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by Jaya Wagle
by the artist
The first time I saw Steve Benezue throwing was at Northlake College. I had popped over from my art appreciation class to the ceramics lab where he was in the middle of a demonstration.
At that point I was still struggling to pull up an even cylinder, and watching him throw was fascinating... till he started distorting his perfect creation, paddling and twisting it every which way. Steve was altering them witha passion. By the time he was done with the teapots they had assumed a life of their own.
Two months later I saw his teapots in the hallway display cases dressed up in bright, garish yellows, reds, spotted blues and greens. They looked like jugglers, jesters, fat men and skinny women. They were mad teapots with crooked arms and ears.
Steve says his first mad teapot was an accident. "Till three years ago I was trying to throw these perfect, precise pots. One day I got really frustrated with what I was turning out and threw one of my teapots on the floor. I liked the way it distorted and went out of shape. It gave it so much character."
Which was one of the reasons he decided to start making these whimsical teapots. The other reason to continue making them? "It allows me to be looser and more free with clay. It is a fun process and I never know what I will turn up with," he says with a twinkle in his eyes.
So is there a method to his madness or is he still throwing his pots on the floor? Steve says he doesn't have a specific idea when he starts throwing. In fact he throws five or six pots, spouts and lids, and later starts assembling them.
"I let the pieces tell me where to go. I don't intentionally make them resemble anything, but if a pot speaks to me I let it be what it wants to be. However, if I try to start with a specific idea in mind, then the finished piece looks forced," he explains.
There is an exception though, in his teapot titled Femme Fatale. "It was inspired by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge," he confides.
Not surprising that the colors in his teapots too remind one of garish, loud costumes. Some have as much as ten to fourteen colors on them. It seems like he is in frenzy when he glazes them or maybe he approaches this process the same way he throws them.
But that is where Steve proves me wrong. He tells me that he is methodical when it comes to painting his "sculptural" teapots.
"I first begin by sketching the bisque pots and then coloring them with color pencils. Then I use the same color under glazes to paint my teapots. I feel the brilliant, bright colors compliment the organic shapes." One would think Steve was inspired to paint those colors from some childhood activity of playing with crayons or going to the circus.
But he tells me that he chanced upon his crazy color schemes by accident, "just like I found my way with the teapot on the floor."
When Steve bought his first kiln, he also got a box of underglazes for free. "I didn't know what to do with them for a long time till my first organic teapot came along. The bright colors seemed to make it come alive and give it character."
It is not surprising then, that more often than not his pots are named after the colors they wear — So Much Yellow, No More Yellow, Only Primary Colors. However, Steve says he has evolved as much with his colors as with the shapes of his teapots.
The colors are no longer limited to primary colors nor are they painted on as carefully. His evolved teapots have textures. Silver and gold lusters are slopped on causing them to run.
"My teapots are reference teapots. They are not functional. I don't see the reason why I should control the glaze either."
He admits that though his approach is free and loose, he is constantly changing. His teapots have become a lot more complicated and distorted. Maybe the crazy colors and whimsical shapes of Steve's Mad teapots are a reflection of what's going on in the world around us.
is a longtime ceramics student of
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