Dan McCarthy’s Smiling Faces

There’s been something of a ceramics and clay revival in the past few years, often marked by a decidedly messy, unpolished feel: Betty Woodman’s beautiful, abstract assemblages; Austin Eddy’s lumpy, monochromatic figurines; Brie Ruais’s subtle sculptural gestures, which look like bits of gum stretched and stuck to the wall. We can add Brooklyn-based artist Dan McCarthy to that list—while best known for his paintings of words, women, and other subjects, he’s also been making a series of “Face Pots.” They’re the subject of a recently released book from Hassla, launching this Saturday from 5-7pm at Printed Matter in New York. BlackBook spoke with the artist about his whimsically figurative vessels.

Why faces?

It’s an obvious starting point to express elements that are important to me in my work: emotion, attitude and humor. I wanted to work quickly with the clay, arriving at a finished form with a minimum of negotiation within the material itself. Starting and ending with faces seemed natural.

In the book you write, ‘the ceramic process seems to invite windows of opportunity.’ What’s exciting to you about the material?

The plastic consistency of the clay becoming a solid permanent form is a very interesting and engaging proposal to me. In the building phase, the slightest touch, scratch or poke is potentially registered, very similar to drawing. To then be able to cover that form with a layer of colored glass adds to this already dynamic process: both physically and emotionally.


The simplicity by which the material is manipulated, with one’s hands and fingers, is a very direct, instinctual and personal process.

What can you accomplish as an artist with ceramic that you can’t with paint on paper or canvas?

The three dimensional aspect is interesting and unusual for me within the realm of my paintings; for instance I usually never render the back of a head in a painting or drawing. The kiln and its extreme temperatures during the firing stage is a big piece of the process; obviously that’s a ‘hands off’ part. It’s quite alchemical and has elements that feel magical during this transformative part of the process.

Are there any other artists–your peers, or artists from an older generation–who are also working with ceramics and who have been an inspiration or influence on you?

I enjoy and appreciate the immediacy, intuitiveness, and spontaneity of Lucio Fontana’s ceramic sculpturePeter Voulkos and Robert Arneson’s ceramic work, and Robert Turner’s pottery.

pot heads

sad faces




You can purchase Face Pots now, or go to the Printed Matter launch this Saturday, October 5, from 5-7 pm.

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