Just a few blocks south of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, ceramicist Ben Medansky rolls through his studio on a skateboard. Medansky—after outgrowing his original workspace—has a new 3,000 square foot home that has space for a gallery, office, work tables, sheeter, wheels, three kilns, spray booth, clay recycling area and a photo studio. And, during breaks from throwing vessels on a wheel or glazing, the young potter can be found sitting in his new orange hammock soaking up the sunshine that beams through the open loading dock doors.
“I was in a space a thirteenth the size of this space. I had 280 square feet and this one table,” Medansky tells CH. “All of a sudden, I got a big project and it was me in there with four assistants trying to make a lot of cups. It finally got to the point where I could not make anything because I could not store anything. I was bursting at the seams.”
After an extensive search, he found his new space a few blocks west of his original Arts District location. Known for hand-throwing hundreds of cups for Go Get Em Tiger and G&B Coffee, Medansky continues to produce vessels for those two popular Los Angeles coffee bars. Now with the new larger workspace, his pieces have room to scale up in size and scope.
For a series of large vessels, Medansky’s fascination with science research lead him to create forms that explore larger themes too. “These are the direction I am heading in. Things that are a bit more fragile and experimental that deal with orbiting the earth, satellites and chaos,” he says. “I am referring to more of a molecule structure with those diamond and hexagon shapes.” His interest in science and astronauts was sparked in fifth grade at space camp and has taken on new dimension. “The spaceship is made out of ceramic. The front of it is made with a similar material that my kilns are made out of. I have always thought about how the front of spaceships are made out of carbon fiber reinforced ceramic materials that can withstand temperature up to 3,000 degrees.”
Lately Medansky has been watching episodes of “Cosmos” and science documentaries. “Science really excites me. I name some of my pieces after great scientists throughout history, who have made amazing discoveries. We named these circle-in-a-square pieces after Neils Bohr.” He also named some of his incense burners and candlesticks after the Mir space station and also named a piece after the first cosmonaut dog, Laika.
After hearing about a prototype experiment, a friend who works nearby at The Last Bookstore brought Medansky a vintage bubble book for bubble recipes and inspiration. “I try to design things that don’t really exist out of ceramic. I was making tools for the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Those are meant to look like brushes or combs. Then I started working on tools that make something. They have my bubble wands that are long sticks with blue tips. We are also making bubble blowers. They come with a little tray. We are experimenting with different rods. These are twisted.”
Now that Medansky has room for a glaze lab, experimenting with color and metallic lusters will be explored for future work. Most of his objects are glazed with his signature white, achieved by applying plain white satin glaze on top of a speckled clay body. The speckles come from the reaction of the white glaze with the iron content in the clay. However, Medansky admits to some fear of color. “It is that last moment before you fire it up to its full potential,” he says. “And everything could go wrong at that moment. So glazing something black or white, I don’t have to worry about taking away from the form with a glaze.” He plans to purchase a smaller kiln to fire test tiles to begin experimenting more with colors and lusters.
Medansky’s new Kohler Street studio is on the same block as the youth arts education campus, Inner-City Arts, which has its own ceramics building in the courtyard. He also joins a growing community of art galleries, glassblowers, metal workers and furniture designers. Next on the list, Medansky plans to have event and shows in his gallery space to showcase his own work and that of other ceramicists and artists.
Images by Jenny Kim