It Takes Two to Tango, But only a Single Epiphany to Dip out of Functional Ceramics

Erick Knoche welcomed clay into his life early on. Photo by Morgan Ford

When he took an Argentine tango class, Eric Knoche says he felt as though he was seeing the true nature of the world for the first time. “There is no pattern in tango,” he observes. “Any movement can follow any other movement, and so the leader and follower have to be connected to each other and present. For me, the tango is the same exact thing as working with clay.”

Knoche was born in Milwaukee and grew up in Minneapolis. He graduated in 2001 from the University of Minnesota at Morris where he studied English, anthropology, and art. “I took a lot of painting classes [and] took glassblowing because it sounded fun,” he says. “And it is.”

It was glassblowing that led him to clay. “I loved doing it, but the infrastructure needed to work with soft glass seemed like a lot to me. I thought of ceramics as the next best thing.” When he took a ceramics course during his senior year, Knoche says he knew right away that clay would be a big part of his life.

After college, he traveled to Accord, New York, where he apprenticed with clay artist Jeff Shapiro for the next two years. “I learned so much while working with Shapiro,” says Knoche. “The most important thing was the opportunity to see candidly how everything in the life of a working artist fits together, to be able to glimpse the whole.”

Following his apprenticeship with Shapiro, Knoche moved to Asheville, where he worked on developing his own art for the next two years before heading to Japan to study with Bizen potter Isezaki Jun.

Form from Bilbao 2

At the outset of his career, Knoche made utilitarian vessels, including cups, bowls, and plates. Today, most of his work is sculptural. Usually such a progression is gradual, but not so in this case. “It took place over the course of one night,” he says. Working late in his studio, he recalls, “I started sketching sculptural forms I had been thinking about for some time. At first, I was just laying out ideas for the future. Then I realized: I could just start making this work now.

“At the time, it seemed like a big leap, going from making vessels to abstract sculpture. I remember wondering if anyone would like the new work, and thinking maybe I should play it safe and just keep making the vessels, while occasionally making a sculptural piece.” He says he went to sleep that night undecided, but woke up the next morning committed to leaving function behind.

Eric fires most of his pieces in a wood kiln, using a gas kiln for larger works and those meant to be displayed outdoors. He’ll be teaching two workshops in August: one on how to build and maintain wood-fired kilns and another on hand-built ceramics.

There’s something else for participants to look forward to. “Whenever I teach ceramics workshops,” says Eric, “I always include some tango in the class.”

Eric Knoche, Alexander, studio visits by appointment. Knoche is represented by Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave.) in downtown Asheville. He’ll have a solo show in the venue’s Showcase Gallery opening Thursday, July 5, and running through Friday, August 31. For more information on the artist’s summer workshops, visit his website, ericknoche.com.

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