“My art is about the end of the world.” I read this declaration and asked myself: Who begins an artist statement this way? San Antonio-based artist Diana Kersey works with clay, and ceramicists can be amongst the chillest of visual artists. Yet Kersey explains her work with those words. But then she adds:
“It is about more ‘happy’ things too. For example, my love of the clay material and the natural world, the magic of the potter’s wheel, the alchemy of glazes, and the world-wide human culture that is recorded in the pots I study in museums, books, and on the internet.”
That sounds more like the ceramicists we know and love. (For a great conversation on ceramics’ place in the larger visual art world, read the recent Glasstire article, ‘Just what is it that makes today’s ceramics so different, so appealing?’ by Christina Rees and Brandon Zech.) Indeed, Kersey’s work is appealing. It’s bright and colorful, and at times, it seems to celebrate the straightforward pleasure of decoration. But Kersey thinks hard about the way her work straddles larger existential questions and simple beauty. She ends the same description of her work with an acknowledgement of this struggle:
“I am naturally an optimist. On good days, I think my work is hopeful. A reminder that nature and beauty are linked, are important and worth working to preserve and restore. On bad days, I think my work is recording the naivety and delusions of our era. I wonder if I am simply viewing and projecting our world from the eyes of Voltaire’s Pangloss who claimed that ‘all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.'”
Kersey associates her conflict with a character from Voltaire’s Candide (the full original title of the satire is Candide, or Optimism). Voltaire’s character Pangloss would likely love the joy and optimism in Kersey’s ceramics, but Voltaire himself would probably think that an optimistic artist is a sucker. I think Kersey herself appreciates this irony.
A ceramicist specializing in public works and private commissions, Diana Kersey lives and creates elaborate ceramic art in her studio in San Antonio. Her numerous public artworks have been commissioned by the City of San Antonio, as well as the city’s VIA Metropolitan Transit and the San Antonio River Authority, and also the City of Harlingen. Kersey and her work have appeared in numerous publications, including the San Antonio Current, the San Antonio Express-News, The Rivard Report, and Texas Public Radio.
Good Natured, at the Rockport Center for the Arts (RCA), is the title of Kersey’s maiden Rockport solo show, which is part of this year’s Rockport Clay Expo. It takes place Saturday, February 9-10, and a gallery talk with the Kersey will take place February 9 at 4:30 p.m; a reception with the artist will follow. The next day at RCA, on February 10, Kersey will present a demonstration about her ceramic process from 10:30 a.m.-noon. The exhibition opens to the public a week earlier, on February 1, and it runs through Saturday, March 2.
In an interview with the San Antonio Current, Kersey talks about what it’s like to be an artist who is very aware of the gray area between contemporary art and craft:
“I’ll make anything out of ceramics. So what comes first is the idea and the function. I wouldn’t say I work in the contemporary cutting edge of ceramics. Right now, the cutting edge is a lot of slip casting and using industrial design — very clean and high-tech. And that type of ceramics just doesn’t do it for me. What I’m most drawn to in ceramics is that it immediately accepts my mark and is so malleable.”
Kersey feels like her “best work is yet to come,” and that the evolution of an artist is a “journey that has a long arc to it, and it isn’t just a quick satisfying thing.” She resists short cuts and processes that bring instant gratification. “If those things aren’t worth the journey, then they’re empty in the end.”
She also stresses that her work is directly inspired by and connected to nature, and she views her working process as almost a collaboration with nature and the physical characteristic of her working materials. “I think being an artist is a lot like being a naturalist, because you’re working the material and talking to it, and it’s talking back to you. You’re making decisions together.”
Kersey received her BFA from Texas Tech University in 1994, and her MFA in ceramics from Washington State University in 1997. She teaches Fine Art at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. She’s had solo exhibitions at McMurray University in Abilene, the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts in Lubbock, 18 Hands Gallery and Goldesberry Gallery in Houston, and at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin.
Elena Rodriguez, the curator of Kersey’s show as well as Clay Expo, states: “Clay Expo is always such a fun way to kick off the exhibition calendar — between the pottery fair and the clay demos, there is so much energy downtown. I am so excited to showcase Diana Kersey’s work. The colors, patterns, and movement in her pieces bring such joy to the viewer.”