I am a studio potter who is interested in the development of form and the exploration of pattern. I look to industrial and architectural situations for formal references and use geometry as a language to communicate my observations. My work is wheel-thrown and hand-built with an aggregated earthenware clay. It is decorated with carved patterns under bright white slip and underglaze. I enjoy the illusionary nature of pattern and how, wrapping the surface of a pot with a repetition of line, can visually altar or reshape the form. My approach to functional terra cotta slipware is both a response to its ancient history as well as a construction of my own sensibility in aesthetics and material.
The objects I make describe a connection between architecture and our haptic experience. When making pottery, I think about my blind grandparents, and how they would trace their surroundings with their fingertips. Their haptic experience was of necessity, navigating their world without sight. From their perseverance and dedication my family learned patience and gratitude. I carry this perspective in my work as well as a profound respect for how they understood objects and space.
In the studio, labor grounds my energy and propagates new ideas and new directions. I start with an idea of function; this places the work within a craft tradition and an ancient history of objects. From there, I follow the work, allowing each pot to guide the next. I pause at every step in the process, appreciating each job and focusing my attention on the details while, at the same time, look to the periphery of each idea and following my impulses.
I am in pursuit of pottery that offers many vantage points, both visual and tactile, thoughtful and functional. I am interested in objects that engage us on a human scale within the intimate spaces of daily life. Pots are versatile depending on their placement, adorning our living spaces and contributing to our stories. They are a part of our domestic infrastructure, facilitating rituals of beauty, nourishment, and gathering. I am interested in the history these objects carry from wheel to home as well as the sentiment gained from their usefulness. I am charmed by the anti-monumental, and challenged by the spatial balance between pottery, architecture, and community.
Originally from Fargo, ND, Zak Helenske received a BFA (2004-2009) in Ceramics at North Dakota State University where he focused on functional ceramics. He received his MFA (2010-2012) in Ceramics and Ceramic Sculpture at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts. Graduate school lead him to an interdisciplinary practice, working primarily in metal. Following school, he spent time casting and teaching both nationally and internationally at institutions like Sloss Metal Arts in Birmingham, AL and the Akademia Sztuk Peinknych in Gdansk, Poland, as a visiting or resident artist. These experiences away from functional ceramics shaped an industrial sensibility and a better understanding of both material and object. In 2015, Zak moved to Seattle, WA for a residency at Pottery Northwest where he shifted his work back to ceramics. Now a full-time studio potter, he works out of his studio in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. Zak is represented by Vetri Gallery in Seattle and was named an Emerging Artist by Ceramics Monthly in 2017.