Now Showing in The Robert F. Cage Gallery

Mathew Stafford

mattstafford2I was raised in Los Angeles, but fled that concrete world to Humboldt State University at 17. I spent this first round of college studying science in the Redwoods and secluded rocky coastline of the Pacific Northwest. I believe my initial attraction to science was fundamentally aesthetic. I wanted to understand how this beautiful planet worked. My mind also enjoyed the tidiness of scientific inquiry. I earned degrees in Zoology and Marine Biology. I spent countless hours turning over stones in tidepools. What a delirium of tentacles and tube feet, spines and spiracles!

I taught science at a small private school near Redding, Ca. for eight years, during which time I set up a studio as I felt myself more and more curious about art. I painted and befriended a couple of local ceramic artists who loaned me tools and clay, allowed me room in their kilns, and eventually loaned me a spare wheel. I found myself reading art books and magazines instead of science and spending late school nights in my studio. I had a good life, but resistance was futile and soon I quit my job, liquefied my assets, travelled in Asia for a year and a half and made my way back to my beloved alma mater to study art.

I had a difficult time choosing between ceramics and painting, so I spent a number of years combining them in mixed media wall pieces. I entered a Master’s program in San Diego and spent a year moving more in the direction of free-standing ceramic sculpture. In 2003 I was called to found an art program at Carlbrook School founded by former colleagues from Ca. Soon after moving to Virginia I met and married the love of my life, built a studio and helped to create a couple of lovely boys among all of the pots and sculpture.

mattstaffordIn my art I allow myself to simply follow my curiosity. I fire at various temperatures and work in a broad range that includes functional stoneware, high temperature porcelain crystalline ware, some pit and saggar fire and the occasional painting or mixed-media work. There are themes that emerge about fecundity, relationship, space and holes and ripples and echoes. Sometimes a piece starts with a form that seems clear, but I struggle to find the right surface treatment. Other times I fall for a glaze and have to search for a shape. Matchmaking. I work a vein until it feels exhausted. I don't know what to do with all the failures. I am often inspired by my students and always share new discoveries of my own with them. I often work side by side with them. I think it is important to share passion. Nurturing young artist and making work is essential to my health. I feel ill when I can't get into my studio for a few days. My hands get hungry.

I used to keep a lot of lists and diaries. I did it compulsively, but of course they were all unavoidably incomplete and irregular. I always felt behind. Now I just think of each piece of art as a document; a record of a time and an idea, of my curiosity and skill and luck in that moment. In a world of mass production this makes even an ugly piece a little bit precious.