This story about a CMC ArtShare exhibit featuring Alix Knipe, an internationally recognized ceramic artist and CMC ceramics instructor who lives in Carbondale, was written by Glenwood Post Independent arts editor Jessica Cabe. It appeared in the Jan. 8 Post Independent.
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Alix Knipe, an internationally recognized ceramics artist living in Carbondale, lost her fear of failure when failure became inevitable.
She was working in Avanos, Turkey, in 2011 and 2012 on a Fulbright Research Fellowship Grant. Avanos is one of the two largest pottery towns in the country, with caves carved out of the soft hillsides serving as studios. Knipe learned a lot about the philosophy of creating ceramics in Turkey, a philosophy rooted in tradition and quite the opposite of America’s need for innovation in art. But she also learned that she will push boundaries harder when failure is the only option.
Knipe said that with other artforms, it’s common to fail frequently in the beginning and less so as you hone your craft. With ceramics, failure is consistent and seemingly arbitrary.
“Your expectations are your worst enemy with clay,” she said. “The heat from the kiln may have cracked your work, warped it or blemished it with ugly surface flaws.”
But in Turkey, failure wasn’t arbitrary; it was a given. Knipe does a lot of handbuilding, and the soft clay in Avanos is not ideal for that technique. Every creation would end up failing in the drying process. While she admits that makes it sound like her time in Turkey was wasted, she argues that the guarantee of failure freed her to try large, unusual sculptural form.
“Because I knew that it would fail, I found this freedom to make my work bigger than before,” she said. “It was freeing to be without end, to be suspended in the play part of creating, like being a child again.”
This was an eye-opening moment for Knipe, who had spent her time in graduate school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln preparing for near-constant critiques of her work.
“No one was watching what I was doing for a while,” she said of her time in Turkey. “Failure wasn’t even watching because it was just there.”
After realizing that failure was no longer something to fear, Knipe began creating some of her most daring work. Her sculptures are abstract but organic, with forms reminiscent of the human body and the varied, beautiful landscapes she’s come across in her lifetime, including those of Turkey.
A solo exhibit of Knipe’s work, “Traces of Place,” is on display at the CMC ArtShare Gallery in Glenwood Springs through Feb. 27.
Knipe said the name of the exhibit highlights the influence that landscapes have had on her work.
“It’s a theme I’ve been exploring more fully, is my work in relation to a landscape,” she said.
Her love of land boils down to the overwhelming feeling of witnessing something bigger than herself.
“I think a theme that goes through all of art is trying to touch on something bigger than ourselves,” she said. “That’s something I try to do.”
Knipe took a winding path to ceramics. She was raised by two artists; before she was born, her mother was a potter, her father a sculptor. Her mother is now a painter, and her father is a photographer. An only child, Knipe’s earliest years were filled with creating her own paintings and projects and eating off of handmade dinnerware. That is when her appreciation for pottery began.
“You have this thing that somebody else made that you’re using in your hands,” Knipe said. “It’s an intimate thing.”
As Knipe got older, and especially as a teenager, she started to see art as uncool because that’s what her parents did. Becoming an artist herself would be the least rebellious thing she could do in her household. So she went to Eckerd College and got her degree in environmental studies and religious studies.
While she was there, however, she took a ceramics class and was instantly hooked.
“It’s this malleable thing you can use to create whatever is in your imagination,” she said. “I was really just enamored by the process of throwing on the wheel. It was very meditative. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and I think part of it was that challenge of sitting down and trying to master something that was really difficult.”
After graduating with her first degree, Knipe moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a city with a strong ceramics scene and home to the University of Minnesota, which has an impressive ceramics program. Knipe wasn’t planning on going to school full time and earning an art degree, but that’s what she ended up doing.
“I started taking an evening class just for fun — then another and another,” she said. “Clay is like that.”
She then went on to earn her masters in fine arts in ceramics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a school recognized as one of the top 10 graduate schools for ceramics.
While in Minneapolis, Knipe became enthralled with some of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ ancient Middle Eastern pots from 900 A.C.E.
“They still really spoke to me, and I thought they were really beautiful,” she said. “I thought about how something could be made so long ago and still speak to people.”
Knipe decided she wanted to immerse herself in the Middle East to learn about the region’s traditions in ceramics firsthand. That’s how she ended up in Turkey, where she lost her fear of failure and gained ambition to create against the odds.
The landscapes in Turkey have been interpreted and depicted in Knipe’s “Traces of Place” exhibit. Valleys of all kinds and shapes have been translated by her hands, paying respect to the land that helped to shape her.