Bobby Silverman on the Tales of a Red Clay Rambler Podcast

This week on the Tales of a Red Clay Rambler Podcast I have an interview with ceramic artist Bobby Silverman. Throughout his multifaceted career he has been an educator, designer and maker. He currently manages Alsio Design, a Brooklyn based company that produces ceramic tile for residential and commercial markets.

In the interview we talk about the pros and cons of higher education, developing a ceramic design company, and the relevance of the traditional pot in contemporary society. For more information on Bobby please visit www.alsiodesign.com.

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Bobby was trained as a social geographer and references data sets in his surface patterns. The tile above is a data visualization of the won/loss record of the Arizona Diamondback’s 2006 season. I got to see the tile pictured below come out of the kiln while Bobby was working at the Archie Bray this summer. You can see just how big a 36 by 22 inch tile is from how the tile rests in the kiln.


  1. His work is very cool... like the Rothko references... I think he was flattered... I am dying to hear what others say about your jurying conundrum...Very curious whose it so closely resembled... I have ideas... that said... I really don't get why someone want to put their name out with work that is so distinctly someone else's style... I have this obsession to get MY voice out there... and it has led me down some difficult(not always successful) roads, BUT... THEY ARE MY ROADS.... interesting...

    1. Hello Judi,
      I like what you said about your voice leading you down your own difficult roads. At some point I started to enjoy the fact that my voice was inherently difficult because it was in the process of developing. I love the feeling of figuring out something new in the studio.

      I'll be interested to see what others say also. I think this is pretty common in the field so I wanted to bring it up and see how others felt.

      Have a good weekend,

  2. Great interview, Ben!

    The idea of tradition that you guys discuss at the end of the interview I think points out the limitations of identifying what contemporary American potters do as a "traditional practice", and yet we do identify ourselves as a community who share common interests and practices generally. I think if we phrase it as more something tribal or cultural we can make sense of its place in the world, and I think your analogy to Classical music has relevance again. These activities are simply organized by sets of common values and shared experiences. Its a matter of subcultures and fringe activities, and there is no need to stand on something like tradition for relevance or support.

    An activity is justified culturally if there are enough people to sustain its practice. No other justification is needed. The danger I see the art world getting into, and which Silverman seems to express in some of his ideas, is the feeling that art needs to continually push the boundaries, that the expression of art needs to continually displace the old models with the new, and that the cutting edge needs to reach further and further afield as we go. I have no problem with it doing this, just that it isn't the only valid expression. There is no reason why legitimate art can't be made along well established lines and according to modes that are closely linked with tradition. In a pluralistic world there should be room for all of it.

    The question you ask at the beginning of the podcast concerning the difference between pots that are expressions of a person's established style and pots that are direct rip-offs is a reflection of some entrenched biases and mythologies in our field. Silverman say some relevant things in the course of your interview, and I think he hints at some of the difficulties that face potters: "There is a real incestuous nature to the way we think about clay and what we think about. And certainly for studio potters there seems to be a whole paradigm that we follow that really needs to be challenged and really needs to be though about differently.... We have this vocabulary that we consider to be enough, and we don't ask ourselves difficult enough questions.... I think we in the clay community have marginalized ourselves to a great degree because we have not asked very rigorous questions of ourselves. We're okay with the way things are."

    Perhaps the most insidious mythology studio potters have bought into is the need for a signature style or voice. I've talked about it plenty elsewhere, so I won't bore you with the details. The thing I'd say, however, is that studio potters have nurtured an environment where these tight boundaries confine our possible expression, and that rather than a freedom to do and say as we please we are sold short by a commitment to the extravagant ideal of needing to find and follow one particular voice.

    If you notice, the conundrum you face in jurying that show is less about art and more about commerce. Unfortunately for the field of studio potters we are trapped into ideals of the marketplace rather than our own native curiosity and imagination. Following Silverman's lead, the first questions I'd have studio potters ask themselves is whether if it could be done differently and there were no overriding commercial incentive to a signature style, would they find other voices to express? Or no voice at all? In terms of creative expression, have we put the cart before the horse, and relegated our creativity to the rear end? Its a complicated issue, but we have yet to delve into it as rigorously as is called for......

    Are we okay with the way things are? Is it time for a paradigm shift? have we been held back by the incestuous nature of some of our practices and our mythologies? These are all good questions.

    Thanks again for the great interview!