Jury Smith’s mesmerising ceramic sculptures evoke a strong personal narrative; stories often unintentionally taking visual expression as the artist and designer works the clay.

A New York native, now based in Philadelphia, USA, Jury Smith believes that the making of her sculptures and mixed-media pieces – the looking with fresh eyes and responsive hands – is vitally important in forming her art and design.

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Could you please introduce us to Jury Smith ceramics?

The focus of my studio practice is ceramic sculpture. My studio is located in Chester County, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. I work with earthenware and stoneware clay bodies and fire in both oxidation and reduction atmospheres. I work with clay because it is strict and unyielding. I have grown to truly appreciate clay for those qualities. It’s bossy; you have to pay attention, and I like that. My most recent work includes mixed-media pieces that combine clay, wood, and metal.

At the moment, I am inspired by Chester County’s mix of tidy farms, saturated yellow-green fields, granite, weathered wood, and old white structures. Behind the strong visual foundation of my work is almost always a personal narrative. Although, it is not my intention to directly narrate through my work. But, often, personal experience takes root in visual expression whether intended or not.

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How would you describe your work and style?

In my practice, I utilise a traditional craft-based approach (repetition and systems) and the work evolves out of a conceptual response to that practice. I am curious about deconstructing the path of identity—from object to thing to category to value. For this reason, I welcome the friction of work expressing a flexible identity—an identity that shifts among notions of art, design, and craft. Overall, I am motivated by the questions a practice inspires and how these questions might reflect certain human conditions.

Tell us a little bit about your background – how did you originally get into the design and ceramics, what did you study?

I discovered my passion for ceramics in college and went on to earn both my BFA and MFA in Ceramics from Tyler School of Art of Temple University in Philadelphia. Since that time, my work has been exhibited in museums and galleries in Europe, Asia, and across the U.S., at such places as the Oliver Sears Gallery (Dublin), Hunterdon Art Museum (NJ), Jingdezhen University (China), the Clay Studio (Philadelphia), Artists Space (NYC), and Blutenweiss Gallery (Germany).

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Do you find the process of making your sculptures – being hands-on – important in informing your process and designs?

From the earliest stages of making, looking with fresh eyes and responsive hands is really important. Recently, I was able to share some of my thoughts on the process of conceiving and making art at Moore College of Art’s Education Symposium. My topic “Truly Seeing” was inspired by Lawrence Weschler’s book on the artist Robert Irwin: Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees. (A book I would highly recommend!) Through this book, I truly learned the value of engaging with the world through questioning and looking deeply.

As artists and art appreciators, we know that often the name of something gets in the way of truly seeing it. With my students, I use an apple as an example. I ask them to imagine an apple and, inevitably, most imagine the (perfect) red icon of an apple -not the actual lopsided, varied in contour and colour, full-of-life apple. But art offers and asks more of us.

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What are you working on at present – what’s next for Jury Smith?

Presently, I am working on the Walking Shadow series. This series pivots around visual and tactile memories. Some of the forms and surfaces are rooted in personal references: old white churches in long hollows, bits of chopped wood, echoes of the past, moments of clarity, and moments of darkness. The strength comes from imprinting a visual mark rather than imparting a direct narrative. In a way, the work is meant to direct energy and the reason why is not so important. The title is meant to shift the work toward poetic interpretations -the work has a strong formal foundation from which to engage the poetic eye. There is somewhat of a strict edge to some of these pieces that is delivered in a bold or even fierce silence.

 

A maker’s attentiveness to timing greatly impacts the outcome.

 

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Taking day trips in order to look and reflect is an important part of my process, so I try to make time for that. If I am not out and about, looking, I am preparing for making (rolling slabs and coils), constructing, firing, or glazing. One aspect of ceramics that I enjoy most is the diversity inherent in the practice. Every day calls for a responsive approach. The temperature, weather, dryness of the clay, rate of the kiln, and so on, all impact what can or cannot happen that day. In the morning, I make my rounds to check on the state of things. Then, I prioritise and draft a plan for the day. In some ways, the approach clay requires relates to land-based practices, like farming.

There is a most ideal time for each part of the process. A maker’s attentiveness to timing greatly impacts the outcome -so too does one’s ability to flex and adapt those signals. When there is little choice but to push the material to perform according to one’s own schedule, great moments happen of a very specific type of suspended chaos; fun is had or hard lessons are learned. Practices and processes that work with and within natural phenomena, like ceramics, highlight the connection between maker and material -a relationship that is equally demanding and inspiring.

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