Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Tim Austin is an incredibly innovative ceramicist and a thought provoking, satirical sculptor/installation artist. As a ceramicist he has a hand done, loose but controlled feel to his work that is always topped off with a gorgeous glaze that he made from scratch. Perhaps the corner stone of his ceramic skill is his control and technical ability when it comes to making glazes, I've been able to see this guy at work first hand and he's a magician with this stuff. I think chemistry is one of the often forgotten elements of ceramics and Austin has dedicated a great chunk of time to figuring out this aspect of the craft. As a sculptor, he uses steel and other materials in a style reminiscent of his ceramic work and ties all of his work together in these very interesting, interactive, and often quite funny set pieces and installations. Austins work is easy to appreciate at first glance, but you really have to dive in to pick up on all of the subtle nuances of what he does. I got to talk to Austin a little bit about what he does, and how he's come about it all, and I hope you enjoy!
1. So to start off, tell us a little bit about your background as an artist. From way back in the beginning, to undergrad, to your recent MFA graduation. What makes you the artist that you are?
I really didn't get into art until i was almost 30. I cant say it was something i always wanted. It was more of an accidental discovery that ended up making sense. i never really had a creative outlet growing up. To be honest, i never even knew what a creative outlet was. i just did things to get by, or because i thought they were things i was supposed to do to be a functional citizen. As a kid, i was constantly bored and asking way too many questions that adults couldn't seem to answer, so i'd get thrown out of a lot of classes, places, programs, whatever, for being "disruptive". As an adult, i just went from job to job until id either figure out all there was to it and get bored and leave for something new, or stay because i needed the money, but end up self destructing anyway and getting fired. Ive had like every kind of job. The majority have been more technical ones like fixing or custom building cars, trucks, computers, electronics, any kind of functioning system really, but I've had a lot of odd ones too. Art seems to be the one place where i can use everything, instead of having to pick one thing. i can pick all the things and then determine what the best choice is for the job.
2. The first work of yours that I saw was in steel and I know you have a bit of an industrial background. What inspires the nature of your steel work? How do you decide what goes into a steel piece?.
Yeah, like i said i spent many years in shops, under cars, under hoods, taking things apart, putting them back together, welding, cutting, fitting, using tools and machinery, so i kinda feel at home there. i know we met in the metal shop, but i don't think id say i do metal work as a separate thing. a lot of it is me just trying to work out the best choice of medium for what i feel like the idea calls for. Even in art school i bounced around a lot. I started in painting and drawing, switched to printmaking, switched back to painting, doubled in ceramics, and then ended up doing sculpture lol, so i guess i see mediums like crayola crayons or something. sometimes you need a yellow and a little bit of blue, or sometimes just a red. i love materials and working with each of them in their own way. they have a personality, but sometimes it doesn't jive well with the idea so i might leave them out.
3. You're quite the ceramicist and I know that's something your very passionate about so I'll start off by asking what goes into the object that you sculpt in ceramics? From your older work, to the robots at the end of your MFA to some of these more recent pieces I've been seeing. What goes into the process of making something in ceramic for you?
Man this is a hard one to think about because to me hand building and wheel throwing are like night and day but still part of the same whole. i use them for different reasons. i like wheel throwing because of the ritual. its predictable. its therapeutic. there's a lot of metaphor in it that comes across when u engage with it. when you're centering clay, you're actually centering yourself and on and on. like i dont wanna get all zen and shit here but its a good practice to have if it fits you. its like my yoga or something idk. clay is probably my favorite medium because for me personally it has all the characteristics that mesh well with how i think. Its quick as fuck so i don't have to wait around and lose the idea in a drawing or something that has a process of resolution that can distract from the gestural if that makes sense? like to me, clay is like bam bam bam. i can build something in a three dimensional form and see it and make judgement calls with my brain, eyes, and hands working at a similar speed a lot easier than i can in any other medium. its also the best medium for me to resolve a lot of other questions and concerns about colors, balance, weight, gravity, strength, do i need something harder? softer? its literally my "base" for then making other judgement calls. plus its essentially just dirt at its simplest description so its like the universe gave this to us to use this way. like "here's nothing, and everything, figure it out!"
4. You're also a glaze wizard and I can't even begin to understand all of the chemistry that goes into the glazes you do. So what got you into making glazes? How is that process to you? Do you have your methods down to a science, or is it more of an organized chaos? Maybe a little bit of both?
People keep calling me a glaze wizard haha. idk how to handle that or answer it. i got into ceramics by accident at Pratt because my life study class was full and i needed the sculpture credits. Best accident ever. I took a glaze chemistry class there with Dave Alban and idk. its like... the way i see how the world is constructed was finally handed to me in a class. i never took a chemistry class before in school. all the stuff i knew about chemistry was from using it to make other things i wasn't supposed to be making, but this class was like i already knew it, but didn't know i knew it, and now it has a name. does that make sense? like if i have a conversation with a chemist we probably wouldn't have much in common because wed be talking different languages lol. all the elements to me have personalities, some are rugged and strong, some are flat and boring, some are flamboyant, some are elusive and cryptic, some take a while to open up, like people. their interactions are the same as social interactions or interactions in nature to me. Where someone might refer to the scientific designation of a particular compound by its long boring mashup of abbreviations, i just call it "bob" or "Jerry" or "snot" in my head. Doing chemical tests, in glazes, and outside of glazes, is like planning a party, notating the expected results, and then the actual results. like say.. ok I'm gonna invite these 6 people to a party. one of them has a personality like X, one of them has a personality like Y, in an ideal environment they would act like Z. But if i introduce someone with a more dominant personality like whatever, this one is gonna adapt by doing this and that one is gonna over compensate by doing that and then the end result should be in this range. blah blah.. if i had to try and explain my thought process.
5. You tend to apply all of the above elements of your work into these interesting installations or set pieces that tend to have a bit of a satirical vibe. Are you interested in making a commentary on certain things with your work? Or is it more about making a fun, interactive experience? Both? Neither maybe?
Satire haha. That's a kind word for it. i like that. haha honestly I'm commenting on everything i see. It's my stress relief for the fuckedness of the world and the purposeful design that keeps it that way. I just don't always like to be over the top loud and obvious all the time about shit because that's boring. The moment you give someone the answer to something is the moment they stop listening and your window to maybe teach them something is closed. You gotta want it. It's not my job to tell people how to feel or what their passions are or what their fight is. I have my own. Our paths may intersect at some points. maybe something in my work will speak to something in your journey. maybe 5 percent. maybe 80 percent. idk. But you gotta want to search. I like to search. I like to find things on my own, so its needless to say I'm gonna try to make work that has more than one reward. I like to embed things in embedded things sometimes. Or hide something subtle inside something loud and annoying just to see who takes a second look, or who will actually stand up and say "hey asshole! what are u doing?" I'd like it to be as fun for everyone as the whole process is for me, but maybe I'm just damaged and enjoy games too much haha. I take my work very seriously but i try not to take myself that seriously. The robots are my world. They can say what they want because they're cute so they can get away with it. Pretty much how the world works in a nutshell. I'm not one of those artists that has a specific cause or niche to fight for or inside. idk how to do that. some artists are able. I'm not. I stick with what i know. Pain, injustice, unhappiness, ostracizing, embarrassment, unfairness, balance, harmony, joy. Things everyone can identify with in their own way, to some extent. I dont have an interest in making art that includes one by ostracizing another. I know that feeling too well. i have no interest in black art, or white art, or female art, or male art or high art, or low art, none of that shit computes to me. Maybe I'm missing it, idk. i feel like there's enough divisive shit in the world to the point people dont even realize their being divisive anymore. Keep it simple. I feel, you feel, that's the unifying thread. The only thing a robot cant do so you have to.
6. Finally, Plug yourself man. Where can people find you? Now that you're out of school what's the next big move? Any shows or projects coming up that you're excited about? Let the people know.
Plug myself haha. ok, I'm hard to find. probably a horrible trait for an artist, but i like my privacy and space. whats left of that in this world lol. i have an instagram. @tearherwrist. Maybe one day ill make a website. idk. Maybe one day ill make a friend that's super passionate about paperwork and curating things and my life will be easier, but who knows. idk what's in store next. Maybe something bad, maybe something good, maybe catastrophic failure, maybe ill meet some rich old lady who just wants to throw money at me because I remind her of her grandson or something and ill be able to cover the world in robots and burn Comcast to the ground just because its the right thing to do. I'm writing this in a Super 8 at 6 am in what the fuck is this town called? Vandalia, Ohio. I packed some clothes and a bag of tools and am heading to Colorado for the time being to see if i can find something to do there so. wish me luck and thanks again for having me do this for you guys. i appreciate it. you rock :)
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