Benjamin Oswald spent much of his childhood exploring the Hirshhorn and Smithsonian Museums, taking in the lines of Pablo Picasso’s wood cuts and the sculpture work of Henry Moore. These days, Oswald lives and works in Edmonton, where he continues developing his skills and channeling his passion into works of porcelain, ceramic, wood and stone.
Conversation with Benjamin Oswald and Avenue Edmonton
What new projects have you been working on?
Oswald: I work primarily in porcelain. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some stoneware, sculpture, things like that, but most of the works in the retail stores [The Artworks, Maven & Grace, The Art Gallery of Alberta retail store] are porcelain vases. I’m always experimenting in the studio, in terms of building new designs or trying out new things – some of them work, some of them don’t. I’m trying to keep things fresh and new… Another thing that I’m working on right now, my wife loves plants, so we’re starting up a bit of a side project. I’m the ceramic artist and she’ll be the garden designer. It’s the designer stylized pots for plants. It’s really quite the movement that’s unfolding in a lot of places. So, that’s a new series of design that’s coming up. The partnership is called Potter and Green – I’m the potter, she’s the green.
Are you a full-time ceramicist?
Oswald: No, I’m not. I teach ceramics and art at Ross Sheppard High School. I taught physics for almost 20 years. About four or five years ago an administrator approached me, she’d found out that I was a ceramic artist in my spare time, and asked if I’d be interested in teaching a ceramics course. [The school] really had a high level of interest from the student body, which took me by surprise – pleasantly actually. It’s not that I don’t enjoy physics, I really do enjoy physics. It was just so fun because I majored in physics and minored in art. It was just fun to start teaching in my minor and just use those things that I was really passionate about. So, when I’m not teaching ceramics and art, I’m doing ceramics and art.
When you first started, what artists inspired you and how has that changed?
Oswald: I was a huge fan of the British modernists, since I was in high school and university. Those British modernists are some of my favourites, they still are, they really are, I just love them. In terms of the inspiration [now] , organic shapes, the human figure, plants, town textures, architecture. I have to confess you know, I’ll be on walks, or I’ll be out in nature and see something and be, ‘ah dang!’ can I capture aspects of that in a design?
What new horizons are you looking forward to exploring as a ceramicist?
Oswald: Recently I had a really great experience. I had a chance to work in the U.K. with British ceramicist Sasha Wardell. She’s quite prolific in the ceramics community in terms of her techniques, slip casting porcelain and mould-making – an industrial technique. I love learning and getting to work with some really good top-notch ceramic artists and learn from them and their techniques. So, I love that whole process of continual improvement. I look forward to learning more and just try to continually get better and better and better.
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This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton.