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Travis Winters Finds His Muse in the Bizarre


Age: 32

Hometown: Corning, NY

AMACO Product you can’t live without:

I could not live without AMACO Velvet Underglaze.

Five most bizarre things witnessed that inspire your work:

People taking selfies while driving or reading a book; or putting on make-up; or pretty much anything that people do that distracts them from actually paying attention to the road. Also, a lot of bizarre things are my weird habits or tendencies that I don’t really understand. An example of this would be my disgust for touching raw meat —it creeps me out—even though I will crush some pulled pork or ribs! I’ve only made a few pieces about actual people, one being Kenny the Clown, who was this great clown I met while attending a festival with the Odyssey Clayworks residents. Kenny was a very talented man who lived to his early 90’s. He would make us perverted balloon animals; stilt walk while fire-juggling for the kiddos; and even teach us the ways of doing a solar hit! He was a hoot. The other piece I made about someone was this guy that would sit on the corner holding a sign that (read)“Dreaming of a Cheeseburger”. But one day, my fiancé tried to offer the man some food, most likely a granola bar or a tasty apple, and the guy was super pissed that she would even think to offer him anything but a cheeseburger. So that turned into her hating this guy and me feeling compelled to make a piece about him. That might be more than five, but I feel I hit on the topic!

Travis Winters loves teaching ceramics to all age groups and skill levels and feels that everyone has something to offer. Currently he is the Programs Manager for Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, Pennsylvania. He started out in college as a math and science major. When he fell in love with ceramics, those earlier interests informed his new passion.

“By working with clay you are forced to think about how to construct and fire pieces so that they survive. Clay has taught me more about materials and chemistry through the formulation of glazes and clay bodies. I think part of the reason I am so thrilled by the ceramic medium is because of how much technical information there is to learn.”

Although he doesn’t specifically work with other mediums, he brings diverse materials—from cinderblocks to pillows— into his work.

“Almost always, I’ll start with the main subject (the animal or figure) and begin to think about what I want say with this piece and how I want to say it. From there I begin thinking a lot about display and how a base can change the whole mood of a piece. What can I add to help get my message across? Often (I realize) that a different material would make this easier to construct or would help convey my thoughts better than clay. I really enjoy the mixing of mediums and surfaces (to) create a nice contrast between different parts of a piece.”

Many see his work as a combination of whimsical and vulgar. He believes that people project their own narrative onto a piece, and that’s what interests him.

“I want the viewer to be drawn to examine the work more closely and notice that it’s not just a cute cuddly figure. The whole adorable but grotesque theme is something that I have been intrigued by for a while and can’t seem to escape.”

When were you first interested in working in clay?

I became interested in clay while I was attending Corning Community College. I ended (up) taking a ceramics class (as I was a math and science major) and immediately fell in love with the medium. That being said, I did take almost all the art classes I could throughout high school and the clay projects were always my favorite!

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Almost all of the inspiration for my work comes from the world around me. I am constantly thinking about the things I do and what the people around me are doing (mostly the strange things that make no sense to me). This last body of work was really inspired by my move to Baltimore. Being from a smaller town I really (looked) around at how people live within this urban environment.

Which artists influence your work and life?

The artists who have inspired me most would probably be my entire faculty through undergrad and grad school (Fred Herbst, Robert Wood, Lee Rexrode, Chuck Johnson, and Linda Cordell). Artists whose work I really admire are Jason Briggs, Ken Price, Ron Nagle, and Sergei Isupov. I’m sure I could go on forever but these are just a few of my favs!

What is most challenging about being a professional artist in the ceramic field?

The thing I struggle with most is finding a good balance of having a life and working. As an artist I am constantly bouncing from one thing to the next. I spend time teaching high school classes, elementary school, community classes, and college classes, and it is often hard to find a good balance of teaching, studio time and having some personal time. But I do love being an artist and educator!

What is most rewarding about working with clay?

I love having the opportunity to share my love of working with clay to a wide range of different students. I know the impact that ceramics has had on my life and I hope to have the ability to introduce people to the great aspects of making art and how it can influence your life.

Do you work with other mediums and does that work overlap with your ceramics?

I wouldn’t say that I really work with other materials, even though I often use different materials within my work. I do wish I spent more time drawing or working with different mediums though. I do think about taking classes in printmaking or drawing.

Any advice for someone looking to pursue a career in the arts?

Oh man this is a tough one! I guess I would say stay true to yourself and make the things you want to make. And have fun with what you’re doing and it will show through in your work!

What AMACO products do you return to that inform your work?

I am constantly using AMACO’s Velvet Underglazes. These help me achieve the colors I want and enable me to paint freely without having to worry about colors changing during the firing process.

Travis' work can also be found here:  |  @tmwinters85