Lesley Anton is one of those amazing people you just want to have in your life. When you’re chatting with her, you get this sense of openness, of possibility, of light. It’s inspiring, exhilarating, and just sheer fun.
Lesley’s an LA-based ceramic artist, known for her lamps–mid century inspired–but not mired. (I’m particularly in love with her pendent lamp.) She’s in the throes of expanding her lamp line, and building up her line of functional ceramics (tableware) and sculptural pieces.
But that’s just the beginning. She also operates a retail store (open by appointment), sells through other retailers (like the lovely, lovely Aero in NYC), and sells her lighting through 7 showrooms across the US.
She’s been selling to the interior design trade for 11 years and she’s just now bringing her work to the retail world. Her line of functional tableware, sculpture, and accessories is just being launched on a national scale, and it’s getting some major attention (as it should).
Oh, and she’s a wife and mother of teen twins.
And all this from a woman who worked for 7 years as a flight attendant. See? Sometimes you never know where life will take you.
Of course, this might have a little something to do with her work.
It’s strong, but doesn’t scream “LOOK AT ME”. You almost feel their beauty before you clock it visually (which doesn’t take long)…and that’s what makes you know you can take them home and live with them for a while.
The perfectly-imperfect forms and deep glazes whisper in your ear and get under your skin in the way that Japanese ceramics do. Yet there’s a modernity to her work as well: she’s got a clear love of industrial influences that create the edge the pieces need to stay vital.
How does one get from being a flight attendant to a woman with a burgeoning design empire? I started doing ceramics in high school. I went to college at the University of Nebraska and studied graphic arts, art history. Post-college, I got based in NY as flight attendant for American. The 92 Street Y was around the corner from my place and I started playing around again with ceramics. And this time I was hooked.
Why’d you come west? Oh I met my husband (who Lesley happened to have gone to high school with in Omaha) in New York, he’d been an actor and comic…4 years later we moved to LA.
But what made you think you could turn an interest into a business? I started noticing the ceramic lamps in and around the design venues, and how the contemporary versions were expensive, and fairly traditional (i.e., the double gourd lamps that are in every magazine). There was nothing out there using the high fire reduction glaze process that I like…the kind of glaze that’s irregular and super rich but subtle and not bright. (I love the fact that some of the glaze recipes are thousands of years old.) I put one foot in front of the other, and here I am.
Why tableware, and why now? I think it just makes sense. We’re finally paying attention to buying organically, and from local farmers, and then you realize: why would you put your food on plates where you’re not sure where it’s from or who made it? (Hear, hear.) I think from a design perspective it’s in keeping with the way we live today: simple enough for a modern household, and not too decorative. (Any meal would taste better on these plates, trust me.)
But it also came from a more internal place. A few years ago, I was leaving San Francisco after a week of showroom events. As I was entering the stairwell to the Civic Center Bart Station, I looked up and saw the “TRUTH” mural staring down at what seemed to be just me. For months I tried to figure out what ‘truth’ I was supposed to be looking for. It’s sort of like when you read your horoscope and it says something that seems to be written specifically for you–but it’s not really. This big simple word was wreaking havoc in my brain.
So I tried to dissect what it could mean or what it should mean to me. Since then, I have shifted gears a couple of times, in both my personal life (practicing meditation regularly) as well as my body of work-but mostly I listened to my own heart. One thing that happened almost immediately was that I started developing functional work.
(That’s lovely! Believe me I rarely find inspiration in the Civic Center Bart station: grim, gritty, and not in a good way.)
As soon as I began thinking of making functional ware again (I had done it for years for fun before creating the lighting collection) it was like I could breathe again. I was able to loosen up, and have fun with the new pieces, not having to adhere to my own tight requirements for producing custom lamp orders.
What is it about the functional work for you? Why do you think it strikes such a chord with you? I’ve felt so fulfilled by being able to have my handmade lighting embraced by the interior design community, but I wanted to bring my work to a broader community. What drew me to ceramics in the first place was how cool it was to be able to eat and drink out of something that I made…something that was mud one minute and something permanent and strong a part of your life the next. I love that a single piece can be so simple, but when stacked on a shelf together, it can take on a life of its own and tell a completely different story.
And the sculptures? After the organic feel of these plates and the lighting, I’m also thoroughly in love with these pieces that elevate the ordinary to the beautiful. This brake drum I found in a junk yard in Helena, Montana (where she and her family go each summer). The guys there rolled their eyes at me when I said I wanted to look around, then gave me a hard hat and escorted me on my first junk yard journey. I found this piece and I brought it home and started making these pieces.
You’ve done a lot of custom work, and now are doing a lot more functional work for the retail setting. What’s the difference for you? Making 30 bowls helps each bowl become a part of a set, and not so precious. The lamps I make for my showroom orders are very personal projects. Each one is very close to me, and sending it on its way to a clients home or to a showroom is still to this day a painful separation process, not knowing what it’s destiny will be. Now, with the functional ware added to the equation, I feel much more balanced.
You don’t think quiet and organic when you think of LA…where’s the inspiration come from? Oh I find inspiration in the work. Inspirations for shape happens on the wheel when I’m doing something else. I’m more form oriented. Very rarely do I see something historical and copy it. Although, recently, I developed my version of the double gourd lamp, (figuring I might as well keep up with the Joneses), but it has my ring of beading around the center. It’s more like my homage to that familiar form.
But I do really have one thing that inspires and moves me: Art, and specifically painting. I get completely drooly at a well painted still life–especially one in oils with layers and layers of lacquer, a la Vermeer…all dark and brooding. (Yes!) There have been a few shows I’ve been too that the paintings have taken my breath away, literally. Rothko, De Kooning…I just fall into their paintings. I could go to a museum every week for the rest of my life.
But then I like the mundane as well: junkyards, 99 cent store windows, construction sites, crazy things in nature, and the desert. Even the Korean grocery store. First time I’ve heard that. The lotus table lamp for example…there are lotus root slices pressed into the clay and I buy them at the Korean grocery store and press them myself!
Do you work alone? It’s mostly just me. Thankfully, I currently have a studio assistant. My ideal would be to hire production potters to make the functional work. My goal is to be a go-to place where people can get a job in clay. There just aren’t that many production studios in this country. Most everything produced in volume is slip cast.
What do you like about living in LA? I love that the ocean, the mountains, and the desert are each just half an hour away. (But the good weather can get boring!) But I also love the whole range of entertainment you can get here in LA from the high to the low. I like the mix of the crazy dark side of LA: it’s super fun and creative.
Who plays you in a movie and what kind of movie would it be? It would be an indie film definitely. Something comedic but offbeat. I love the character Kate Winslet plays in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–so I’ll kill two birds here–Kate Winslet, and that kind of movie. And sure, Michel Gondry should direct it for sure!! I don’t look like her, but she reminded me of me in that film.
But I would never want to be in a movie. I don’t even feel comfortable in front of a video camera let alone a proper movie camera.
What objects define you? I guess there are some things that make me feel like me:
- Vintage dresses
- My cowboy boots
- This perfume that I’ve been wearing for 10 years-Agent Provocateur
- My yellow doc Martin boots that I got at the Goodwill for $3.
Also – I have two weaknesses: handmade ceramic coffee mugs, and salt and pepper shakers. I just can’t get enough.
And nor can we.
(323) 937-5769 tel
(323) 937-5771 fax