Friend Feature: Dominique Ostuni – Ceramics Artist
The first in a series of profiles about the crazy talented people I have the amazing opportunity to surround myself with. Dominique Ostuni is a junior at Maine College of Art majoring in ceramics. She moved to Portland to continue her education in ceramics after studying and living in Syracuse, New York.
Can you briefly describe your path as a ceramicist? Was there an “aha” moment?
I had my first real experience with clay in 2012 at Onondaga Community College under Andy Schuster. During that time I was pursuing an art therapy degree but had to take an elective outside of my specialization to graduate and ceramics was an open studio course. Although I lacked the skill to manipulate and throw clay at the time, I, on a whim, knew that clay was my path. There wasn’t any ifs, ands, or buts about it. Within half of the semester I signed up for three more ceramics courses and changed my specialization to ceramics. I ended up graduating honors with an Associates Degree in Fine Art and a specialization in ceramics. I am currently wrapping up my third year of my BFA at Maine College of Art with full intentions of pursuing a career as a ceramicist.
How would you describe your work?
My work is in a state of flux and complete exploration as of right now. I am far from a perfectionist - and I solely believe that explains why clay and I were made for each other. In my work I like to emphasize that clay is a partner that I am working with. Clay has a mind of its own and I believe that I simply do not use clay as a medium, but rather that we are in a long-term relationship with one another. My work emphasizes touch as the ultimate surface and the acceptance of imperfection. I explore these ideas through pinching and slab-building, all hand-building techniques. My work explores the meticulous impressions of fingerprints and informs the viewer of exquisite labor.
Can you describe your process a little bit?
I try not to look at magazines and ceramics publications, I feel as though it would influence my work too much to see what is currently being validated in modern ceramics. I am not looking for validation in my work. I focus on form and ask myself the question “what conversation are you trying to make?” My process is one in which involves a lot of writing, a lot of reading, a couple cups of coffee, and exploration. I have no single process, just free-floating ideas that go from paper to clay.
What is your favorite project that you've worked on (and/or are currently excited about/looking forward to working on)?
It’s funny, currently I am working on a couple different projects that I feel very enthusiastic about. I am working on a collaboration here at MECA with a couple of other students and we are all from three very different majors. All three of us are avid coffee-drinkers and have noticed as of late that half of the time we spend together is discussing the, almost, sacred-ness of coffee as well as tearing apart the reasoning as to why it is such an important aspect of our lives. The plan is to design a coffee cabinet of sorts. Vincent (Graphic Design 17’) will be designing the work while Daniel (Woodworking 17’) will be creating the cabinet itself, and I will be producing mugs, cabinet handles, and saucers as well as joints for the pour over method. This is aligned with my regular practice but is forcing me to engage with other artists work on a very personal level. This has been a challenge for me to plug new approaches into my own practice to see how it might fit. I have also been focusing a lot on the pinching method in my utilitarian work. I believe that touch forms the ultimate surface of a pot and pinching can entail the absolute acceptance of imperfection with every meticulous pinch.
Any advice you often find yourself giving to other ceramicists that you work with?
Take care of your whole self, and not just your studio-self. (Sometimes I still have to take a few steps back and follow that advice myself.)
Who or what has most influenced your path toward becoming a ceramicist?
My studies under Andy Schuster were some of the most influential times of my life. He really saw something in me and made sure my ideas and work were never gone unnoticed. He pushed me to my limits and saw something in me that, most times, I did not see myself.
What’s been the most surprising thing about this venture you’re on?
I am constantly surprised by this generation of the art world. Radical changes in art and design and a breakdown of status quo have left contemporary ceramics in this state of flux, confusion, crisis, but also complete beauty. I am constantly surprised by what I see in contemporary ceramics and grateful to be living in a time that this is occurring.
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself through your work?
I feel a responsibility to convey and illustrate the complexity of what it means to be “human” through my work with every pinched canvas of the clay. If that isn’t bigger than myself, I do not know what is.
You lived in Syracuse before. Does living in Portland impact your work at all?
I was asked this question very recently and it has had me thinking. I have realized that the work that I was producing in Syracuse was simply utilitarian. Since my arrival to Portland I have been pushing myself to explore function as well as dysfunction in my work, especially last semester. I spent five months completely immersed into the additional functions of the vessel, realizing that pots aren’t simply made to hold liquids, foods, flowers, et cetera. I read something in an interview with one of my favorite ceramicists, Bryan Hopkins, that stated something along the lines of a pot must be contemplated as a painting. This really stuck with me. Since contemplating that I have focused on additional functions of the clay vessel, such as holding light, shadow, and so on. The pot must be understood to be capable to hold concepts and ideas, not simply decorative and useful purposes.
What do you listen to while you make your pieces?
Oh my! What a question. It depends on my mood and most definitely the work I am making at the time but as of late I have noticed my go-to studio music consists of a lot of Donovan and Dylan. (But in all honesty my guilty pleasure has been copious amounts of MF Doom & Gil Scott-Heron.)
Do you have a favorite tool?
My mom got me the most beautiful hand-made cherry wooden rib for christmas that I cannot stop gushing over. She’s so good.
What’s next after school?
Elsewhere, I hope. There’s so many opportunities after this and it is all what you make of it. Hopefully a residency out of country, and definitely an MFA in the future. I have every intention to make these next few years absorbing myself in every opportunity that comes into my path.
And finally, where is one of your favorite places to go to be inspired?
D’oh! Good question. I find inspiration everywhere, to be quite honest. I find inspiration in hands, language, bleeding pomegranates, modernist architecture, church bells, the wind. Everything. Inspiration isn’t quite a specific place for me because I know that I will find it where ever this strange life takes me. But, if I had to choose a place, Vincent and I go camping often and I find myself most inspired deep in the woods. I always find myself having the most coherent and intense thoughts next to the water, bare feet, bare nails, open tent. That is all I need.