Behind the first encounter of Bennet Schlesinger with clay there is a longing to return to a more essential approach on sculpture. After spending years working mainly on metal, he started feeling increasingly detached from the conceptual take on craft that was pivotal until then. His artistic production was strongly based on metaphorical narratives: just as poems, his work stood as signifier for something else. However, that something else, whether meaning, intention, or interpretation, became too distant from Bennet’s experience as artist and artisan. Then, in 2017 he began to make ceramics.
There is something relaxing and calming in the repetitive nature of working with clay, he maintains. But it can also be challenging as it gets more and more complex. Overall, it always feels genuinely profound. The relation with people completely changed when Bennet shifted to ceramics. “A bowl you just make it and give to someone and they understand that this is a bowl, they do not ask you what it does mean”, he claims during our interview, and working with clay allowed him an immediacy that was absent in his previous practice.
Rigour and chance seem to go hand in hand in his works. The base comes first, in order to define proportions; glazing, on the other hand, is randomly finished through quick brush patterns. The result never comes out as it was initially imagined, and the outcome is always unique. In fact, Bennet believes that medium and craft shall prevail over the attempt to reproduce identical objects.
He situates his works in a gap between art and craft, aesthetic objects and domestic tools. His lamps are oddly unconventional but pleasingly warm at the same time. The inspiration of working with light comes from a personal desire to create environments able to be quiet and inviting at the same time. Being around something beautiful can make life a little more reassuring and beautiful too, he stresses. However, there is no intention about the recipients of his lamps: they are simply made for homes, an invitation to engage with them. Ideally, these pieces are made for everybody.
Writing is another central aspect of Bennet’s production. His pieces, he specifies, are not directly correlated with his pottery. Sometimes they go with an artwork, a consequence of a process of production, sometimes they are a personal emotion, someone else’s, or just a fantasy. Writing and craft are simultaneous narratives that accompany and influence one another. These two facets of Bennet’s work share a flowing approach. While pottery requires continuous movement and constant decision-making because of the timing, words come as a natural stream as well. The process behind both forms of creation escapes Bennet’s total control, constantly pushing him to react to what is happening.
For Bennet, working with clay means to return to the purest form of knowledge: our relationship with earth. There is something as old as human history, he explains us, to get his hands dirty to create something people will love and use. While being part of the art world was affecting his work by craving validation from a small group of people, capitalist societies are putting on us constant pressure to always move forward, progress, and produce. Meanwhile, clay is always clay, and it will continue to be clay. We can never fully learn how to master it, but we can learn how to dance with it.