The Memphis Group designs originated in the early 1980s as a reaction against popular slick “black box” design that makers of almost everything from typewriters to cameras and furniture in late 1970s Europe indulged in. The new movement encouraged designers of everyday objects. A Greenpoint resident, Josephine Heilpern, has been wheeling out a ton of such everyday objects at her studio named the Recreation Center. The Memphis influence is apparent but her designs have a more pragmatic appeal to them. Ettoire Sottsass style patterns are abundant, though, and to a soothing effect.
The following is a brief Q&A with Heilpern on her art.
What do you think has caused the comeback of ceramics as a trend?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately actually and I really can’t think of a straight answer. I think it’s important to distinguish two types of ceramics, one being its trend in the art world and the other being, what I do, functional ceramics made for everyday use. I spend a lot of time thinking about, of course, the functional side of ceramics and that trend specifically. I think that primarily there is a wide appeal for the hand made design object, beautifully crafted and designed decorative pieces for the home, whether functional or not. There is great attraction and appreciation for the handmade right now, probably as a set back to mass produced pieces. I also think that the idea of a person making the object that one is enjoying is also very appealing . Ceramic dish-ware/ tableware are things that one can use everyday to do what we do everyday, eat and drink, and being that food and foodie culture is also a great trend now, I think maybe these two things have fed each other.
How did you come up with the idea for the cone lamp? What was the whole process?
Over the winter I took a week off “work,” throwing mugs and bowls and such, to throw some experimental shapes. I made a bunch of cones, domes, spheres, and donuts. I loved the cone shape, but didn’t really know what to do with it. In my head, I couldn’t just make shapes and have them just be shapes, they had to serve some kind of purpose. I re-watched Coneheads, and was reminded of the scene where you learn how they have sex . They use these sensor rings that they place on their cones. My brain clicked, I had been thinking about florescent rounds and how to include them in something so that’s how the Cone lamp was born.
I really like the sci-fi qualities of it, when it lights up a dark room it looks like some kind of UFO and gives off this very eerie light. When the light is off, it has a nice tabletop sculptural element, people don’t really recognize it as a lamp until it’s turned on.
What is your favorite type of thing to make at the studio, or what is your favorite part of the process start to finish?
I like to play the most! The best part of my day is when I get to experiment, in any of the parts of the process, whether it’s throwing some weird shape or glazing something new, making something different is always the best and so satisfying. It brings me away from feeling like a machine. I do love to do anything at the wheel, throwing and trimming, while listening to music. It’s amazing how hypnotizing spinning pieces of clay can be. I have gone into really intense trances and woken up finding myself with some new vase shape. I love unloading my kiln and finding new things, seeing something I haven’t seen before. But, by far, the most exciting thing to do is take pictures of all the items. I love to style objects and it’s so much fun when you’ve made a number of them!
It’s interesting that you grew up in Woodstock and Argentina. Do you remember what it was like? Would you ever go back to living in Woodstock?
My family moved to Woodstock from NYC when I was a year old. My parents didn’t want a city life for me and my brother. My dad, being a musician, felt like it was an appropriate place to settle. It was by far the most interesting place to be a kid. I was surrounded by mountains and streams and wild animals and darkness and stars. There weren’t really any limits as to what I was and wasn’t allowed to do. I spent a lot of time outside building forts with my best friend and my brother. We were extreme adventurers. She had horses and we would just take them bareback through the forest. We did a lot of creek swimming and imagining we were forest fairies. I was exposed to so many different types of people and different lifestyles and it really always helped me keep an open mind.
Really when I look back at it, it all seems fake! I was truly a very lucky kid. When I was nine, my parents, both being from Argentina, decided to transition all of us back to Buenos Aires. That was little rough at times but I adjusted quickly. All my relatives still live there, so it was nice to be close to them, especially my grandma. I felt like I grew up really fast there, I really had to learn how to stick up for myself because I was really different from all the other kids.
I always have felt half Argentinian and half New Yorker but really do think that living in Buenos Aires in my early teens really shaped me, more than living in Woodstock. It was grimy and rough and I have always liked that about it. When I was 14 I moved back to NYC on my own, and here I am now! My mom moved back Upstate, and I do think that when the time comes for me to settle down, going back to the Catskills is something I would love, especially now. So many things are happening. Young farmers, artists, musicians, are all moving Upstate. when I go visit my mom it still feels like I am in Brooklyn but now there are mountains and rivers instead of tall buildings. It always makes me laugh a little. I am very proud of being an Upstate girl!
What do you do at Two Palms?
Two Palms has been my home for seven years. I started working there right after graduating from Cooper Union. I studied printmaking predominately so leaving school and working in a collaborative print/art studio was insane and a dream! I do so many things there and I love that. I work with artists and help develop projects. I print etchings, dye paper, cut paper, mix paint, cook lunch, wrap and pack and I even get to travel for the art fairs. We work with some incredible contemporary artist such as Richard Prince, Mel Bochner, Cecily Brown, etc etc etc. It’s amazing to go to the Met Museum or MoMA and say “Wow, I had a hand in that!” It’s pretty much a dream job, and my bosses are the most supportive and loving people I have ever met. I look up to them and know that the day I am a boss to someone I will model myself after them. It’s been really hard to leave.