Montana-Based Ceramic Artist Casey Zablocki fires up his most ambitious work yet.
Casey Zablocki is sleep-deprived. It’s mid-April; his ceramics studio has been running 24 hours a day for the past week; and he’s working the night shift, firing the wood-burning kiln from midnight to six in the morning.
“It’s a physical and mental marathon, like running up a mountain,” Zablocki says by Zoom. After the call he’ll doze a little, chop more wood, and do it all over again.
This is how the artist works. Due to the risk of forest fires in his home base of Missoula, Montana, he limits himself to just two main batches a year, once in April and again in December.
At the time of our conversation there was even more heat as he prepared for his September solo show at New York’s Guild Gallery, the fine-art extension of Roman and Williams Guild.
Zablocki fell in love with wood-fired pottery as an undergrad, attracted to the richly textured, at times crystallized surfaces he could achieve using the age-old method.
After apprenticing for masters like Hun Chung Lee in South Korea, the Michigan-born talent found himself at the Clay Studio of Missoula, where he still rents a cave-like anagama kiln.
“I don’t use any glaze,” he explains. “It’s all wood ash from the fire being pulled through the kiln, landing on my work, and melting at a high, high heat.” Temperatures regularly reach up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
His latest creations—his most ambitious yet—are big. Fired in two parts, one piece stands nearly nine feet tall and weighs roughly 1,200 pounds (Zablocki wants to go bigger, but he’d need a new kiln for that).
Over the course of a year, he’ll go through some five tons of clay, sculpting chairs, benches, tables, and nonfunctional artworks in an intuitive, almost spiritual process.
“There has to be some kind of energy transfer between the kiln and me,” Zablocki reflects. “I have to read what’s going on—the color of the flame, the smell of the atmosphere, the sound of the wood burning. These all tell me different things.”