On a recent drive to Rochester, gallery director Mara Baldwin and I had the pleasure of meeting with Joanna Poag, a ceramicist and professor at Roberts Wesleyan College. Poag began her position earlier this year and was still settling in to her new workspace. Currently, she had her computer set up in front of a pin board with text pages, images from her MFA project and other drawings as a source of inspiration and reflection for her current work. Poag’s work consists of large ceramic forms hung together to reveal patterns. When not being displayed or still in process they sit on shelves like experiments patiently waiting to be completed. She explains that she starts by drawing the design on her computer. This lets her see how the shapes work (or don't work) together when they are stacked on top of each other. From there she prints out the shapes and uses them as templates for creating her work. Poag’s uses long thin forms that wind around each other, a style that is not structurally possible with a normal clay body. Instead, she uses paper clay; a type of clay with paper added to it to increase its strength. This allows Poag’s work hold up in the process without having to sacrifice any of its formal qualities.
Conceptually, Poag draws from chaos theory and other mathematical elements. Though she admits she doesn't have the same grasp as a mathematician on chaos theory, the readings are influential to her development of shapes and forms. Works such as Flourish blend together chaos theory and undulating forms to create a piece that draws the viewer in to the formal qualities of the work. Poag's practice however, is not strictly for those who have a high level understanding of mathematical theories—she negotiates the line between the tradition of working with clay, the formalities of abstraction, the structural limitations of earthbound gravity, and the social experience of interacting with her work within a space.
As a result Poag’s work can be accessed through multiple lenses. She mentions that her work has was of speaking to people in very different ways. “A mathematician will see my work much differently than a Yoga master,” Poag explains, an aspect of her work she finds positive.
When asked about her choice in color and why she chooses to almost exclusively work in black and white, she explained that color is encoded with so many emotions and ideas, both personal and social. To emphasize the focus on the forms she is creating Poag chooses to use neutral blacks and whites in her work.
Scale is another element that seems to be a constant consideration in her work. Poag expressed that would like to work exclusively with larger pieces but there are limiting factors such as the size of the kiln and the the space she has to work in. She feels as though her work is much stronger as large scale installations, but due to these limitations she has begun to work in smaller scale and has found some success.
Currently, Poag is exploring new ways she can connect these forms. Rather than multiple pieces hanging together she wants to see the repeating forms exist as one connected object. As this project is just beginning it was fascinating to talk to the artist and see how her process works be hind the studio full of experiments, analogous to a laboratory.
Joanna Poag’s ceramic work utilizes traditional means of making but take on more contemporary concepts. Her work subverts the partition between art and craft through medium and concept.
Thanks to Joanna Poag for our wonderful conversation and visit to her studio. Check out more of her work here.