By Regina Connell.
It was love at first sight. Portland-based Lilith Rockett‘s ceramic vessels were perfectly centered in my aesthetic sweet spot: sleek but warm, organically minimal; graceful forms that still throbbed with emotion, pieces that were ethereal but powerful. They are the perfect coming together of craft and design in the ceramic medium.
As I told her when I interviewed her, I’d been a fan since I’d first come across her work so many years ago, but hadn’t ever bought anything, because I just didn’t know where to start: it’s just all so good.
And that was before I’d even gotten to know her. Because behind all this zen sublimeness in her work is this rollicking cool spirit who didn’t spring from the womb throwing pots, but has tried lots of things, always followed her heart and instincts, and most importantly, not followed the rules. For me, that imbues her pieces with even more life, and knowing the path she’s followed inspires me even more.
So tell me about your journey. I came to ceramics late. I went to school for French Lit at Ripon College in Wisconsin. I’ve always been a big learner, but I’m not that good a student. I’m a little too independent minded! When I got out of school, and became a flight attendant for PanAm. I lived in NY and DC and then quit that job and decided to move to SF. (Interesting: LA potter Leslie Anton also worked as a flight attendant.) Then it was Santa Fe where I put on self defense classes and worked at non-profits, and then went to documentary film school. I also did photography, though I never did it commercially. (She still does a lot of her own photography, which is pretty wonderful.) And then I got into the film biz and moved to LA.
Wow. I guess you could say that the world has been my teacher.
So how did you get involved with ceramics? Well I’d taken a throwing class when I was in the Bay Area, but it all really started when my husband bought me a bag of clay. And I just started making pots. Then I took a firing class, and was just really inspired by the people I met. I just jumped in with both feet, as I tend to do! I volunteered at the studio that was opening, was a tech, then just opened my own studio.
But you also opened a gallery, right? Yes. I opened the gallery in LA in Chinatown and ran it between 2005-2007, which was a hot time for that area. I represented emerging and established potters like Ani Kasten and Adam Silverman and Roger Herman, Phil Cornelius so I had a wide variety of studio potters and designers and artists.
You did something that was pretty ballsy, er, brave: it’s not like you had a ton of experience in the world of ceramics by then. But it seems to have paid off. I know! But I picked what I loved and it somehow coalesced in a fine way. People did expect me to know a lot and I worked really hard to learn and train myself, but in the end, it was about what I loved.
Was there a style you gravitated toward? You know, I have a collection but it has so many styles. But seeing so much work helped me get clear about what qualities were important to me.
OK. Then Portland called. Yes, we’d adopted a daughter and wanted a somewhat simpler life. I love that I have a great studio here. And Portland’s a great base.
Let’s talk about your work: how did you come by that style? If I like it, I make it. It’s funny what you’re called to make: it’s very specific. I know I have a very particular voice in ceramics.
I have these imaginary worlds in my head that I create. I often see my work in environments and homes.
It’s interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever had an artisan say that to me. It’s so much more common artists and artisans to talk about meaning or process but no one’s really talked about space. What kinds of spaces do you imagine? I sometimes just imagine a piece of wood in the coastal range. And there’s a lot of indoor outdoor space. Sometimes its very architectural, just lots of raw cement with strong geometries.
You show a lot of multiples: how does that influence what you make? I use my work in composition, a lot of what I do is relational. You see something different every time you arrange pieces, and that can inspire you in different directions. But really each piece is meant to stand alone.
Your work is just so refined, and it’s clear that it’s popular with designers and architects (it was showcased by several designers in the last couple of ACC shows in San Francisco). My work has a strong graphic sensibility. In some contexts it looks perfect and clean, but put it next to something super clean, it feels lots more organic.
It’s also big with the Japanese, which is quite an honor, given their tradition of ceramics. And how cool to be part of Analogue Life, one of my favorite sites. I know! It’s incredibly flattering. I’m hoping to go over again soon.
It seems that you’re as intuitive about your work as you are your life. It’s very strongly visual but seems to be driven by what lies within. I’m super visual but also super kinesthetic. I have my own criteria for when something is really working. I like the energy of the piece needs to feel uplifted, expansive. I’m picky as to where the curve falls…
There’s an absolute connection between where I am and what I make. My work is really subtle, but I can absolutely see where I’ve been in my life. Right now I feel like life is opening up, and that finds its way into more flared work. Things have that more open feeling. And then here were other times that things got tighter and more closed in. It’s interesting.I sometimes wouldn’t know how I was feeling until I looked at the work. It’s like my journal.
OK what else is there to know about Lilith Rockett? Mushrooms? I can’t believe I haven’t brought them up yet… I’m really into them…
And the conversation continues.
All images courtesy of Lilith Rockett.