Ceramicist Demetria Chappo believes in owning meaningful things and surrounding oneself with special objects. Now that she's a prolific Brooklyn designer with a signature all her own, we can all own beautiful, inspired pieces from her own collection. We sat down with the artist to learn about her transition into ceramics, the powerful meaning of the "spirit eye" in her work, and the tricky techniques behind her most complex pieces.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lived in Utah for college and then moved to New York about fifteen years ago.
How did you get started with ceramics? Your site says you started acting and then took a wheel-throwing class. What inspired you to take the class?
At the time I was finishing my BFA in acting at a liberal arts school, so I had elective credits to fill and I wanted to explore a different creative method. My mother has an MFA in ceramics and there were always ceramics in my home growing up. I fell in love right away, but I was still very focused on acting then. Once I moved to New York, I found a ceramics studio and I haven't stopped.
Why do you love clay?
It’s tactile, malleable, grounds me, excites me, drives me crazy puzzle-solving, I nerd out for the process, I feel like there’s more I want to explore.
What is your design process like?
Often I have an idea of what I want to create, and then the clay informs the idea. It’s a lot of trial and tweaking. I will make loose sketches or machetes in the clay, cut paper patterns or templates, and start sculpting or throwing. There are so many variables in the the process, and anything like using a different clay body, changing the proportions slightly or surface techniques can bring a different sensibility to a piece. Then, I like to live with things a bit. I want to know that how a piece works in my home and lifestyle.
What is the significance of the eye in your designs?
It all started many years ago when I began seeing eyes everywhere they were not: street detritus, peeling paint, knots in wood, the space between things. It felt tied to a sense of groundedness and good energy. I like that eyes have many deep meanings - they signify protective, mysticism, enlightenment. They persists as a symbol throughout history and across cultures, and elicit a connection.
Do you have a favorite piece?
I can’t play favorites - I’ll leave that up to you.
I do have pieces that are special to me for different reasons, including one of the first mugs I threw on the wheel dated 1997, the series of sculptures I carved from single blocks of clay, my Sound Sculptures and the eye stud earring I wear everyday, to name a few.
As a maker where every piece is your brainchild, how do you feel when people love your collection?
It’s really meaningful when someone is moved by or connects with what I’ve made.
How are you inspired by New York City?
There’s an energy in this city that I haven’t felt in other places. Sure, you have to deal with the patina of rage, and often times I crave space and nature and the ocean, but that energy is inspiring.
You live and work in Brooklyn. What do you love about Brooklyn, and how do you feel about the maker community out here?
I’m down on the waterfront, it’s a little more quiet, raw, a bit slower paced. At the end of my block is a community garden where I have a plot and grow vegetables in the summer. I ride my bike a lot. I like seeing the movements of the city, the architectural elements, taking notice of the details, as well as the skyline and the stevedore cranes, the sunsets. Most of my friends are artists or work in other creative fields and it’s a very supportive and inspiring atmosphere.
What is the significance of furnishing someone’s home? How does it feel to know people eat, sleep and live in their personal sanctuaries with your products?
I think especially living in a place where space is a commodity, you want meaningful things around you, things you cherish or that bring you good energy, a nice memory. I know from furnishing my own home, it’s mostly of pieces made by me, my family and friends, things I’ve collected over the years or found objects. So it’s all the more important to me knowing someone chose one of my pieces for their home.
Do you have any anecdotes about a certain design you’re most proud of?
On the spirit eye dishes I use a technique called sgraffito. After I’ve sculpted the piece, I paint it with underglaze and once the glaze dries, carve away the underglaze using a collection of sharp tools of different sizes, which reveals the clay body. So the drawing you see is created by what has been carved away. Each spirit eye drawing is unique to the piece, and I draw from different things that inspire me like lunar cycles, suns, clouds and geometric lines. Some pieces can take me several hours to carve and I work continuously so the the piece does not become too dried out which could cause the paint to chip away.
What inspires you in general?
Organic and architectural forms and surfaces, textures, lines and astronomy, universal symbolism, ordinary objects, plants and nature.