Funny story: I first met Ellie when she was about 9 years old and I was 15 and her summer camp counselor. When Instagram reunited us awhile ago, I realized her ceramics are simply confirmation of what I already knew about her: that she has always been nothing short of precocious, curious, creative, talented, and an absolute delight of a human being. In fact, watching her process and relishing in the joy that her pieces brought me and everyone I showed them to singlehandedly inspired me to launch this online shop. Ellie’s work is the pinnacle of an idea that is increasingly important to me – that the things we make in alignment with our bliss, are capable of spreading this same joy to others. This is why I encourage people (including myself) to make physical their metaphysical ideas. This is why I am so passionate about the intersection of spirituality and creativity. And, reading what Ellie has to say about her process and her calling for ceramics only further corroborates this idea. So! Without further ado, presenting Ellie Levy’s ceramics collection for Gooey Girl. I hope it makes you smile too.
“I started taking ceramics out of a vague curiosity in middle school because it was offered as an elective to fulfill my high school’s art requirement. After I fulfilled the requirement in my freshman year of high school, my advisor told me I didn’t need to take it anymore and I could just focus on academics if I wanted to. It was in that moment I think, that i realized the real relevance of art in my life. I no longer was just passively enjoying it each class, but rather choosing to immerse myself in it and seek out means of exploring the medium outside the class time slot. Stopping ceramics at that point made no sense to me, and I began to understand that ceramics was one of the few things in my life that consistently made sense.
Generally, I’ll start with a concept that is really compelling to me and then sketch patterns and take notes to figure out the moments that work in the patterns and the types of intersections and motifs I want to incorporate in my work. Then I’ll throw many pieces on the wheel and trim them and then apply the designs in pigmented underglazes. The designs I apply are totally spontaneous for the most part and the application process is very fluid and meditative. If I ever make a mark I didn’t intend to make or if there’s a drip, I’ll incorporate that “mistake” all over the piece just to see how it works with the rest of what I did intend the surface to convey. Leaving that kind of breathing room in such a tedious and somewhat calculated process is super important to me. Each mark is intentional, but on its own is very small and insignificant. When the surface comes together though, you realize without each mark in its right place, the image wouldn’t work in the way it does. Working with my mistakes as opposed to correcting them has allowed me to discover some of my favorite designs of mine that I employ variations of in many of the pieces I create. After I’ve finished the surface decoration, I’ll do a bisque firing followed by applying a clear glaze and then glaze firing. Ceramics is a very unpredictable art form, so each final piece is a surprise. That used to be frustrating I think when I was just getting started, but it’s a really beautiful aspect of the medium I’ve learned to appreciate greatly. It reminds me that the process is what is precious and not so much the product.
"I imagine the colors and prints as consuming the form and kinda camouflaging it in a weird and sort of compelling way (to me) and that’s what I enjoy experimenting with. Grappling with how to create a new surface and consume the natural one as opposed to thinking about it like creating an image to apply superficially to the surface is a mindset that interests me and influences my work. A surface that seems to fit into itself, with each piece of the print sitting in its own space, every piece in its specific and right place, but the design on the surface and the form it rests on seem to exist separately- like the surface could peel right off and be applicable in another context.
Dissociation between form and surface is something that inspires a lot of my work. The form and surface are not synonymous and can exist separately. The form will still serve its function and the surface could be taken or left. There’s something really hilarious to me about working countless arduous hours on something that could be taken or left and is theoretically totally unnecessary. The functionality of the form is what defines it and gives it beauty in my opinion, rather than some superficial designs slapped on the surface. The excessiveness and chaos that my designs convey is to exaggerate that dynamic. While superficially, it may become more captivating or interesting, the purpose of the bowl lies on the form and silhouette and the surface is completely irrelevant in that. As for the colors I pick, I often mix commercial pigments to create custom colors. I enjoy certain color arrangements and pairings that convey nostalgic and retro vibes.
In my work and my most recent collection specifically, I’m inspired by graphics from 70s-90s pop culture and vintage mass-manufactured children’s toys. The contrast and juxtaposition between the surface, which conveys nostalgic references to consumer and pop culture and the hand-made, individualized and one-of-a-kind form it rests on is something i explore and try to push in my work.
Additionally, Japanese traditional ceramic ware is a real source of inspiration for me. Concepts/ techniques such as Wabi Sabi and Kintsugi that tie into the idea of embracing the imperfections of a piece and having them be the sources of beauty as opposed to signs of failure impact many of the decisions I make in my work. Also LA is a very powerful nostalgic and inspirational place. My sophomore year of high school I got connected with an art collective for young artists in the LA area that would put on shows for the underground art and music scene. Feeling like I was part of something in the context of my art gave me the confidence to pursue it. LA has been this abstract mentor figure for me in that it watched me grow into the person I am and helped me figure out the person I aspire to become. Also artists such as Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, Georgia O’Keeffe, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol and many others influence my work as well.
A belief that is sort of central in my life and mind is that everything happens for a reason- not in a predetermination way, but just in a way. I believe things align in cool and interesting ways and everything somehow gets resolved. That belief informs the way I approach ceramics as well, and perhaps ceramics is where I learned it from. It is a very spiritual art form. Very meditative, and in my work at least, very fluid and uncalculated. When something goes wrong, which it often does, it’s very special (despite temporary frustrations) to just sort of sit in that and reflect and then change direction in an effort to improve your work and progress in direction that’s often more interesting that you wouldn’t have encountered had it not been for that misstep or mistake that was out of your control. Ceramics has taught me many things, one of which is patience and how to maintain calmness when things around you may not be.
Keith Haring said, ‘Nothing is important, so everything is important.’ It was a quote that always stuck with me. I often think about how significance is most often subjective. In the context of my work, it is so humbling to grapple with the responsibility of keeping such a traditional medium relevant without necessarily commodifying it. What I see as significant about my work won’t be seen as such by the viewer, given that I appreciate my work for the process, and they only will ever know the product. The reason for making the tedious and somewhat overwhelming designs I do on the clay surfaces is to make the process last as long as I can and postpone the end of it until I pick up the next piece. Each line is fairly unimportant, but together all the lines convey the images I have in my head to the viewer, which is something really sacred and special. The idea that art communicates what words can’t and how personal and intimate the experience of viewing art can be, even though the creator is most often not there and everyone around you is viewing what you are, is a dynamic that is super fascinating to me. What you take away from art or any experience is entirely up to you. You don’t need any part of an experience to continue living your life in a general way, but if you take away as much as you can from each experience, you can understand the world and yourself within that context in a perhaps more full and grounded way than you would have otherwise. So in the words of Keith, ‘Nothing is important, so everything is important.’”