Five-Dots is a Cincinnati-based online publication that hopes to open a conversation between artists/craftsman and the public about their work, process, ideas, concerns about their community and workspace.
Made in Cincinnati vendor and fine artist Megan Bickel helms this project with partner and photographer Cassandra Zetta. They release a new interview with a local creative, artist or maker regularly on their site including — this interview with ceramic artist Jessie Rienerth.
Jessie Rienerth is the ceramicist behind RheinoCeramics, a line of utilitarian ware about human interaction. Many of her designs and surface treatments center around the theme of layers. She likes the idea that everyone has their own stories and experiences that make up who they are. Everyone's lives and experiences make up a different landscape. She uses the trope of landscape to discuss individual story telling and narrative. She utilizes manipulation and force to create delicate vessels for everyday use.
A Cleveland native; she attended University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program, where she received her BFA: focusing mostly on ceramics. She then held a residency at Core Clay, and worked out of their space for several years. She has worked for Medicine Bluff Studios and is currently a mold maker for Rookwood Pottery.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio / space?
Jessie Rienerth: Probably about 3 years.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
JR: Definitely developed organically. The kiln originally belonged [actually to an old professor] and was in this space when I moved in. Originally it was just me and one other girl. Obviously she had some of her stuff; but we just went around and found tables in DAAP’s dumpster, some shelving from Rookwood (when they were tossing them), and some other stuff. I always want new artists that come in to feel comfortable, so when they get here I just tell them, “hey, nothing is set in stone, if you need me to move something. . . just let me know”.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
JR: Um . . . not necessarily Lower Price Hill; I do love it, because it is off the beaten path and it’s a little bit more industrial. Which I personally enjoy. But the building itself influences me, for sure. All of the different people that have been here, and the texture of the building; the paint peeling from the ceiling, and like, the weird neon panels that are over there on the ceiling.
F-D: Is there anything architectural that influences you? Or is it more of the whimsical and quirky elements that you enjoy?
JR: I’d say it’s more of the layers that indicate use and age. For example, there is this weird square of paint that is on the door over there, and it has influenced a lot of my patchwork stuff that I’ve been doing. I use a lot of layers over the same square. . . sort of representing time and the layers of things that have been. Way back in the day this building used to be a baseball glove factory.
F-D: That’s awesome! Do you know how old the building is?
JR: No idea, but if Mark [the landlord] comes around you can ask him. He’s had this space for a really long time and has always rented to artists. He just loves artists and loves having them around.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio / shop?
JR: So I work 7:30- 4 Monday through Friday at Rookwood; but it’s only like five minutes away so I try to come over here everyday after work, and stay until 6:30 or 7. Weekends are usually pretty low key. I try to take Saturday off unless I have a deadline. And then I’ll be here all day Sunday. I try to do a little bit of maintenance: cleaning, sweeping, organizing. . . all of that stuff. And the studio is always in a constant state of moving. Then I focus on orders that I might have, and then I work on my stuff. Because that is really important.
F-D: So, how much of your time do you dedicate to your business, versus your more experimental work?
JR: I mean, whatever is necessary. I’d say it’s probably 70 / 30. Obviously my projects with clients take precedent because other people are involved. But it’s been great because my business model is slowly switching over to a custom commissions based model. Which has been really fun because people approach you because they like your work, so your aesthetic isn’t being compromised.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter, aesthetic, or stylistic preferences?
JR: Layers, I love seeing the layers of things. I also like seeing the hand in whatever is made. I definitely [prefer objects] that evoke and show the steps and processes.
F-D: You made mention that some of the transfer imagery that you have used are referential to Russian prison tattoos. Does tattoo, crime, or Russian crime history influence any of your work?
JR: The tattoos came about because I was done with school, and I was like, "ok, what now?" So I was looking into art therapy because I love people and talking to people and I was particularly interested in working with individuals within the prison system. So I was looking for books on Amazon so that I could start some research and that little pop up that reads “you might also like”, or whatever, came up with the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia. I was like, that’s weird, and of course I bought it. It was really wonderful because these tattoos are a huge part of their identity: it visually shows their political views, the crimes they committed, a gang they belong to. . . I found it interesting that individuals who were [perceived to be a burden to society] were being the most honest about themselves. I just found it to be really great: it’s difficult to get a lot of people to open up about themselves, and here are these guys just being all, “here it is; this is what I am”. I thought that was really awesome.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
JR: Uh. . . Just clay. No, I’m kidding. I also really enjoy watercolors because of the layering capability. Plaster, rubber, silicone. Watercolors are great for sketching.
F-D: So you sketch your designs out first?
JR: Only for my commissioned pieces, otherwise I prefer to feel it out as it comes.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
JR: So, for the line [RheinoCeramics] I try to stick to really simple forms, I try to start with simple cylinders and then go from there. I try to stay true to my aesthetic while watching my time spent on each piece; that's just me trying to be [cost effective]— I want it to be affordable to everyone, so I’ve gotta keep my price point low. Then as far as my process for my work that I make for myself: Sometimes it comes from my line, maybe I like something and I just want to get it going in a weirder direction. But I might be that I’m afraid I don’t want to make 20 of whatever it is. So I’ll take that simple cylinder and then kind of push and mess with the material to achieve new shapes and textures. I also get ideas [at Rookwood Pottery], sometimes things that are happening within the production line will make me think about stuff in a different way. I love pushing the material, it’s my favorite thing.
F-D: What about it? Pushing the material?
JR: I think that failure, for me, is so important. If I’m not learning, then what is the point? I think pushing the material is just a way for me to push myself, and a way for me to think about things in a new way. I don’t have the same resources as I did when I was in school; I don’t have professors and other people around all of the time and so it’s always a question of how I can make myself better.
F-D: Do you ever give yourself assignments? Or do you have any weird little practice that helps get your brain moving?
JR: Yea! So test tiles are great for that. Maybe if I’m stuck, an easy way to test things without investing too much time or money in materials. I’ll say, “let’s test some new glazes and colors”. I’ll run those to see if there is anything that I really like or won’t work together.
F-D: What is your biggest challenge as a business operator whom is also in charge of creating stock?
JR: Separating your ego. People expect a lot. People expect a certain level of professionalism and craft and standard. It would be easy to say, “well these are all hand made and unique”. But, no. I need to have everything be of the same high quality that is expected. It’s a good push, for sure. It’s always hard too, I obviously always want everyone to be happy with the product they are getting. And so I have to push that bit of anxiety on to the back burner. And, you know, it always turns out great: that little thing that you were really worried about or didn’t like, they never even notice it.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all?
JR: Yea, definitely. When I was in school I realized that I was obsessed with like picking and popping things. It stemmed from anxiety and that autonomous reaction to things that you don’t realize your having. When I was in high school I would sit in class and scratch my legs until the bled. I wasn’t trying to achieve that, but that’s what my brain attempted to do to calm something inside of me. A lot of the poking and weird bumps are referential to that. Sort of an acceptance, maybe?
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
JR: Cooking, food, it’s just such a communal activity. I also have some wonderful friends (some of which still work with me at Rookwood) who run FireLab; they build grills for cooking. They put on these events where they cook a whole animal, or a vegetarian meal, or whatever. They have them at farms, or community centers; just wherever. And it always ends up being this wonderful day of watching them cook, and it leads to all of these great conversations about community and great ideas.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make your designs in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
JR: It’s everything. I need a place that’s separate. That way I can come and actually work and not get distracted. The space is organized, just the way it is. We designated a glazing area, and we are focusing our spaces for different intention.
Five-Dots interviews are co-published by Made in Cincinnati in an effort to expand awareness of local artists and their craft. Interviews by Megan Bickel. Photos by Cassandra Zetta.