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Interview by Jenna Elizabeth all artwork courtesy of Alina Hayes

"I have always been drawn to "table-top" sculpture. I like the silly combined with the surreal and in cartoon colors. There is fresh vision in this work." -ILYSM4Artists Guest Judge, Marilyn Minter

♡: Hi Alina! Huge ups to you, genuinely excited by your work and getting to know more about your process

AH: Thank you 😬

♡: In your artist statement you mention how your ceramic process draws on parallels between the various roles you play in your personal life. Can you expand on this?

AH: Yes! Ceramic work requires time...and it can be a tough medium if you don’t give it the time it needs. Work breaks, cracks, and disappointment and uncertainty becomes part of the process.

I am a mom, and I also teach, and finding the time to dedicate to your studio practice is tough! Like even as I type this “studio practice” what is this luxurious thing?

Often I feel like I am falling short in some way... if I am spending a lot of time with my students, I don’t have enough time to make work, if I spend time making art, I miss out on times with my family... so there is this constant push and pull. I hope that makes sense.

♡: It does, and I think that push and pull theme fits well with some of the questions I have in relation to the work

AH: Here is an example of two projects that never got finished because I had other things I had going on, so they will just go into the scrap pile

♡: Your scrap pile is my new treasure chest

Another thing I found interesting is your description, in that the objects you create are “fragile” yet “resilient”, and their surfaces have almost a survival like element - to avoid being thrown away. This theme of ceramics as a form of resiliency, and its ability to defy in a way, is something I’ve never heard in relation to ceramics and I thought it was really beautiful. Did this epiphany of defying, or working against being discarded come later in your process or was it something you set to discover through the choice of medium?

AH: For me, concepts come through making... I work in silence, and as I make I am always asking the question “why am I making this?” Part of that comes from being forced to write artists statements in grad school... of course clay when fired, becomes very durable and resilient. I feel this personal connection with the medium. I grew up in Brooklyn, my family and I immigrated from Ukraine. We were dirt poor and lived in a 1 bedroom apartment. I grew up and overcame lots of barriers growing up ( not to get into a childhood sob story) but as I craft these hollow, closed objects... I feel that a part of me resides in the interior.

♡: I’m so glad you mentioned that, thank you for sharing. I think it’s refreshing to hear you talk about it. So much of people’s history is swept away, or past trauma - I think art is confrontational and it really brings so much to surface we don’t necessarily voluntarily address to close friends let alone strangers. The work is way to talk about it without necessarily explaining the intent. And it’s interesting to see what organically makes it’s way to the surface

AH: Also I think the idea of defying and being discarded is always there... on a subconscious level? But it took sometime to be able to articulate it.

What I find interesting is the way people react to the work... they view these as very joyful and happy... while the title “blooop” is from the word “blooper” which means a mistake... and when I started making these, they were meant to just be for me. They were my mistakes in a way. I didn’t expect for people to react to them in such a way

♡: Your choice in texture in color in the Bloop series is really unusual and I love that it plays with contradictory sensations. Something that looks soft and shapeable but is in fact sturdy and hard. Some of the shapes are playful and others almost feel nuclear... What inspired this series?

That’s interesting they were originally meant for you

AH: I think in a ceramic community, we as artists tend to stay in our niche and really be true to the traditional process. I was very much like that, a purist. A few years ago, at a ceramic conference (NCECA) Jerry Saltz - the critic was the keynote speaker. One of the things he said that really stuck with me is to get out of that niche, to experiment with other materials, and I have always kept that idea in the back of my mind. So I stopped using traditional glazes and gave rubber a try. We in the clay community call paint, resin, etc “room temperature” glazes.

Again this surface needed to be playful, approachable. I like the personal interaction that happens when you hold an object. It’s very different than looking at a large sculpture. The way we are taught look, but don’t touch in a gallery setting. These can be handled and of course I have a wonderful feel.

♡: We love Jerry, he guest judged with Laurie Simmons a couple weeks ago. But I think that’s it’s a good philosophy and applicable to multiple facets of approaching life.

I read that you originally studied painting and illustration at SVA, when did you formally approach ceramics?

AH: Yes! I was an art school drop out! SVA was really expensive and I went there straight out of high school. So I felt very intimidated by all the talent there. I ended up dropping out and just working at an office. I met my husband, got married, and we loved to Los Angeles. I went back to working at an office (bleh) and a co-worker suggested I try a wheel throwing class at a local community art center.

♡: Love it

AH: The rest is history. I went back to school. Met a ceramic artist/professor/ personal hero Patsy Cox. She is the head of ceramics at CSUN (California State University, Northridge) and she really encouraged me to go to grad school. I think having her in my corner really gave me the confidence to pursue this. 

Going back to school later in life, also gave me this focus and drive, that I was going to this one way or another

♡: It’s interesting the word confidence is something that keeps coming up consistently with multiple interviews. What helped you find your voice?

AH: *do

Well, I think as one gets older, you care a little less of what other people think. Plus there is this pressure that time is not infinite, and that you have to get a move on! Plus as you get your work out there, and get into shows, and build your resume, those little successes build as does the confidence.

I also remind myself that my job is to make work, and not critique my work, I leave that to the critics lol

♡: A piece of yours I am especially fond of is “Of Me” - you have a remarkable ability to create such vivid textures and be able to draw such opposing sensations without ever having to actually touch the object. Whether it be black and pearl, or matte and shiny, or going back to the Bloop series - these contrasting elements are cohesive within your work at large. There’s an unusual sense of balance that I find really interesting and distinctively you. What was the inspiration behind “Of Me”...

AH: It was my son :) (Such great questions btw!)

I made that piece right out of grad school... and at the time I was conflicted with the decision of having or not having more children

And I felt a guilt, as a mother, as a woman, that I did not want to have more children

It’s this weird thing... people think that you must be a bad mother if you think this way, or don’t love the child you so have... so I think that feeling translated to my work at the time

That I was making sculpture, not children

I mean this is if I am being brutally honest

♡: I think a lot of women feel that and don’t have an outlet to process that spectrum of emotion

I appreciate your candor behind that piece. It really stood out to me.

AH: Plus it’s acceptable in our society to ask those personal questions... when are you getting married, when are you having children, when are you having a second one? Etc.

Thank you :)

♡: Yes that’s true. It’s strange something so incredibly intimate can be normalized in such an open way. Pros and cons to that transparency. But I think ultimately that transparency is most helpful for other women, in not feeling so alone in that process.

AH: Very true!

♡: I’d like to talk some more about your family history. I saw on your site that some of your relatives also worked with their hands. “Hands were an important and essential part of her family’s everyday lives in connection to others.” I love this connection.

AH: Yes, my dad is a jeweler and my mom is a pianist. My great grandfather was a surgeon... I even had a potter in the family a couple generations back. For me being able to make something with my hands is priceless. I take pride in craftsmanship, of making clean, flowing forms. Growing up as a Russian kid, I was always involved in some type of arts and there is always a piano in the house. I think this is why I loved clay so much, it was a community that loves high lever of craftsmanship.

♡: For someone who is so rooted in this approach to touch as a means of connection, how are you coping during COVID? Has this inspired any new epiphanies in relation to your work?

AH: Haha well first I should say I am incredibly lucky that I still have a space to make! It’s small, but I have a kiln and can continue to make work (So many ceramic artists I know have lost access to their studios, it’s disgusting)

About 2 weeks in, I made these

Also I am still able to snuggle with my son and husband, so thankfully I am not completely alone

If I did have a revaluation, it is that there needs to be some sort of organization in LA that would provide ceramicists a space to make and fire work.

I try to stay positive and not think about all the work that was not seen, and all the shows that were canceled. I keep moving forward and keeping my chin up. I’ve always been a glass half full type of person

♡: You’re the first parent I’ve interviewed for the series, I imagine even outside of COVID related adjustments, it was already challenging to carve time for yourself to create. Is your family understanding to your needs in being able to find time to create? I feel like sometimes it hard for people to communicate needs in relation to art. There’s a guilt associated but it’s so necessary to have a sense of self, especially now - an outlet that is selfish in a beautiful but fundamental way to survive

Going back to what is normalized culturally, this is something that I wish was. Permission to be selfish. I think it doesn’t have to be a bad word, as long as the other parts of your life aren’t ignored.

AH: Well at first I felt completely paralyzed. I did not have any motivation to make. I found it difficult to focus.

Plus then all the other things like home schooling, my husband and I both working from home

It was a serious adjustment. My son is not an independent learner, so I have to sit with him to complete his work

Finally by week 3 I was going nuts, so I brought work into the house and started coilbuilding these heads

And that gave me the balance I was seeking. Where I can move my hands, but still pay attention to whatever math videos he was watching so I could help if he had a question

♡: A new rhythm

You also teach ceramics, what is that like for you now? Are students still able to practice at home or did they need school facilities?

AH: I feel guilt constantly... and a lot of it comes from other parents, it’s this unspoken criticism... what do you mean you’re missing your kids hockey practice to make art? You’re not at his hockey game to attend a clay conference? What type of nonsense is that?

♡: That’s frustrating!

AH: Yes! Students took clay and work home. We were able to arrange work drop offs so that we can use the kilns at school. I am genuinely nervous for the Fall Semester. There is a strong likelihood that it will be fully online.

♡: Hard to please everyone, but it’s important everyone in a household feels valued for what they are passionate about

AH: This is a new frontier for me. How do you teach ceramics online?

♡: Says a lot about the parents own philosophy of themselves

AH: Very true... a lot of parents live vicariously through their kids

♡: Or how they value themselves in relation to their child I mean

AH: Yes

♡: I wish I could take a class with you!

Any tips for people looking to get into working with clay at home for the first time?

AH: Haha! You should!

There are tons of videos online. You can teach yourself to throw or cool build using those. Wheels and kilns can be expensive, but you can find used ones on Craigslist.

You really don’t need much space. A table top will do

Lots of very experienced ceramic artists are offering virtual workshops for as little as $25

Clay is an ancient art form... not much about it changed in thousands of years, so techniques are pretty much the same

♡: What is the best way people can support you and your work?

AH: Well, they can follow me on Instagram @alinahayes and share/like my work! They can join the #bloooptroop on my website and get early access to all new work. Of course if they are able, purchasing my work would allow me to continue making!

Permission to be selfish... going back to that. Isn’t everything we do in a way selfish?

Most of our choices are in someways selfish, right? So why are someone’s choices are better than someone else’s?

Wow that is terrible grammar

♡: I think that’s true to an extent, but I think is relative to what people’s value system of needs. In this sense I think how people value art, and quiet moments reserved to create versus to devote to one’s family. It’s something I’ve struggled with as a care taker at one point. Finding a way to communicate what I needed that wasn’t necessarily immediately productive but necessary to my end process. Having downtime to experiment. To not have the end worked out, but allowing that space to create without immediately producing an end result.

When I lost that I felt like I lost my identity. And I think culturally, even looking at school budgets in relation to art, we say we value it but we don’t give it the same attention or money to flourish.

So from an outside perspective - it’s deemed frivolous

But I think inherently valuable

AH: Yes! That’s why I think artist residencies are so important. They allow you to go some place and really engage in your work.

Yes I think you’re right

♡: But I agree with you in that every choice we make, as it relates to the self is in fact selfish

I think art is challenging archaic versions of what is standardized productivity.

AH: I am also very happy to see a changing demographic in art as well.

♡: It creates an awareness, which is why I was so fond of your artist statement and your ability to challenge traditional roles and have that sense of awareness while creating.

AH: Come he’ll or high water!

I think you said it... it’s about value.

I think regardless of what I am making, the common thread is value... am I valued as a human being? Does my artwork hold any value?

Ceramics has often been looked upon as a craft, not an art form. I think that’s what attracted me to it in the first place. How can I bring this medium to what I believe is it’s rightful place... along with painting and sculpture


♡: Lastly, what are three things you would recommend to our readers to change things up? Any recommendations?

AH: How do you mean?

♡: Like something to read, watch, an activity, a piece of artwork to look up

But - open to it being philosophical as well

AH: Read Art and Fear!!!! It’s only about 122 pages or so and it really helps with any insecurities about making art!

My husband is in sales, and is the least artistic person I know... one thing he said to me about getting yourself out into the world and dealing with rejection and I feel like this statement works for every field. “It’s One “no” closer to a “yes”

In terms of artists, I think The Haas bothers are killing it!

From my ceramic cohorts are Raven Halfmoon, Irina Rasumovsky, Andy Patsy Cox


♡: Alina, it’s been truly lovely getting to know you. Looking forward to seeing more of your work!

AH:Thank you so much for taking the time and for your thoughtful and inquisitive questions! I really appreciate it!

Alina grew up in New York and began her education at School of Visual Arts where she studied illustration and painting. Upon relocating to Los Angeles in 2005, Alina continued her education at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Art and a Master of Arts degree in Art with an emphasis in Ceramics.