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Studio Visit: Matthew Harris, Boulder, Colorado

Just the Facts


I have used terra cotta, stoneware, porcelain, etc. It
varies depending on the project. My clay choice is driven more by visual
aesthetic and conceptual context than technical decisions.

Primary forming method


Favorite surface treatment

Mixed media-favorites and formulas can be dangerous.

Primary firing method

It depends on the project and materials used. Self-hardening
clays and plaster have recently added a refreshing immediacy to my methods of

Favorite tool

Cordless drill-and computer

This article appeared in Ceramics Monthly magazine’s March 2010 issue. To get great content like this delivered right to your door, subscribe today!


My studio was in Chicago, approximately 200 square feet, at
Lillstreet Art Center. It is now in Boulder, approximately 200 square feet, at
the University of Colorado-Boulder.

The studio, to me, is a place to explore, experiment, and
take risks in an environment void of immediate outside judgment and response.
When I am able to be completely open and honest with my work and myself, this
can result in a mixture of simultaneous feelings of liberation, excitement,
vulnerability, and exposure. The studio allows me the personal space to explore
these reactions while making mistakes and discoveries. I also have greatly
benefited from the artistic communities surrounding my studio. At both
Lillstreet Art Center and now at the University of Colorado-Boulder, I have
enjoyed the luxury of being surrounded by other dedicated working artists. They
are an invaluable source of support and feedback when I need to bounce ideas
and problem-solve. The importance of community to my life as an artist cannot
be overstated.

I can always dream of more space, but sometimes the limits
of my studio are what force me to find creative ways of making and
problem-solving. This can lead to results I would have never anticipated

After the bust is modeled, Harris determines where to segment it using small dowels set into a base of clay. Once the sections are established, the piece is set into a large cutting guide, which has rigid steel cutting guides that are adjusted for each cut to ensure perfectly straight lines.

After the bust is modeled, Harris determines where to segment it using small dowels set into a base of clay. Once the sections are established, the piece is set into a large cutting guide, which has rigid steel cutting guides that are adjusted for each cut to ensure perfectly straight lines.


When deciding what clay or, for that matter, which medium to
use, my approach ranges from the deliberate to the arbitrary. At times, my
choice of material is very important for its metaphorical potential, its historical
context, and its societal relationship. At other times, I am simply using what
is readily available and processing the material to such an extent that its
original source is not immediately recognizable or pertinent to the finished
piece. Recently, I have become interested in using materials that are
unfamiliar to me, in hopes of discovering new ways of making.

paying dues (and bills)

While in Chicago, I taught classes at the Lillstreet Art
Center, worked as a studio assistant for Ruth Duckworth, and waited tables on
the weekends. Now, I am a full time student working as a graduate assistant and
teaching assistant.

I received a BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
(2005). I have just moved from Chicago to begin an MFA program at the University
of Colorado-Boulder.


Achieving balance in my life is important to me, so that
while I am in the studio I can be my most productive. I try to maintain a
regular schedule that includes both work and downtime. It is too easy and
tempting to keep working until I am completely exhausted, but this often
results in becoming less productive in the long run.

Lately, I have also realized the importance of my
relationship to food. I feel our culture has an attitude toward food that
relates its quality to the efficiency of its preparation and consumption. I am
trying very hard to look at meals as a time to slow down and enjoy full-cooked
dishes rather than as a rushed activity of refueling as efficiently as
possible. It sounds obvious, but this small change in perspective has made a
great difference in my daily routine.

I address issues of health and fitness by cycling, being
part of the slow food movement, and yoga. As for the larger issues of health
care as an independent artist, I am hoping very much that the current debate in
government will result in a universal health care program. In Chicago, I had
only catastrophic health coverage. In Boulder, I feel fortunate to be covered
by student health insurance.

After establishing the angles at which the smaller figures will be attached, using paper cut-outs made to scale (left), Harris uses a home-made angle guide made of cardboard, threaded rod, and scrap wood (center) to drill the holes in the larger figure (right). After firing, the smaller figures are attached through these holes using threaded rods, nuts, and washers.


Finding inspiration is an outwardly directed activity of
searching, seeking, exploring, researching, conversing, looking, thinking,
interpreting, translating, analyzing, and absorbing. Recharging, for me, is
turning all this off. It is an inwardly-directed process, involving reflecting,
permeating, percolating, decompressing, observing, and being mentally still. I
believe it is important to balance my research and studio time with activities
outside this cycle. Right now, I am reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar
Wao, by Junot Diaz, and Worldchanging, edited by Alex Steffen. Diaz’s novel
allows me to escape into the wonderful world of fiction, while Worldchanging is
essentially an encyclopedia of innovative solutions from the world’s top
thinkers on the economic, environmental, and societal issues we face in the
21st century. I enjoy keeping up to date on the developments of science,
technology, and new ways of thinking about the way we interact with each other
and the planet.


I sell work mainly to collectors and friends through galleries
and online. I try to engage people who do not typically interact with art on a
daily basis. I do this by making an effort to form a vocabulary that can
clearly and poignantly describe my art without using terminology that requires
an understanding of art and theory. Also, when someone asks me about my art, I
start by describing what it is about rather than what it is made out of. This
provides a point of departure for the other person to add their perspective and
engage in the ideas rather than quickly categorizing it into a technical genre.
One of the advantages of this is that I am able to reach a larger audience,
which often leads to unique opportunities, experiences, and conversations.

I rely mainly on word of mouth and recommendations for finding
new venues and opportunities, as well as researching and applying for artist
grants and residencies. Being organized, professional, trustworthy, and
respectful to other artists and communities is the best way to market what you

My most disappointing or frustrating experiences online are
keeping everything current and updated, but my greatest online successes are
when people find my work without me personally leading them to it.

most valuable lesson

Patience and perseverance.


www.matthewharrisart.com  www.thenevicaproject.com  www.artaxis.org