Spoons, mugs, pendants, or platters, Brenna Gerlach's work appears in many different forms. She works to bring her visual narratives to life by marrying her love for patterns with the surfaces of her ceramic pieces. Her body of work feels heavily inspired by Southwestern motifs, often adorned with traditional Native American patterns and imagery. Her love for red earthenware and speckled clays aids in the homey nature of the pieces, paying a subtle but appreciated omage to the cultures from which she draws inspiration. Whether simple or absurd, Brenna's works shows a wide variety of imagery reflective of her whimsical personality.
How did you come to be interested in working with clay?
I started to be interested in pottery in college but my school didn’t have a ceramics department. After I graduated, I decided to satisfy my curiosity about clay and I took a wheel-throwing class. Of course, I was immediately smitten and dove-in head first.
What inspires your work?
I am inspired by a lot of objects in nature that I interact with often in my garden. I also love to explore my earthy mystic motifs and combine them with strong, graphic images and a healthy dose of random absurdness. I’ve found myself establishing a language of patterns and symbols I re-use in my work on a reoccurring basis. As a person with a background in 2D art, I try to challenge myself by taking those impulses and combining them with special attributes of the clay to make something really utilizing the advantages that clay has over paper.
What’s your favorite thing about clay?
I really love it’s ability to be manipulated. I can truly come up with anything I want in my head and create it with clay. Sure, there will likely be challenges with structural integrity or drying or other logistics, but it can be done. For many years I felt restricted by my 2D media, trying to create dioramas from illustrations I meticulously cut out from paper and I was often fighting the limited capabilities of my materials. Even in the couple of sculpture classes I took in college, the forms and ideas I wanted to express I couldn’t create with wood or metal. Certainly I’ve seen people do marvelous things with both those mediums but they weren’t right for me. And then, on top of all this possibility, I can also decorate surfaces and really integrate my illustrations into the flesh of the clay through sgraffito.
What has been the most challenging part of pursuing ceramics?
Understanding the chemistry and what is behind certain reactions. I never used to think of myself as a science-minded person but ceramics really expanded my outlook and I find the more technical aspects fascinating.
Which AMACO products do you always find yourself going back to? How do these products speak to your work?
I really enjoy using the AMACO Velvet Underglazes. The colors are true and they have great opacity which I especially like for sgraffito. Another favorite is the Celadon glaze line. Snow has been my favorite raw glaze surface for decorating with cobalt oxide.
If you could listen to only one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Well, this is a tough one because while I absolutely love many albums, I'm pretty sure if I had to listen to any one album the rest of my life, I would go insane! However, I'll say CSNY's Déjà Vu because so many of those songs have spoken to very specific periods in my life especially "Almost Cut My Hair" which I listened to nonstop that awkward year after high school and helped grate away some of the residual adolescent nonsense in my brain. Also, the album has a great cover so that would be nice to look at for awhile!
Who was your childhood hero?
Well, definitely my mom is in there. She had a rough childhood and really overcame a lot of challenges. As a teacher, she was very creative as well and encouraged me in my endeavors. Also, I have always been a huge Jim Henson fan. He was such a visionary in many ways. I'll be honest, I wasn't so into Sesame Street, but man, I loved Fraggle Rock and all the other Muppet appearances! Some of my work speaks to the masses but a lot of it is pretty whimsical. Sometimes it's odd and weird and I can only imagine some of the push-back he may have gotten, at least at the beginning. I think I get even more appreciation for him as I age and truly realize what a bizarre and fantastical world he created from scratch.
If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?
Maybe pistachio because I'm a bit nutty. And not too sweet.
What's your biggest pet peeve?
When people pretend achievements were effortless when they were actually a difficult accomplishment or the result of many failures and hard work.
If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
It would be a toss-up between a baker and something in the field of botany or agriculture.
What's your favorite book?
I listen to a lot of audiobooks when I work and have been enjoying the Great Courses available from my local library. I think the courses on food and “Mythologies of the World” are my favorite so far. I am now constantly boring everyone to tears with my stories and factoids.
Ninjas, pirates, or wizards?
Art witches, definitely.