In Interview with Kevin Ramler

by Robin Gary


The TCAA Featured Artist for April and May 2013 is Kevin Dean Ramler ceramic artist, masters student and musician. He is currently residing in Corpus Christi Texas as he finishes his MFA in Ceramics at Texas A and M.  His work is creative, thoughtful, musical and interactive!  You can read more about Kevin and see more of his work via his website http://www.kevindeanramler.com/.

I spoke with Kevin specifically about his works that are in The YouTube video of the installation, The Allegory, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WYd9EkoInM) and the most recent pieces that were in the show “Play On”  held in conjunction with NCECA at Montgomery College in the Woodlands. I was curious about the exploration of the organic musical instruments presented in the Allegory versus the more exact, engineered, and glazed instruments in the exhibit “Play On”

The hanging instruments that comprise the installation, The Allegory, are hand thrown, stacked cylinders that were made quickly and assembled haphazardly right off the wheel as the cylinders were being made. Kevin indicated that he had about a 50% loss rate between assembly, transporting the pieces to the kiln and firing. The surfaces are naked and most were soda fired with some pieces reduction fired. These instruments were made in late 2011 and early 2012.

In the Exhibit “Play On”, the instruments and mixed-media sculptures resemble pipes and fittings that one might find on roofs of apartments, on the sides of industrial buildings or sometimes even on streets where gas lines traverse under neighborhoods surfacing along sidewalks with fittings and pipes for maintenance. Kevin created clay surfaces resembling old paint flaking off the pieces to compliment the weathered wood incorporated in the sculptures and instruments.

As part of Kevin’s masters program, he will be exhibiting new work at Texas A and M, Corpus Christi in October 2013. I can hardly wait to see and play these instruments in person!

Background

I never dreamed I would end up as a ceramic artist.  Growing up my artistic bent was towards music and theater.  In my early twenties I decided to try my hand at art.  I took a ceramics class at Richland Community College in Dallas, TX and was hooked instantly.  After pit firing in my Ceramics 1 class, I went to my parents’ property outside Dallas and built a brick pit kiln.  I started taking all my bisque ware out there to fire.

When I moved to Alpine to pursue my BFA I started trying to find a way to combine functional ceramics and pit firing.  I had continued to play music, and was even working as a semi-professional musician, playing at bars and restaurants in Alpine.  Making ceramic instruments seemed like a natural way to combine my interests in clay and music and to have functional objects that I could pit fire.  

My work has always had a sculptural quality to it.  From the very beginning, I was making conventional ceramic instruments; dumbeks, udus, flutes, etc. but there was also a body of experimental instruments that were driven as much by a desire in visual interest and sculptural form as a desired to produce sound.  This has led to my latest work that combines sculpture and installation with sound.

Education

I decided to go to Sul Ross because I wanted to live in the Big Bend Country of West Texas and they offered a BFA in ceramics.  Working under Jim Bob Salazar, the ceramics professor there, was a great experience.  He was an excellent teacher and his emphasis on precision in craft and design was instrumental in my development as an artist.  When I decided to pursue an MFA, I was looking at a lot of out of state programs.  Gregory Tegarden, a friend of a friend and fellow Sul Ross alum, was in the MFA program at Texas A&M- Corpus Christi and he introduced me to the school.  When I did some research and saw Louis Katz’s work and writings I knew I had to go study with him.  He has had a huge impact on the way I think about art and making art.  He has also pushed me to pursue professional opportunities, the most significant of which was being elected as the Student Director at Large on the NCECA Board of Directors.

As far as inspiration is concerned, I look at many artists.  Right now one of my favorites is Henrique Oliveira.  He is a Brazilian sculpture and installation artist who works mostly with colored wood.  Many of my favorite clay artists hail from outside the US.  They include Hans Coper, Magdalene Odundo, and Jennifer Lee.  Music is a constant companion for me in the studio.  I love the Americana music from the 60’s and 70’s: Bob Dylan, The Band, The Grateful Dead, etc.  Lately I have been listening to a lot of contemporary music in the same vein: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Chris Thile & Micheal Daves, and Ray LaMontagne.  I also draw a lot of inspiration from Shakespeare.  Many of my titles are taken from his plays.

Current & Future Work

I think of my work as functional sculpture.  I value art that is functional, multi sensory, and interactive, so I try to incorporate those elements in all my pieces. I have one semester left in my MFA program, my thesis show will be in October and I graduate in December. My life in the next year will involve some major transitions. I have been in college for almost a decade and it would be interesting to get out of the educational system for a bit.  I would like to pursue a residency and would consider setting up a studio as well.  In the end, however I will definitely be looking for a teaching job.  I have always enjoyed school and I really loved teaching as a graduate assistant.  I would find it hard to imagine a future where teaching is not a major part of my life.  I have also loved doing workshops and would like to continue to demonstrate ceramic instrument making.  




Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

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

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