David Ernster - artistic drops

Black Rain Jar , 15” x 9” x 9”

Black Rain Jar, 15” x 9” x 9”

David Ernster’s use of materials to create unique ceramic designs have been an evolutionary process from the time he was a little boy growing up on the banks of the Mississippi to where he is today. Ernster delves into his influences and journey as an artist.

In as much detail as possible describe your journey in art.

Spine , stoneware, 10” x 8” x 8”

Spine, stoneware, 10” x 8” x 8”

Hull Form , stoneware, 17” x 7” x 4½”

Hull Form, stoneware, 17” x 7” x 4½”

Someone just asked me the other night “when was the first time I touched clay”. I think I was around 7 or 8 years old playing in a small creek near our house and I discovered a vein of smooth plastic clay and started making little objects. I don’t think I have ever stopped. There were very good art programs in the schools I attended that offered clay which I of course jumped into with both feet. I was very interested in any kind of “making” and also was, and still am, very involved with other mediums such as metal and wood. It wasn’t until college that [I] started to ask “why” and that question has stuck with me for more than 30 years now. I have never really been satisfied with “it means whatever you think it means” and that has kept me searching along an ever expanding and exciting journey not only into my own but also our collective “roots”.

What/who would you consider the single greatest influence on your art? Why?  

That’s a very hard thing for me pin down. I suppose if I had to give a blanket answer it would be history. I remember the first time I read Shakespeare and was struck by how similar it was to modern life. That really started me thinking about objects in a historical sense. How they were perceived and used by people in the past and how they supported the functional, emotional, and spiritual needs of people. I find it very interesting to contemplate how these aspects may have evolved within the modern context, viewing many of these objects in museums behind glass while at the same time still fulfilling those same needs that have remained a constant of human nature.

How have you evolved as an artist?

I think that is ongoing. I often will think that I am really moving forward personally, breaking new ground in my work only to find as I am looking through images of work I did 25 or 30 years ago that there are striking similarities.

Currently I feel like I am in a very exciting period of growth, both in the way I think and feel about what I am doing and the visual presence of my work. I also feel like after 30+ years of immersion in my craft I am starting [to] understand and respect the materials and processes in a deeper way.

Are there any specific/major experiences that have influenced your art and who you are as an artist?

Two things I would say, both are a bit general. 1 - Growing up on the banks of the Mississippi river witnessing the power and continuous cycles of change. I remember being very excited to explore the banks after a flood to see what bones, fossils, and artifacts the mysterious dark water had left or uncovered. 2 - Liberal arts education. Initially I had no intention of going to college. My parents strongly encouraged me to go and I begrudgingly did. It was truly life changing. It exposed me to history and to ways of thinking that allowed me to continually question and redefine my purpose and the meaning of what I was doing.

In your Black Rain series you place many black “rain drops” on your ceramics - what influenced you to do this? How does this change the underlying ceramics piece?

I have always had a deep fascination with geology and the processes that formed the earth. I think that is why I became so enamored with the ceramic process. The way minerals melt, recombine, transform, and cool has shaped everything in our world. The ceramic process traces the same steps and offers infinite possibilities. The Black Rain glaze effect was initially a “problem” caused by changing PH in one of the glazes I was experimenting with. In trying to correct the issue I stumbled upon something that seemed pretty interesting. It took another two years of testing to take it from what looked like a glaze defect to a glaze phenomenon. At first I was just very interested in the look of the glaze but as I began to use it on forms I became very excited by how it changed the form. The specular highlights on the droplets of glaze move as you move around the piece and seem to animate the form. As a maker of vessels I am also very interested in the space inside of a piece and its relationship to the surface of the work. In these pieces I feel like the highly active surface-texture and light-play also change the nature of the space inside.

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