysis. You can see photographs of Alex’s work online on the TCAA site and on his artist site:

You changed from the College of Biology to the College of Art in 2011. What was the catalyst for the change in direction? Have you always had a creative and logical bent?

Art was something I have always done and made and it makes sense to me. Coming into college and the years around the beginning, there is this stress to decide what you would do for the rest of your life. Naturally, I wanted to try different routes. It only made sense. I have always been interested in the environment and science became of interest. Quickly, I realized that what made the most sense to me was to pursue something that I had always done.  There was a feeling of content with that sort of thought process. I realized that my motivations were elsewhere and there was something a purely scientific career wouldn’t fulfill in me. I needed a different type of voice. I am still very interested in science and where the boundaries of art and science overlap.

Most of your work advances Japanese influences. You have achieved a fluidity of form and understated surface quality of artists who have worked for years. How did you come to this path of work? What are your favorite surfaces? What are your favorite inclusions for your throwing body? Why? 

It’s really hard to say exactly how I came in to this path of work. In part, I try not to think about it and rather just act on ideas I feel are important for people to know about. Part of it is the environment of the school and influences taken from there. I think I was exposed to the idea of sensitivity at just the right time. I saw how powerful an object could be that isn’t yelling for attention and, rather, is able to confidently sit in the shadows. I am fond of scale and specifically small-scale work. I like the idea of exposing everything that exists in small work. It’s an idea that I can stand behind. I think both of these reasons are part of why the work has Japanese influences.

 The forms themselves are influenced by the material as much as the idea. In some ways the objects in a physical sense seem second to the ideas embellished in them.  I think I find this feeling most often visible in surfaces. Immediately, I was drawn to the surfaces found most often in wood-fired pottery throughout history. I do not have direct access to a wood kiln. I was open to the challenge of achieving a similar surface without a wood kiln. I have been using soluble salts as a surface treatment and mainly firing at cone 10 reduction and cone 7 oxidation. The surfaces of my pots are very different from anything found in wood kilns and I like that. I like the idea of referencing historical and contemporary influences but really making something completely different.

At the moment, the surfaces of raw clay and clay treated with soluble salts fired at around cone 7 oxidation are my favorite. Aesthetically, they are what I am after and the idea that these surfaces are accessible is really important to me. I prefer accessible and aggressive art rather than objects that feel passive. I have used everything from sand to key shavings as inclusions in my clay. I want to expose the beauty and potential of clay itself as a means for expression. At the moment, I tend to use different types of chicken grit and grogs. The different inclusions act differently with each clay body and I love to explore this. I tend to use really obnoxious amounts or really subtle amounts and use really large inclusions in combination with really small ones. I think this provides an active surface quality that interacts with the viewer/user.

Your CV shows that you have jumped into this discipline wholeheartedly with academic honors and scholarships, assisting in building the Daniel Johnston's wood kiln, heading up the A&M's Ceramic Guild, and participating in the President's Council show in South Texas. I also saw that you are running for SDAL at NCECA this year. Kudos for being involved in the greater community! How are these activities influencing your choice to work in clay?

I am running for SDAL this year at the 2014 conference and the video is up on the NCECA website. These activities really affect and influence the work in every way possible. I am a strong believer in exposure and sharing of ideas and the importance of this to people and specifically to an artist. NCECA is a great place for this. My fondness for this founding idea is part of the reason I want to be SDAL. The idea that there is such a community and a stress of community in the medium of clay is something I really find wonderful. Environment to me is really important. The overall feeling of community in clay creates a wonderful environment for a person to create in, and because there is a strongly connected community the sense of competition becomes even more apparent. I feel this is a necessary environment for progression. In a lot of ways, being exposed and participating in activities in the field really only lights the fire more. Being involved really only makes me want to become increasingly more involved, produce better work and share the ideas of clay with people. 

In your artist statement on the Texas Clay Arts Association site, you state: "I make functional work, however am not limited by function, rather than draw these boundaries my self I allow the user to determine the function for themself." What do you see as your major source of creative influence in your daily work?

On one level making work daily has become a literal way of communication. Art really is about problem solving and I don’t mean just of formal issues. As an artist, creating art is a passage, or a means to answer questions one might have, internal issues or questions of morality and ethical issues. For example, a child may not understand how the physical structure of a bridge seems to suspend a road. In order to answer it, they may draw it and in doing so force themselves to really look at the relationships of parts to a whole.

Much of how I think about each piece of work I make is the same. The relationship of each piece to the whole, where the piece or the ideas embedded in the piece are compared to the ideals of a society. Something that I feel is too often overlooked is the idea of boundaries. I talk about this in my artist statement. I do think that for the most part boundaries are necessary but I worry people often draw them at where they are told to rather than exploring outside of them. Once boundaries are explored, one might find oneself arriving at the same boundaries as they did to start with, which is great. In my case I am not. For example, many people I meet feel as if “functional pottery” needs to be glazed on the inside. This is something I feel is not necessary to have a functional pot. I used unglazed wares daily. I would have to compromise my own ideals to fall within this boundary, and as an artist it is often hard to compromise and I think it should be that way. I am not making pottery for everyone to use. I enjoy the feeling of a clay rim when I’m drinking; I prefer that surface over the surface of most glazes.

My motivations lie within wanting to confront the ideals associated within the medium of clay. Pottery is not important, but the idea that pottery can and is existent in the present time is absolutely wonderful. Peoples ideas change, people’s ideas of what and how things need to be change and pots change.                                                            

What's on tap for this year? Do you have any shows/exhibits coming up?

Currently I have a tea bowl in a show in Thailand that opened on February 14. I also currently have a piece at the Islander Art Gallery in Corpus Christi. At NCECA 2014, I will present a talk on the use of soluble salts as a surface treatment on the Friday during the conference and I am running for SDAL. There a few shows in the next few months I will be applying for. Also, I am getting ready for my Bachelors of Fine Art show in December of 2014. And then just the expected as well, like touring graduate programs and preparation for the next few years of my life.

I am excited about clay and art and art in clay. I am excited about where I am, however this is all tentative information.

 James' Online Show | James' Profile Page

Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

Images in header (from left): Annie Foster, Karmien Bowman, Mimi Bardagjy

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