By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Brian Harper, associate professor of fine art in ceramics, has won two grants that will enable him to lecture and present his work at the ScanCeram conference, from Oct. 20-23 in Aalborg, Denmark.
The first is an Overseas Conference Grant from IU Worldwide, which provides support for IU faculty to participate in major disciplinary or interdisciplinary conferences internationally. It will be matched by the IU Southeast School of Arts and Letters.
The second is an Artist Professional Development Grant from the Great Meadows Foundation, a new organization founded by Louisville, Ky.-based art collector, Al Shands. The foundation’s goal is to support and forward the careers of artists from the 120 counties of Kentucky, as well as Clark and Floyd Counties in Indiana, by encouraging them to engage with the broader art world. It encourages travel that helps create connections and strengthen artistic practice.
ScanCeram is one of Europe’s most forward-thinking artist conferences, and caps an already busy year for Harper, whose works have been or are being shown in Chicago, Ill., Philadelphia, Penn., Jacksonville, Fla., Kansas City, Mo., and more.
Themes for the 2016 conference include throwing and sculpting in clay and trends in Middle Eastern ceramics, as well as education and online marketing
The program includes lectures, demonstrations, panels, exhibitions, auctions and activities designed to connect ceramic artists throughout Scandinavia and the world.
Harper will present alongside ceramic artists from Sweden, France, Korea, New Zealand and Denmark.
His lecture will describe his artwork, his teaching and his efforts to build a ceramics community both in Kentuckiana and beyond.
At ScanCeram, Harper will present “Scaffolding Series: JCPenney Home™ Collection.” The work explores the intersection of commercial design and the handmade. It incorporates a set of mass-produced dinner plates from the retailer, expressing a mechanical utility and mode of production almost entirely devoid of apparent human artistry, encased in and juxtaposed with a scaffolding of countless individually extruded ceramic struts held together with an epoxy, an intricate and painstaking work of human hands, eyes, planning, patience and heart.
In America, Harper explains, commercial or industrial design and art are usually viewed as separate universes. In Scandinavian countries, the two are fused into products of everyday living that betray an advanced aesthetic. This makes ScanCeram the perfect forum for the presentation of the work, which is a meditation on the relationship between the two areas—and hopefully a conversation starter.
While the plates were easy to come by, the construction of the scaffolding, from the fashioning of the members to the assembling of the structure and the evolution of the final product, was long and arduous. The interplay of the two is typical of Harper’s approach, blending conceptual exploration with technical brilliance.
Harper views his art as a quest for knowledge from many different sources, both experiential and contemplative.
“I am an artist, and educator, and someone who feels an innate responsibility to contribute,” he has written.
As Harper seeks to expand the limits of his own art, he also fosters the same courageous spirit in the classroom. A recipient of two IU Trustees Teaching Awards, Harper approaches each student individually in creating an environment in which emerging artists feel free to express themselves through their work.
He sees the creative process as a journey of inquiry, unique to each artist, and helps students hone the skill of critiquing as a way to zero in on their own central questions from different angles. It is an effort to improve their technical skills of expression, but also one that leads inward, to every artist’s distinctive motivations.
“In my program, I push my students to not only become better at making their work,” Harper has written. “I expect them to become better at identifying and pursuing the things that drive them to make that work.”
At ScanCeram, Harper will also lecture on his students and approach to teaching, and show examples of their work. This is a staple of his presentations, bringing the classroom into the professional community and gaining insights from that community that can benefit students.
Harper has also been deeply engaged in building that ceramics community in the region. Central to this undertaking is Artaxis.org, the online network he founded and directs. The Artaxis.org community now includes over 425 contemporary ceramic artists from around the world, and is used by artists, academic and the general public as a way to discover, view and discuss a wide spectrum of current ceramic art.
The appearance at ScanCeram synthesizes Harper’s many pursuits, and also gives him a chance to gather new impulses from abroad that are sure to give the classroom experience a disruptive jolt. Besides melding minds with fellow artists from around the world, Harper will also conduct research on Danish ceramics and architecture at the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center, a hotspot of innovation, scholarship and networking in ceramics.
“Collaborations with other professors and students, combined with a general openness to new ideas and concepts fuels my excitement about the medium and inspires me to give these new ideas back to my students,” Harper has written. “With this evolving knowledge base I can therefore assure my students they are receiving the best possible education I can offer.”
Artwork photos courtesy of Brian Harper. Visit www.brianharperstudio.com for more information and examples of his work.