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A Ceramic Bug’s Life: An interview with Artist Daumante Stirbyte

2 years ago

By Josie Slaughter, Marketing Intern

Daumante Stirbyte’s work aims to instill a sense of curiosity and wonder in the viewer, and to explore the notion of the ‘unknown’ through unexpected combinations of shapes, colour, and surface treatments. It serves as a form of escapism. Familiar yet uncomfortable, the creatures she creates are like unusual specimen at a natural history museum.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the exhibition?

I wanted to really push myself and make the best work I’m able to make at this point in my ceramic career. The goal was to show everyone what goes on in my head everyday, and what my world looks like.

Your ceramic creatures live in their own universes—has this always been the case? Was there a time when you were making functional wares? How did you start creating more fantastical pieces?

I’ve made a fair amount of functional work in the past, like mugs and jars, which would have some motifs of my sculptural work. However, I don’t get the same enjoyment from making functional wares. While I can appreciate a good functional object, functionality was never really important when it comes to my own work. Making the kind of work that I do, I often get remarks like, “But what is it for?” I get really frustrated with people’s expectation that I should be making “useful things.” Not everything has to be utilitarian. Recently, I’ve completely stopped making functional and focus only on sculptural work.

What is the process for creating your larger clay creatures?

Larger pieces require either grog (fine sand) or paper fibers to be present in the clay to add strength and aid drying. Everything is made using coils and/or pinched shapes, hollow right from the beginning. I make them in a few separate parts, and join those together when they’ve had time to sit out and dry a little. Timing is everything—you have to be patient. If you rush it, they can end up collapsing or cracking.

Photo from Daumante’s Instagram

How do you come up with the names and personalities for your creatures? Are there any pieces you’ve grown particularly attached to?

I used to try to be very clever with naming my work, as if I was trying to impress somebody by using complicated words, but it didn’t bear much meaning to me personally. I hated the fact that I felt obliged to be so serious, and so now I tend to just have fun with it. Sometimes I look at a piece in progress and think, “you look like a Clive.” It reflects the work better. Giving your piece a name that doesn’t relate to you creates this gap between the viewer and the artist. I do get attached to the larger pieces, because of the sheer amount of work that goes into them. I also just really like having them around in my studio—they start to feel like pets, in a way.

As a ceramics teacher, what advice would you give to new ceramists looking how to create their own style and aesthetic?

You need to look at as much art as you can, not necessarily ceramics. Try to soak it all in, see what subject matter you tend to gravitate towards. Keep a notebook and document your thought process. Think about what’s most important, interesting, and dearest to your heart. Don’t try to force something if you don’t think it’s working out for you. It’s also important to show up to the studio every day and put in the hours. And make lots of work. I love Chuck Close’s quote:

“Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of process. They come out of the work itself. Things occur to you.”

You really have to fail a lot to finally succeed, as cliché as that sounds.

Daumante Stirbyte’s new Gardiner Shop exhibition is on display for the month of September. Learn more.

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