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Modern Makers: Q&A with Whitney Bender

12 January 2022

A selection of Whitney Bender’s most recent ceramic forms will be showcasing at Gabriel Scott’s New York showroom, as part of our Modern Makers series.

Whitney Bender is a ceramic artist based in NOHO, New York City. With a formal background in fashion design she took up ceramics as a hobby and fell in love with the craft.

She specializes in hand built ceramic forms focusing on abstract curves and natural textures inspired by the the female form.

We had the pleasure of talking to Whitney Bender about her background in making and where she see’s her craft taking her in the future.

GS: What's the main inspiration behind your work?

WB: I have always found inspiration in the lines and curves of the female form, and most of my work is an extension of this. I am particularly interested in movement and in the relationship between the form and its negative space.

GS: How did you get into your craft?

WB: I'm a fashion designer by trade but was looking for another creative outlet. I had always been fascinated with ceramics but had no formal training. I bought some clay and started experimenting. I was immediately hooked. There is something natural and so freeing about the medium and a relief creatively.

GS: What's your background in?

WB: My background is in fashion design. Though I've broadened my area of expertise over the past few years, I specialized in fully fashioned knitwear and hand knitting at university and early on in my career. I was extremely passionate about knitwear given its high degree of technicality, as the process requires starting with yarn to create the fabric rather than starting with already made fabric. I credit this experience of creating three-dimensional knitted pieces with helping to develop my skills as a ceramicist.

GS: How do you see your work progressing?

WB: I want to continue developing my skills with ceramics and pushing the boundaries of scale and function. I love the natural texture of the clay and currently most of my pieces are unglazed, but I've been developing my own glazes and plan to incorporate these into future work. I've also thought about how my pieces could be translated into different functional objects (e.g. furniture and lighting), including more mixed media pieces.

GS: Are you interested in exploring other materials or crafts?

WB: I am very interested in metal work and would love to experiment with this with ceramics. My father is a very talented welder and I have always been inspired by what he can create with metal. I would love to learn how to weld eventually and incorporate this into my work and possibly collaborate with him.

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GS: What does the making process look like for you?

WB: When I am starting a new piece or series of work I love to get out and get inspired. One of my favorite places is Dashwood books, a rare art and photography book store in my neighborhood that is full of inspiring art and photography books. Then I usually start with quick thumbnail sketches and then begin coiling. The process is different for every piece I make. Sometimes I am happy with the original sketch and the piece comes out exactly as originally planned, other times I cut it apart and continue to rethink the form as I go. It is always very interesting to see how a two dimensional sketch translates to a three dimensional form.

GS: How long does the making process take?

WB: The making process varies for each piece. This all depends on the complexity of the form. The shapes and curves of some of the pieces fight with gravity. Clay is a very soft and sometimes unstable material, so the more complex shapes require many stages of drying and adding. Over the years of making, I have found a few particular clays that I love to work with. Each time that I introduce a new clay, I have to start from the beginning to learn its qualities and how to work with it.

GS: What do you find the most difficult & enjoyable part of making?

WB: The most enjoyable part of making is the surprise of where a form will take me. Sometimes I find that my favorite pieces were unplanned and spark more inspiration for further ideas and iterations. The most difficult part for me has been exploring multiple clay bodies and the sometimes unpredictable process of firing. I have made a piece that I have absolutely loved, and due to some unknown reason during firing, whether temperature or too much air, the piece will collapse. This can be frustrating, but it also motivates me to learn more about the clay and how to fire it.

GS: When did you start making & why?

WB: I think I have always been a “maker.” It is in my DNA - my parents are both naturally creative and innovative people. At a very young age, I learned how to knit from my grandmother, and it became a passion of mine. I also loved drawing and painting but always felt like I struggled with these mediums. In late 2019, I began working with clay and immediately fell in love with the material. I haven't stopped making since.

GS: Do you have a favorite piece in your collection? If so, why?

WB: My favorite piece would probably be Form #41. This piece was one that took an especially long time to make. I constantly questioned the shape, cutting it apart and remaking it multiple times. It eventually came together. I love the negative space it creates, I think it has a particularly sensual quality.

GS: What are five collections/art pieces you have been looking at lately?

One of the most inspiring artists for me is Valentine Scheigel. Her work is incredible, and I am always on the hunt for more publications of her work. They are very hard to find. I also love the work of Barbara Hepworth, from a similar era. As far as more modern artists, I recently came across Jens Kothe. His multimedia work is fascinating. I highly suggest seeing the Jennifer Packer exhibit at the Whitney Museum. Her use of color is stunning and has inspired me to eventually explore incorporating more color in my work.

GS: Where can people see your work?

Instagram: @whitney.bender.ceramics

Exhibiting at: Gabriel Scott New York Showroom - 372 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013

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