Ceramics Come Full-circle
This year, women in particular have been boldly bringing back the archaic artform, forcefully redefining this functional craft as a catalyst for feminist action and forward-thinking creativity. This is the crew creating another era for clay, expanding what it can do or be. We sat down with one of the driving forces, Diana Rojas— perhaps a familiar face, if you follow her account full of artful faux footwear. Her cute, hand-built ceramic shoes have become iconic on Instagram. Crafting typically ironic-themed trends from high fashion footwear with her heart-felt clay techniques, her work has gone from her hobby after doing her day job at Group Partner, to everyone's desired piece of powerful decor, having been plucked from Instagram by Petra Collins and placed in a show at Brooklyn Museum. Honestly, Rojas is really the best— just check out the Balenciaga Croc she made for our issue 8 cover, and you'll agree. And she's not just hype— the process is truly a thoughtful one for Diana, which we discussed with her at the Group Partner studio. She shared with us her perspective on the process of ceramics, hype fashion, and the future of clay.
Diana will be a part of the group exhibiton, Clay Today, at The Hole on Bowery which is on view through May 6th.
You were just telling me about how you went to school for illustration, so how did you end up doing ceramics?
At the time, I figured I should continue my studies in the Communications program, because that would help me find a job after, as opposed to doing the fine arts thing. But while I was in school— I also realized I was more passionate about ceramics.
Did you know how to do ceramics before?
Not before college, no. I went to a studio my first year. I was initially really drawn to it because It was something totally different than the program I was in, it was something where I get to work with my hands and got to actually make something.
It’s very therapeutic. How did you end up working here, and how did that take you to where you are with your own practice?
I started working for New Partner around two years ago, and recently they’ve really blown up, it’s kind of crazy. We have so many wholesale accounts. I started here just doing painting and some of the production, but now I do a lot of the customer service.
I feel like I see their pieces everywhere. Are you working with a slab roller over there?
No— those are downstairs. This is what we call a split, it’s like watered-down clay, what sand does for example is to pour this into the molds, the plastic sucks the water out of the clay, and what you’re left with is this kind of shell, then you clean them up, spray them, let them dry and then paint them, and put them in the kiln.
It’s ironic— and pretty incredible— to Group Partner has this hyper-systemized setup, and such an uncensored end-product. So, when did you start doing your own stuff?
At first I didn’t really feel comfortable using this space, but then after talking to the boss and everything, and then we decided I could start working on my own stuff. It was a year or two ago that I was like, ‘Oh, I need to get started on my own thing.’
What started it?
I had these shoes that I wore to the studio a lot, they were like the Nike Air Forces, and I just remember one summer a year after working here I remember thinking, my shoes are trashed, like just really dirty, and they had clay everywhere. I took a photo of them next to a new pair and I was like, “Wow, that looks like clay,” so then I decided to make some out of clay and see what that would look like, so it kind of just started from there. It’s funny to me too because ceramics are something that people show on, like, tables or have a display of some kind. It was funny to use a shoe, something from the ground, to decorate their home as art.
Yeah it’s interesting that they’re so worn, because we think of a porcelain cast as making a kind of false idol. They’re worn which is ironic, but not in a disrespectful way, it doesn’t feel like it’s making fun of it too much, it just is.
Yeah you can see there’s like a hand-built quality to them, which I like a lot.
I think a lot of people are making mainstream references in ceramics now, especially on Instagram, and I feel like some people take it really far with their commentary by making it really sloppy and then some just make it a statue. This is kind of like a middle-ground and I love it. I saw the tiny Uggs on Instagram— those are insane.
The little ones? Yeah I started making those little figures with shoes on them.
They remind me of finger skateboards from the 90’s.
I considered getting some of those for props.
I actually found your work through Petra Collins on Instagram, before we asked you to do something for office. How did that collaboration happen?
She was friends with Isaac, she’d been to the studio a few times and I talked to her, and then she sort of found my work on Instagram also and reached out to me about doing that project, Pop Rally, it sort of took off from there, she asked me to do collaborations with her friends.
I love your piece got to be our cover, I was hardcore gunning for it. And it’s the Balenciaga Croc. The best.
I was very pleasantly surprised by that.
And that’s a piece of fashion from the last decade that gets mocked a lot, but I didn’t feel like you were mocking it, yours is actually kind of cute.
It’s funny because that’s the only one that I can actually slip my foot inside. Working here I realized there are two ways to approach something: there’s the way of production, like mass-producing something, making a company out of it — and I’m learning I don’t necessarily want to do that. I’d rather take a step back and hand-build all of my pieces.
Traditionally with ceramics there’s a divergence between utilitarian and art, how would you feel you’re approaching that? Would you categorize your work as ceramic art, home decor, a fashion statement...?
It’s funny because most of the shoes I build I see the hype around them, like on Instagram or when they come out on the runway, these kind of ugly shoes, but people are talking about them, so I feel like it’s like capturing a footprint of our current time. It’s interesting to me because ceramics are an ancient art, so it’s cool to use it to capture things now, whether it be shoes or just something that’s popular currently.
Do you have any of the specific style of shoes you’ve made?
I have the checkered Vans, but they’re trashed too.
Next up is that Croc.