FARGO — Looking at Paul Ide’s pottery is like looking at a graffiti-covered wall of an old abandoned building. There are a variety of colorful marks and forms, some overlapping each other, and while the writing may be on the wall, so to speak, it’s not easy to read.
If you look deeper and hear the artist talk about his work, you realize the marks aren’t just his signatures, but a story that he’s telling about his life.
While his pieces may look like forgotten buildings, his work is in high demand for collectors of contemporary, functional art pottery.
“It’s very intentional,” the Fargo artist says.
Long influenced by hip-hop music and culture, Ide has been fusing elements like tagging and textured surfaces onto pots, cups and bowls.
“I’m trying to put the two artforms together in a way that’s thoughtful,” says Ide, the pottery studio program manager at the Plains Art Museum.
It was his work at the Plains, where he started five years ago, that inspired him to get back into making pottery after a decade away from the medium.
Fifteen years ago, he was working about 50 hours a week at a day job and spent much of the rest of his time trying to make a name for himself as a potter. That left much of the home and family work to his wife, Kristin, until one day she came out to his studio to tell him that the arrangement wasn’t working and something would have to give: her or his pottery.
“So I quit,” he says.
The answer was easy for the proud father and husband. He largely stepped away from the potter’s wheel for a decade. He kept his creative juices flowing by creating commissioned graffiti art and being involved in similar organized events, like Can Jam and Hip Hop Don’t Stop, which created the spray paint mural of penguins on the north side of 14 Eighth St. S. in Fargo.
He started as a studio technician at the Plains, loading and firing the kilns and making clay and glazes for the work. He also started developing processes and glazes that could give his pots the abandoned feel he was looking for.
Eventually he was back at the wheel throwing pots, but not at the same pace he was working before as he chose to spend more quality time with his family.
He estimates he’s made only about 50 pieces this year, a relatively small amount.
“That’s not as much as I’d like,” he says. “The therapy that comes from feeling clay go through your fingers helps.”
His work is meticulous and time-consuming as achieving his layered look is so labor-intensive. Each piece can go through up to six kiln firings.
The final firing is to adhere his text decals, a script he’s written out but manipulated digitally.
While the writings may not be deciphered by most viewers, it’s taken from a text important to the artist, Philippians 4:6-7.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“I find comfort in that,” he says.
Ide says he deals with anxiety and the passage helps keep him in check, as does the way he signs his work, .945… (He uses the Instagram handle 9phore5.) The digits are an alphanumeric representation of his last name. The dot before the numbers stands for his wife, and the two dots after represent his daughters.
The three dots are also stamped near a line around the base of the piece. The placement on any pot tells how he graded his relationship with his family the day he made the piece. Most of the time, the marks are right on the line, but if they are lower or below the line, he gave himself a negative score. Above the line is a positive score.
“There’s accountability there. It’s stamped into the clay and never going anywhere,” he says. “That’s how I make it personal.”
“Collectors that know him well know what he’s talking about,” says Eric Botbyl, owner of Companion Gallery in Tennessee, one of the few places that Ide exhibits regularly.
Well, kind of regularly. Ide says he can’t keep up with demand, and Botbyl says he has a list of more than a dozen collectors looking for new work by the Fargo artist.
Ide’s meticulous process means a coffee mug, his most in-demand form, may take him five hours of working the surface to finish. That amount of work prompts him to mark them at about $85.
“I can’t make work fast enough. But I want it to be fun,” he says. “It’s not about the money. By making smaller batches of works, I can keep it enjoyable… I make work for me. If people want it, that’s great.”