Ceramics seem to becoming more and more like T-shirts, in which the cup or bowl becomes a vehicle for something catchy, cute or plain-old homey. One collective that’s highlighting the neglected creative potential of the historic medium is FPOAFM, a studio that’s fond of collaborating with other artists to produce functional, one-of-a-kind artworks with personality—and whose prices are (mostly) in the tens, not the thousands. As their GIF-tastic, music-blaring website demonstrates, FPOAFM sets itself apart from the Brooklyn scene by bucking a sustainable financial business model. Realizing that store shelves weren’t the best fit to showcase their work, it’s instead truly about the freedom to create art without obligation—and art that can be cherished, instead of collecting dust or collecting money.
From huge custom-made ceramic coasters to a “Fuck You” cactus planter (poking fun at those all-too-precious versions found on Etsy) to plugged jars that leak pink ooze, each project starts from a completely blank slate. While the “nomadic” FPOAFM finds different places to use facilities as each project develops, many of the rough drafts and results have been neatly arranged on the shelves of a members’ personal Bushwick studio. There, we spoke with two members of the collective—Adams Puryear and Steph Becker—on staying true to the FPOAFM mission and their unusual giveaway event this month.
How did you settle on such an unusual name?
Steph Becker: So it’s pronounced “poem.” We think of poetry as a kind of writing style that was designed to express your thoughts and ideas in a less logical, more creative manner. We liked the idea of naming our collective after something that reflects not wanting not to fall into mundane patterns—[but] sticking to unique ideas. We also like that poems are very hard to sell [laughs]. People are still drawn to create poetry, they feel the need to even though they’re not going to make any money. The spelling of it was to incorporate our humor. [laughs]
So the Fs are silent! And who built the crazy website?
Adams Puryear: Oh, that was me. It was really just need-based; I wanted to do this and just learned. As like a lot of starting up, web design is cutting and pasting code. I thought it kind of fits with the name—sort of absurdist. It’s not geared to sell work, it’s geared to satisfy what we like.
It stands out from all of those website platforms with stock templates.
SB: It shows more personality than a perfectly styled website.
And it’s hard to look at the website for a long time. I like that.
AP: And the music, you can’t turn off. [The website’s] very challenging.
SB: It’s part of our main objective—the creative side as the primary focus. Because if you let money and commerce become part of the primary, instead of the secondary, the work just starts to become hurried, or not original. So the website is kind of in mind with that; it’s not set up to be a money-making website. [laughs]
I think that was one of the problems we had at the markets. I had a booth at the Brooklyn Flea, and the work that was selling really well wasn’t necessarily my favorite. I would go to my studio and be like, “OK, this drawing sold really well, I have to do something like that,” and start making work that wasn’t what I wanted to be making, but was what people wanted to buy. So then, by the end of the season, I was like, “This… doesn’t even look like my work.”
Are there any ground rules?
SB: We try to stick to a functional object. And they’re usually collaborations between two or more people. So we’ll meet up with someone we want to work with, and kind of talk about what they’re thinking about, what we’re thinking about, and how we can combine the two. We take our work seriously—we like to make well-made things—but we like to have fun and explore the less literal side of things… it doesn’t exactly have to make sense.
Everything’s pretty much one-of-a-kind. We try not to do more than one, just because we don’t want to start mass-producing the objects.
AP: [FPOAFM] is really fulfilling a lot of our needs. Growing up, my art evolution was always in American ceramics—like doing big sculptures, like the sculpture back here. But I’ve always loved doing cups, but it never quite made sense to keep doing it and I never was interested enough to keep doing it. I’d always go for two weeks and get really excited, then kind of burn out and get bored. But this is really great because I can be making functional stuff and giving it or selling it or using it.
Can you describe what your collaboration process is like?
AP: We’d find some artists that we were drawn to—either their work or their work and their personalities were really good. Like this NYC- and Manilla-based artist Lazaro Juan who does paintings—the end product were two Chinese-style garden stools. (Basically, things you can sit on, in your front yard.) With us and him drawing upon different techniques like slip trailing to image transfers, these cups were kind of a trial to see if we could really work with him, if the collaboration would be good—rather than just making stuff for [him] to draw on. And so the series of cups worked out great, so we made these two stools.
These finger-holes on these other cups are really interesting.
AP: These two were collaborations with illustrator Kate Nielsen, who’s based out of Greenpoint. She developed this whole theme of, what she called, “Rules of Civility.” On one side would be a normal situation (they’re all at dinner) and the other side would be a worst-case scenario. She’s throwing up, everyone’s playing with their food, etc. These cups I’ve been making for a while, I think of as “battle steins.” If you’re in a bar and drinking and then someone insults your mom, and then you have these knuckles. [But] if you were to use these ceramic knuckles, as much as it would hurt your opponent, it would hurt you.
What upcoming projects are FPOAFM working on?
AP: At the end of September, we’re doing the Queens Art Intervention. It’s going to be a tea stand, and we’re going to be giving away iced tea in handmade cups. For us, it’s not only just giving away cups and thinking about things, like “handmade” or what’s a precious object rather than a commodity. But also, we’re using it as a way to talk to people about how they survive in New York: mentally and physically and financially. I think that’s really interesting—because that’s why everyone talks about, “Where are you working?” and “How much is your rent?”
That always seems to be the fourth question you ask someone you meet.
AP: Of course, it’s really interesting to see how people do it successfully, or how they’ve done it wrong in the past. I’m really looking forward to talking to some of the older people and seeing how they did it back in like the ’60s or something and how it’s maybe changed since then—surviving in New York.
SB: When we were selling things at the market, it was really nice to show our work and talk to people, and people would be so excited about seeing the work. But the selling part of it, I felt like was a little… it didn’t create community, it just kind of made a bit of distance. So this is the best of both worlds: where you can talk to people, meet them and really become part of the community and then give them something to solidify the relationship.
How many will you be producing?
SB: Maybe like a hundred.
AP: And it’s different processes. I think the majority will be hand-thrown, but some will be slip cast, the surface will be altered like with different glazes, different drawings, etc.
Check out FPOAFM at NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial, on view until 12 October 2014 at Museum of Art and Design—and don’t miss their one-day-only tea event at the Queens Art Intervention to score a cup (and thoughtful conversation) from the collective.
Studio images by Nara Shin, GIFs courtesy of FPOAFM, NYC Makers exhibition image courtesy of Eric Scott