Ceramics in France and Japan
Associate Professor of Ceramics Mr. John Oles recently completed the competitive A.I.R. Vallauris artists residency program in Vallauris, France. He is originally from Wrentham, Massachusetts, and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts and a Master of Fine Arts from Tulane University.
Tell us about the A.I.R. Vallauris artist residency program. What have you gained from it?
I spent a month as a Resident Artist at a program called A.I.R. Vallauris, located in a small town in Southern France between Cannes and Antibes. Known for its pottery tradition, Vallauris is also where Pablo Picasso lived and worked from 1948-1955. I shared a house right on the town square and a studio with four other artists from around the world. The traditional pottery of Vallauris was made using a low temperature earthenware, but I opted to work with Limoges porcelain, which is among the finest examples of porcelain I’ve ever used. The Residency culminated in an exhibition of the work made over the course of the month.
How long have you been working at JSU?
What courses are you currently teaching at JSU? Which is your favorite?
I teach all levels of Ceramics I, II, III, and IV, along with a Design II, which is a Foundation Art class in 3- Dimensional design. I like each class for different reasons. Ceramics I is interesting because I get to work with students who’ve mostly never touched clay before. In Ceramics II, we focus on learning to use the potter’s wheel to make functional objects for use with food, which makes it a lot of fun to teach and a good excuse for potlucks.
What is your favorite part of your job?
You mean, besides the fame and vast sums of money? It would probably have to be the people. Art classes tend to attract a lot of interesting, creative, and intelligent students who just don’t seem to fit in a lot of other places, and Ceramics attracts many of those same people who don’t always seem to fit into art classes. I love working with this little band of brilliant misfits!
What is your favorite thing about the Art and Design Department?
Unlike a lot of places I’ve worked, the JSU Department of Art and Design gets along really well. We’ve all come to be friends and, while it’s not always perfect, the mutual respect and care for each other makes it a healthy work environment. And, I think our students recognize that, too.
Do you have any ongoing projects or academic activities you’d like to share?
I’ve got an exhibition coming up at the Gadsden Museum of Art in June of 2023. And, I have a piece in a show at the Clay Center of New Orleans that was just featured in this month’s issue of Ceramics Monthly.
Do you have any notable achievements you wish to share?
When I left Vallauris, I flew to Japan, where I spent most of October visiting the Six Ancient Kiln sites and researching traditional Japanese woodfired ceramics. I don’t know it’s necessarily notable but, for me, it was life- altering. Whereas the culture of Southern France made the eleven years that I lived in New Orleans make sense, Japan made the past 27 years I’ve spent studying ceramics make sense. I could’ve spent the whole semester there, and I plan to return just as soon as I pay off my credit card from this trip!
What do you do in your spare time?
As much as I hate to admit it, my life’s pretty boring during the semester. I usually work in my studio, especially if I have exhibition deadlines. Teaching is a performative job, so it’s important to take the time to recharge your batteries. I like to read a good bit, and I go running most days to clear my head. When I’m not teaching, I leave town a lot. Travel recalibrates my brain, even if it’s a small trip.
What advice would you give to a student of yours?
After you graduate, you owe it to yourself to get as far away from here as possible. Go anywhere. Another state, another country; go as far away as your budget allows and live there for at least a year. You can always move back to your hometown and marry your high school sweetie when you’re 30, like in the Hallmark Channel movies. In the meantime, step out of your comfort zone and amaze yourself by doing the things you never thought you were capable of doing.