In this installment of our Inside the Studio series, we sat down with Connecticut-based sculptor, Jon Puzzuoli. Often featuring elaborate glazes and gold luster, Jon's ceramic vessels tend to have an elegant form and aesthetic about them. We talked to him about the intricate process of creating his porcelain sculptures, how teaching influences his own work, and how he's grown as an artist. Read our interview below or skip to the bottom to watch the Live Q&A we hosted with Jon on Instagram at the bottom of the page.
Our Discussion with Jon
Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
I was born in Stamford, CT and now I live and work in Norwalk, CT.
How did you get started as an artist and with your current style and medium?
I did an apprenticeship at a pottery studio, Lakeside Pottery in Stamford, for eleven years.
What's your creative process like?
To keep it fresh and interesting mentally, I work in collections. I’ll stay with a collection for a month or two until I find an emotional satisfaction and conclusion. Once I get there, I’ll move on to another existing collection while I mull over what I found successful and wish to evolve further. Taking a break from a body of work gives me enough distance to be able to self edit.
The beginning of a new cycle starts with an inspiring glaze. By thinking of the glaze and color first, I can design a form that enhances that colored glaze to its fullest potential.
What do you find most rewarding AND most challenging as an artist - whether in creating an individual piece or more generally?
As an art teacher, I feel most rewarded by my students' success. The joy and confidence on a student's face when they pull an amazing piece out of the kiln is soul-enriching. The coordination needed for teaching can also be a challenge, but I think the more difficult thing is finding enough time in the studio for myself, with a clear and energetic spirit.
Where do you look for, or tend to find, inspiration?
Museums and galleries give a great starting point for inspiration. To avoid copying the work I see, I don’t allow myself to photograph pieces that I love. Instead, I try to remember their essence and take one or two elements of it into my work.
You use a variety of interesting media in your sculptures – the vessels are made of porcelain, often with gold luster and in some, “crystals” form. Can you break down all the different materials that you use – what are they, and what do they do for the final piece?
Yes! Most of my work non-crystalline work is made from porcelain, often custom made, in small batches to dye the clay turquoise with a manufactured colored glass frit. Dying the porcelain allows me to keep sections of the work unglazed. I enjoy playing with matte and glossy and raw and refined surfaces on the same piece.
My crystalline work is created with glazes that have a very high zinc oxide content. At the kiln’s max temperature, the zinc dissolves and as the kiln cools in a very controlled manner, the zinc can’t stay in suspension and starts to precipitate out - if the potter is lucky, it will form a crystal. There is no way to see what is happening in the kiln, it is all controlled by the glaze chemistry and the very controlled kiln cooling. The crystals create circular snowflake decorations over the surface of the piece, which have an almost hologram-like effect.
The metallic “luster” glazes I use are made of gold. After the glaze firing, I paint on the gold, which is dissolved in a solvent, wait for it to dry, and put it into the kiln for a third firing to melt the gold atop the glaze. The gold, to me, gives a piece a royal presence. They look important and luxurious.
How do you prepare for creating each piece? Do you sketch or plan colors in advance, or does it happen organically?
Color and glaze ideas come first. Glazes are fluid and move over shapes differently in the kiln. Understanding which shapes flatter different glazes needs to be considered heavily. Once that initial glaze is decided upon, I’ll choose others depending on the feeling and emotion I want to transmit.
You mentioned that the gold luster you apply to your work gives it a "royal presence." And, you tend to title your work with royal names like Queen, Prince, Duchess, etc. Where does the royal theme come from and how do you select the names?
The series was inspired by seeing pictures of Queens in history class, in their golden crows and regal capes on their coronation day. The shape of the vases seems so much like a women’s body, the gold luster atop represents a crown and the glazes her royal garb.
Creating in my studio is a solitary activity. It is comforting to think of having the company of a queen and designing her demeanor and personality.
In addition to creating sculptures yourself, you also teach the subject. Do you feel like teaching has impacted your work in any way?
Of course! It impacts my work tremendously in two main ways. One, it stokes the fires of my artist soul - to give my knowledge to others and see how it changes their lives for the better. Two, I get to see such a huge amount of student work come out of the kilns, I often get inspired by a glaze combination that I can use as a point of experimentation.
We recently added tree sculptures to your collection at Sorelle, and they have lights installed in them. Did you do that yourself and how did you tackle the challenge of adding an electrical feature to your work?
I did indeed wire the lights myself. For a few years I did part time work in a lamp store - learned many helpful skills there.
Are there any particular artists who have inspired you or to whom you feel connected in some way?
Bruce Dehnert has always been a source of admiration and inspiration. His ownership of the whole process from making clay to building kilns is something to which I aspire.
From your first sculpture to those you create now, has your work overall changed?
From a technical standpoint, my throwing skills have vastly improved over the years allowing me to create more dramatic shapes in a larger scale. From a more aesthetic standpoint, I’ve given more thought to my work, and tried to marry the form of the piece with the glaze, and enhance how it plays with that as a canvas.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self as an artist, what would it be?
Spend less time worrying and...
In 5 words or less, what is your goal as an artist?
Delicious glazes that demand attention.
Now for something different: coffee or tea?
Coffee! I need that instant boost of energy to get me into the studio.
Are you a morning person or night person? When do you do your best work?
Neither! I’m an afternoon person. I need a good breakfast and some caffeine to get me going and I’m inspired until evening.
Cake or pie?
Cake, I don’t have time for crust.
Books or movies?
More a visual person so movies.
True Crime or Rom Com?
True Crime all the way.
If you could be any animal, what would you be?
A blue whale! How amazing it would be to travel the world in such a majestic manner and get to experience plunge down the oceans depths.
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I’d love to go and spend some time in my ancestral home of Pozzuoli, Italy soaking up the sun rays on an Italian beach by Mount Vesuvius.
What do you do in your free time?
Any free time is spent listening to podcasts in my studio.
To see finished artwork by Jon Puzzuoli, visit his Artist Collection. You can also watch our Live Q&A, which we hosted on Instagram on December 1st below!