A big thank you to James Oliver, founder and editorial director of The New Order & Her Magazines, for including us in the awesome issue of HER (07 Autumn/Winter) featuring respected peers, friends and the iconic Billie Eilish. Pictures by Yoshihiro MakinoHumble Ceramics - A Conversation with Delphine Lippens
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What was the catalyst for you becoming a ceramic artist? What is it about ceramics that captured your attention in the first place and make you think you want to make a living out of it?
I met someone at a dinner party with whom I clicked. She mentioned she was going to take a pottery class and asked if I could join her - it was an opportunity to develop a friendship w/ someone I liked and respected (we became very good friends) and figured 6 weeks was not the end of the world so “why not?”. This was such a contrary action for me: I never had any interest in ceramics, I am not a social person, so it was more a way to try something new and get out of my routine, while having fun learning a new skill.
At the time, in my life, I was floating a little. Working in the healing arts and not quite feeling this was my path for the long haul, I was taking my time to live, explore … figure what could come next. I’d also just let go of my radio show, after 8 years, (I used to DJ) and was looking for something creative, something that would inspire me again after the passing of my mom. Pottery grounded me. Instead of working with energy or sound, I was molding dirt in 3 dimension, and that was a completely new experience. I felt humbled by the experience - humble in front of the clay and the process of centering it. This humble material became a powerful spiritual teacher because if you don’t ground & center yourself first, you will not be able to center the clay. Humble Ceramics (both the name and the work) came out of that journey - it reflected how I felt when working in this medium. It evolved out of my limitations as a potter … But am I a potter? I don’t feel connected to that word “potter”, maybe, exploratory or temporary potter or tourist in the field? … (even though I probably was a potter in a past life because something just clicked and felt so profoundly familiar). It feels so much larger than that though, but I feel more connected to the experience rather than the word/label. And my role has shifted so dramatically running Humble Ceramics that I feel more like a CEO than an artisan.
To circle back on your question … I was hooked by the timing of it and the unfolding of all the various steps: I was not just playing with dirt, I was also playing with time, the five elements, the physical and the invisible … the polarity all made sense to to me and for once, both Geminis were happy!
To be honest, this was never meant to be a business. But as demand grew and grew, I’ve had to adapt - with every stage of the work or process (of the piece and of the business), and I take it day by day, curious where it will take me. I’ve had to learn so many things that have nothing to do with pottery … and that’s fine too. I’m acquiring new experiences and skills on a daily basis (isn’t that why we’re alive?) … I’m just riding that wave and we’ll see where it takes me. Now, I just show up and trust that the orders are coming in and do the next designated action - one at a time, and pick what is most pressing on the list … that’s all I can do.
How would you explain your style of work as well as your philosophy behind your work?
I made everything wrong, but it was right for me.
I like what I like, and I will hear/feel a big internal YES or NO or nothing … anytime I hear YES, I know it’s the right fit for me and I pay attention to that. My hands and tools also guided my work. I made work within my own limitations and that was good enough. I made work for myself and therefore could throw out the window all the old school pottery standards & conventions. I had to do it my way (cue Claude Francois or Frank Sinatra here) … I didn’t choose pottery, pottery chose me! They say that when a person passes, if you are touching them during their transition to the other side, you will absorb something of them. Maybe, I absorbed my mother’s love of ceramics … I’m just realizing this now as I write this! wow!
Looking at my work then and now, I saw beauty in the flaws. I found charm and tenderness in the little imperfections that you would never see in a piece sold in a store unless it was a true “antique”. And I wanted to share that w/ the world instead of discarding something that someone else might fall in love with, why rob them of that opportunity?
The work is actually a metaphor for who I am; balancing two opposing personalities into one, while maintaining a certain balance. The square and the circle … how could I make them work, in one shape, with harmony? Wheel thrown (round) with well defined flat edges (square) and the work just evolved out of that. Strangely enough, the circle and the square keep showing up again and again. From the logo, to sculptures in progress, paintings, art, etc … it has been a subconscious theme for most of my life, but it made itself clear through ceramics which almost acted as a mirror! The polarity of male/female, positive/negative, square/round, black/white, solid/void, … it all made sense on so many levels.
The unexpected result of my style turned out to be simple, modern, minimal and rustic all at the same time. Not defined by one era, rather, timeless, practical and versatile. It fits in many different settings and styles that resonated with me and could fit in lifestyles and traditions of countries such as Spain, Japan, Morocco, Mali, Peru, Nepal … My work is not this OR that, but this AND that. The neutrality of it makes it fit anywhere.
I also craved objects that were heavy so that I could feel grounded and present when handling them. The work absorbed a certain channeled energy and fellow alternative health practitioners and energy workers resonated so strongly with the vibration of the work that it made sense to continue in that path. Make work that is both beautiful and practical, yet grounding and that elevates the frequency of its surroundings at the same time. Healing can take many forms, and making a beautiful object that grounds people and makes them happy, aware and present is another form of healing; just a very unexpected one. And for those who are not sensitive to that, the pieces stand by themselves as beautiful objects, and that’s ok too.
Can you discuss your approach to creating and how you go about making something unique and different?
There was never a search to be ‘unique’ or ‘different’, but there was a searching for pieces that were “me”. Pieces that were familiar somehow. I just made work that resonated with my lifestyle and all it encompasses. Originally, I was looking for a quiet aesthetic, pieces that reminded me of ancient pottery and that could also fit in a modern setting at the same time. I never liked what I saw around me, not inspired in the least … I had no clue who Hasami Porcelain or Heath Ceramics were, or other famous potters I admire today now that I’m aware of them … I was just doing my thing, based on my own limited capacities and what felt natural in my hands. I wanted to get to know the clay and the glaze - just like people - one on one. No layers, no patterns, no froufrou, just a simple, well defined shapes that would never go out of style (5, 10, 50, 100 years from now). And nothing “cute”. Cute is just not my style! I have a very strong aesthetic, and there are very few things I like … If you analyze the work, you will understand who I am. My work cannot take attention away from nature - it should blend in - as if it’s a part of it … then redirect the attention back to it. My work is to be experienced just as much as it is being seen.
Can you talk about LA, what you like and dislike about the city and how the city has an influence on you and your work?
I love LA and no words will ever do justice to those sentiments, but here is a try … I love the diversity! The freedom, space, light, open sky, proximity to nature, access to great produce, great foods from all over the world. I love the open-mindedness, the fact that so many great ideas are born and tried here and that people are not afraid to pursue their dreams and their real identities! I love the variety of social classes, cultures, people, belief systems, creativity and boundless opportunities. Foodies, movies, music, art, fashion, spirituality, entrepreneurship, … all is possible here. And of course, the weather. But it is a city that needs to be discovered, little by little. At first glance, it is not a pretty city, but then you discover all of it’s charms, one by one, if it lets you in. This city is not for everyone, it has a strong personality, and many facets. It can be loud and shy at the same time. There are so many worlds here! Some places make you feel like you’re in Greece or Ibiza, other places in the city can fool you into thinking you are in Cornwall, Brussels, Japan, Korea, Mexico or the middle of America …, I love that! To truly understand LA, I recommend Jonathan Gold’s documentary City of Gold which is a love letter to Los Angeles and one of the best understanding of a facet few people (who do not live here) talk about.
Where do you get inspiration from on a regular basis?
From the now and past lives. My issue is not NOT having enough creativity or needing to look for inspiration outside of myself because it is everywhere, but how to harness it and not being frustrated by the lack of time and money needed to make them happen! And I’m not just talking ceramics. Ceramics is simply an entry into the worlds of hospitality, real estate and luxury which are also entries into worlds I am fascinated by such as green-architecture, eco-friendly technologies, alternative energies and ways to rethink agriculture, land conversions, climate change, school & non-school systems, elderly care, ethical farming, humanity, philanthropy and and and … it is all interconnected! Ceramics actually slows me down because my mind will go a million miles per hour. I just want to move forward - I see so many connections in a world that seems so fragmented, so much hope in a world of despair and want to express that beyond ceramics. But for now, the intention behind the work is that as the pieces leave the studio, they start to create a matrix of healing for the planet … which needs more awareness, mindfulness, grounding and beauty. The rest will follow.
Can you please talk about your work space and what makes it special for you to create your work?
Well - the reality of what I would like and how it actually is is very different. There is nothing romantic about our work space, it is cluttered, dusty, messy, loud, in a part of town that is polluted, noisy, and tight. We do with what we have, where we are and the realities of running a business, with no investors or banks behind us. This is not a hobby studio, we are working 6 days a week to fill orders and we cannot seem to keep up. Ideally, I would like to be in a QUIET Leeds certified building w/ an efficient production line, great recycling capabilities, great natural light, green energy, solar, rainwater harvesting, green walls that filter the air, smooth polished concrete floors that can be rinsed w/ water, a loading dock, plenty of parking, office spaces, storage spaces, dedicated rooms, great ventilation and an awesome kitchen and hangout space. Organic food, coffee and juices for everyone … taco and various food trucks would come by once a week (choices people!!!), and we would have a courtyard with lots of trees and shade for eating and taking breaks. If I could run my studio like a green tech company or an advertising company, I would! That’s the fantasy! The current reality is … it’s messy, disorganized and we need a lot more people to work for us.
What ambitions do you have going forward? What do you want to achieve in the future?
Streamline our process down to an artisanal science (we don’t want to loose the soul of the work but we want to be efficient and profitable) . Then exploring our capacity within those limitations. We want to get our hands on better faster equipment that will allow us to have a much faster turn-over without loosing the handmade aspect of the work. I would love for Humble Ceramics to become a green micro-manufacture/studio (there are so many ways to be, it just takes time and resources) and we’re working on it in our small ways, one day at a time. Eventually, opening a Brick & Mortar store … , and an online store to go with it. But we can’t move too fast before we are fully in control of our process, and we are still learning and developing at this time.
We also donate monthly to many organizations we believe in, and I would like that to expand. One cannot be in business without giving back in one way or another. Times have changed and it’s a moral obligation and privilege to be able to do so!
Finally, words to live by…
“Leap, and the net will appear”