Dustin Barzell | Episode 864
Dustin Barzell is a Brooklyn-based artist who creates colorful and playful ceramics using fresh and improvisational techniques. Dustin also teaches experiential clay-based workshops in Brooklyn intended to restore and encourage a sense of play.
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How did you find the connection with your local community? How did that develop and grow?
I was at a community studio where you could take classes and I wanted to start mixing clays and mason stains and all that and I couldn’t do it there so I found a community studio In Williamsburg where you get your own clay, you make your own glazes, you do your own firings and that’s kind of where I met all my ceramic friends.
How did beginning teaching become a more important relationship in the community?
I don’t know if the chicken or the egg came first. I don’t know if it was because I was part of the community that I got the opportunities to teach but if any thing it’s just yeah, all my students and meeting new people every time I do a workshop or a class just expands the community so much. It’s wonderful.
How did you begin to reach the larger global community?
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t feel so much part of the global community, because I don’t feel it doesn’t mean I am not a part of it, but I think just the Instagram algorithm to be blunt about it. Like it put a lot of people in front of me who I wouldn’t have seen in real life and it put me in front of a lot of other people so in a way for all of the ills that come with Instagram and the algorithm and all that, it brought some people together in some ways.
The lawyer world seems exacting and you have to work in the confines of law and it seems like in the ceramics world you can have a lot of experimentation and looseness and I’m curious, how do those two parts of your brain work?
Yeah, I realize that I kind of need to feed both parts. There was a time when I was just doing ceramics and I felt like I was sort of craving something else, I was doing a lot of crossword puzzles at the time and games on my phone and stuff because my brain just needed this intellectual puzzle stimulation. So yeah, they are both in there for sure. My parents are very different and maybe I got a little bit of each of them. I need to feed both parts to be a whole, healthy, happy person.
Was the journey into ceramics a form of de-stressing?
Yeah, as a lawyer without any outlet it was very frightening and I had sort of lost all connection with anything creative. Anything that wasn’t logical and rational, anything that couldn’t be expressed in a thought was able to proved as right or wrong. And a lot of other spiritual practices and other hobbies that I have open me up to this whole other world that I didn’t even know existed. This whole world of intuition and paradox and competing thoughts and beauty and richness that I just didn’t even know that that world existed.
What is the value that is brought by writing a book? What value did you get out of it?
I actually started doing it using the notes that I was using for my glaze classes because I had so many requests for more information. And also I think ceramic books are really important, I really love them, I still do , reading new ceramic books. And there are very few really good technical books being now. So partly it was to fill what I think was sort of a void. But I suppose it’s formalized my approach to developing glazes.
When you do commissions do you agree to anything people request or are you specific at what you will say yes to?
I am quite specific because some commissions would be just to frustrating to attempt. The thing that people don’t realize, I think, when they ask for a commission is the amount of work that goes into developing a new glaze. If someone comes up and says, I’ll have that mug but I want it in pink, it might take a year to develop a good quality glaze that you are happy with, for example and who is going to pay for that? I certainly don’t take everything but I take one’s that I think will be really interesting and that I will get something out of as well and that I think I will be able to do in a set time frame.
What’s got you excited about a piece that you are working on now?
I took this workshop on mold making with plaster, which I had never done before and I made this little man, he’s not really little anymore, he’s maybe 18 inches tall. And I want to make this candle holder with one candle on his head and one in each arm and now that I have the mold I can….I made a pitcher out of him where one arm was the spout and one arm was the handle and it’s very different than what I am making but that’s exciting to me. I’m excited to see where it goes.