Judd Schiffman Interview - The Hopper Prize

Judd Schiffman

Judd Schiffman on Buddhist meditation and Shamanic spiritual practices, preparing for multiple upcoming exhibitions, & exploring personal rites of passage.

How did you get into making art?

Making art has always been a part of who I am. I spent a lot of time scribbling in notebooks as a kid, starred in plays, tap-danced, and played piano but kind of drifted away from most creative activities during a severe depression when I was a teenager. As I tried to find my way out of it, I became dedicated Buddhist meditation and Shamanic spiritual practices in my early twenties. This focus on the inner life led me to the studio and became the basis of my approach to making art. I developed a rigorous drawing and painting practice and then a couple years later met my wife who introduced me to ceramics. I have been obsessed ceramics in the 15 years since then, and have created several different bodies of work all focused on personal narrative, and the relationship between drawing and ceramics. I am grateful to be able to go to a studio most days and engage with this very plastic and forgiving material. I love all the processes involved with making ceramic objects.

What are you currently working on?

I am finishing up a large body of work which consists of 21 ceramic wall relief sculptures each composed of several individual tiles and surrounded by a ceramic frame (I call them Outlines). I am getting ready for solo shows at Maake Projects in State College, PA, and Greenwich House Pottery’s Jane Hartsook Gallery in NYC.

Through this body of work I am exploring personal rites of passage associated with masculinity, discovery of self, and being in a family, and the nuanced feelings that accompany these experiences. I utilize imagery gleaned from spending time with my five year old daughter, Franny and wife, Athena, and observing nature. Textiles Athena makes, Franny’s drawings, children’s books, my photos and art historical references all get churned around in the studio as I re-draw them and create ceramic relief tiles that I arrange and re-arrange in the studio.

Meditation is an important part of my creative process and is how I start my day.

Judd Schiffman

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

It’s been a natural progression and weaves in a lot of past projects I have worked on… narrative drawings, empty multi paneled frames, large autobiographical ceramic wall sculptures, and smaller individual tiles. I have a lot of disparate tendencies as an artist and this way of working has allowed me to focus on drawing, hand building with clay, and arranging objects simultaneously.

As my hands are busy, somewhere in my subconscious my understanding of specific rites of passage I have experienced become distilled and clarified as an image. I have had a lot of strange, esoteric experiences that tend to resurface through dreams and gain meaning as my life continues to unfold. The outline series is a way of looking at these personal experiences with a different perspective that also holds meaning to the viewer through the symbolism, arrangements, and material.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

Both. I have a few distinct bodies of work, but they are all associated with finding the relationship to drawing and ceramics. My work also tends towards the personal, it’s a lot of me grappling with who I am, memories, and rites of passage and working to create the imagery that fits with my experience. Working in the studio is a personal practice….something I need to do with regularity and consistency. I’m invested in the process….seeing my work evolve over time, but also letting the moment inform what’s happening with my hands in the studio.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

Meditation is an important part of my creative process and is how I start my day. I try to compartmentalize emails and tasks for teaching, for grants/shows etc, and family life. I don’t typically toggle back and forth between digital work and my studio work.

Failure is important…… I make a lot of junk usually towards the beginning of a series but once I gain momentum I am pretty organized and consistent with how I lay out and sketch each drawing and then make it out of clay. The process of ceramics dictates the flow of the day as far as making things out of wet clay, drying them out, firing, and glazing. Usually I spend 2 – 4 hours in the studio a day and then 2 – 4 hours teaching or doing other logistical stuff. I am fairly focused when I am actually working in the studio and methodical about how I use different techniques. It’s a balance between this orderly way of thinking and leaving myself open to spontaneity and trying to listen to what the work wants to do.

Who are your favorite artists?

There are so many artists whose work I love and am inspired by. Here are a few: David Hammons, Phillip Guston, Kara Walker, Jeanne Quinn, Sanya Kantarovsky, Scott Alario, Heather Leigh McPherson, Johnny DeFeo, Sanford Biggers, Elizabeth Glaesner, Jackie Gendel, Robert Arneson, Matt Wedel, SunKoo Yuh, Betty Woodman, Andrea Della Robia, Ron Nagle, Helma af Klint.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

Ideally I go to art fairs, museums and galleries with regularity. But recently I haven’t gotten out much due to the pandemic and having a small child at home. I get very inspired by my daughter’s drawings and her friends (all around 5 years old). I also have friends in Providence who are artists and we look at each other’s work and introduce each other to artists. Social Media and the internet of course. I love looking at and thinking about new art, looking at art books, and running around in New York between galleries and museums.

Judd Schiffman is an artist based in Providence, Rhode Island who was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist:

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