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Conversations: Alice Cheng

We’re longtime admirers and collectors of ceramics — from the classically utilitarian to the intricately delicate. Lucky for all of us, the work of artist Alice Cheng straddles both worlds. At once useful and beautiful, each of the Brooklyn-based artist’s pieces are entirely one of a kind and reference the textures of the natural world, the richness of pigment, and the playfulness of experimentation.

We’re proud to be offering a selection of Alice’s vases, tabletop ceramics, and more at Gjusta Goods (stop by the store to experience and shop in person!). Read on to discover more about her background, ongoing ceramic practice, and the spontaneity-infused philosophies that inspire her work.

How did you find ceramics? Or rather, how did it find you? Can you share a bit more about your background for someone new to you and your work? Where you are from, where you are based presently, and what has led you to what you’re doing now?

I had forgotten in my adult years that during my early days at Parsons I had taken a couple of ceramic courses and loved it. My husband helped me rediscover it by getting me a gift certificate at a studio in Manhattan. Apparently every time we’d passed it in a cab I would sigh and wish for classes. I come from a clothing design background and in that field have always been drawn to colors and textiles. That led to opening a retail shop where I could curate colors and textiles from anything and not just clothing. 

For me, ceramics is another method of creating textures and adding depth to our everyday life, to slow us down, and force us to look and feel longer. I immigrated from China to LES Manhattan when I was four years old and it has been my home since. I work out of Brooklyn Clay Studio, an amazing woman-owned studio that fosters new artists and promotes diversity amongst its members. 

Can you share more about your design/creation process? Your work is at once artful and utilitarian, I’m curious how the forms and pieces you make come together?

I feel my process is very spontaneous and unpredictable. When I think about ceramics, I start by imagining the kinds of shapes I’d like to hold in my hands, I imagine scenes of what they would hold, and where they would live in my home. Or sometimes it’s completely not about the use of it but the skin of it. Am I exploring or wondering about layers and colors, and how do I make that into something i can hold in my hands?

What new ideas and interests are you currently exploring through your creative practice? 

Seasonal weather certainly affects my moods and that can translate into the work. Currently I’d like to emulate the bark of a tree and how as it decomposes it develops so many layers of shades of bark and the different textures as it changes. I also like to work in extreme unevenness, while maintaining a level of sophistication.  

In what ways does your founding experience A.Cheng inform your ceramic practice? How do you balance your roles? 

Being able to put my ceramic work at the shop has really allowed the shop to have a distinctive stamp on our brand in a way that would be difficult to express otherwise. It ties the collections we selected with the environment it is in. I have a great store manager Dana, and a team of amazing part-timers that all make the shop run smoothly.

What other art forms (in any medium) have been most influential for you?

Painting and drawing have really allowed me to express ideas and themes.

Is there a particular studio ritual or practice that you rely on to bring about your “best” work, however you define it? 

I try to take quiet moments in between projects and reflect on past work and the fresh untouched future. Usually with a sketchbook, and doodle until an image takes hold. I find the focus of that often allows impulsive ideas to pop through and not get lost in all the stuff the happens everyday.