Playful and Informed

Peter Olson’s Photo Surfaced Pots

It is not easy to define Peter Olson’s clay works, yet they resemble ceramics that seem familiar. Viewing the surface, Victorian transferware comes to mind. But the shapes and the imagery don’t conform to that tradition. After consideration it becomes clear that Olson has brought into form, ceramic vessels with a heightened personal artistic viewpoint.​

Olson was trained as a photographer and has had a successful thirty five-year career in the corporate world. In his professional activities, his skills are used to help his clients. But recently, Olson turned to ceramics to examine the visual world on his own terms. While some clay artists have explored the possibilities of photo images on pots, it is rare to find a highly accomplished photographer thinking about covering hand thrown vessels with his own work.

Coming to clay with a photographer’s education, Olson’s approach to the vessel has little in common with ceramic artists trained in academic settings. This work seems as if the artist is trying to find a way to take the image off the page and transform it onto a three dimensional object.

Thrown on a pottery wheel, these vessels are often quirky. They do not reference classical proportions seen in traditional ceramics.  But rather resemble the slightly exaggerated and playful elements often used to embellish Victorian architecture, an art form Olson admires. These shapes are the perfect ground for his detailed imagery.

There are suggested narratives; pictures are arranged in decorative ways and carefully placed to create balanced compositions and patterns. Olson often repeats one image several times.  Positioning elements to appear mirrored, he takes a static picture and infuses it with energy.

The subject matter on the pots is eclectic, with the historic and the contemporary arranged in close proximity. These are curious compositions, reflecting a photographer’s eye for detail and revealing Olson’s vast and diverse interests in all things observed.

Technically, these works are direct and straightforward.  “I have been throwing pots for four or five years. I throw the pots on a wheel using a porcelain mix. The images are mine, from all my travels. I print decals on a laser printer then apply them after the pot has been glazed fired. I then do a third firing (cone07) which burns the decal paper off and softens up the glaze so the iron oxide imbeds into the glaze. Laser print ink is iron oxide, which is why the coloring is always reddish,” Olson explained.

In a playful, but informed manner, Olson explores possibilities. His vessels present a contrast between surfaces defined and photographs presented. Slowly he is building a body of work that addresses issues from areas of the art world that are generally not thought of as having much in common, ceramics and photography. These pots are a hybrid form, the coming together of two mediums, creating dynamic art objects that are best experienced on their own terms.

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