To watch Josh DeWeese in his studio is to watch someone completely and utterly in his element. Every movement is natural and efficient, the product of thousands of repetitions as well as an innate affinity for the process. Watched over by a huge and stunning collection of ceramic art in his newly built home studio west of Bozeman, he crafts objects that somehow combine the practical utility of a cup and the vital thrill of an abstract painting.
Known for drawing and painting with glazes, Josh creates bold whorls, drips, and splatters on fluid, twisting forms that at first feel chaotic but then draw the viewer in to a serene, organic world of texture, form, and hue. He comes by the painting naturally – Josh was born and raised in Bozeman to parents Bob and Gennie DeWeese, who are credited with being early pioneers in Modernist painting in Montana. He grew up surrounded by a community of artists, including Frances Senska, another pivotal figure in Montana’s burgeoning art scene in the fifties and sixties. Senska was both a skilled ceramicist and teacher of world famous ceramic artists Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos.
It was Frances who first took Josh to dig indigenous clay near Lewistown, Montana. This experience may well have planted the seed that in recent years has taken root and grown into the International Wild Clay Research Project, founded by DeWeese and his colleague at Montana State University, Dean Adams, spurred on by their student David Peters. Much as some people are coming back to appreciating locally grown organic food, many potters are moving back to sourcing some or all of their clay locally and regionally. In Josh’s words, “The benefit comes in the uniqueness of the material, and the education gained from the experience of researching, locating, identifying, and processing. Somehow, all this activity builds meaning in the work. Potters and clay artists have been doing this throughout history, but the choice to do this today, in our digitally connected, convenience oriented, frantic existence seems to be important.”
Each clay has its own flavor, its own way of interacting with heat. Josh uses wild clays primarily as glazes and slips, to coat other clay bodies. Using these wild clays and a wood fired kiln fueled by scrap wood, Josh creates an alchemy of sorts, a magical and yet very scientific process in which dull grey clay goes into a kiln, fire and soda and salt are added, and out comes a vibrant piece of functional art. His work is not the kind of art to be hung on a wall and forgotten, but to be used, touched, and woven into our daily lives.
In Montana you can find Josh’s work at tart in Bozeman, at the Red Lodge Clay Center in Red Lodge, and at Turman Larison Gallery in Helena. You can also read more about Josh at joshdeweese.com. His show “New Studio – New Work” will be on display in the tart gallery August 14th through September 9th.