Andy Brayman grew up in Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas Lawrence, where he earned his BA in Sociology and BFA in Ceramics. He completed his MFA at Alfred University in 1998. After finishing at Alfred, Brayman worked as a studio assistant for Mathew Metz in Minnesota for nine months and then worked as the Studio Coordinator at Greenwich House Potter in New York City. Currently, Andy lives in Kansas City where he owns and operates his businesses, The Matter Factory.
Could you talk a little about your experiences after completing school?
For a year or two after finishing, my experiences in grad school were much more present in the studio. My frame of reference was working in an academic institution and that’s all I’d really done up to that point. After some time, that frame of reference falls away if you’re not teaching. I really value the place that I’ve positioned myself where I don’t exist in it on a day-to-day level. As a potter I think that can be very beneficial, but there are plenty of exceptions in terms of potters who work from an academic environment and make great work. In many ways the academic institutions support and allow that to happen. After school I wanted to get out of that academic position because I wasn’t really interested in a teaching position. I didn’t have a family or many economic constraints so I just wanted to work. It so happened that Linda Sikora had just been hired at Alfred the year I left and her husband Matthew Metz was still in Minnesota and he needed an assistant to help fire this oil/wood kiln he had. So I jumped at the chance to go there…it was really great ‘cause in many ways Matt is the epitome of the potter with the great work ethic, totally content with this studio life, and living in a rural area. I’d kind of imagined that situation; but I’d never been close to it or ‘in’ it. It was really valuable to go there for a period of time that was defined and for that reason not too scary in terms of a commitment. It might have been really overwhelming if to experience it I’d had to buy land and set up a studio myself…that would’ve scared the hell out of me. I was there for nine months and my role was not so much that of assistant as I was allowed to play the part of the rural potter without having to invest the time and energy in creating that situation. It turned out that that was extremely helpful because I found out that it wasn’t where I really wanted to be. A lot of potter’s set-up in a rural situation sometimes because of ideology, but more often because of economics. After that I applied for a tech job at the university and got it. That allowed me to have access to a studio and I did that for one year and decided to move on. Then I took a job at Greenwich House Pottery in NYC for three and a half years or so as the studio manager. That was great; I got a studio, made work, and got to live in NYC. Then I moved to Providence, RI and took a teaching position for one semester a year at Bennington College in Vermont and I taught there for three years. After that time I decided I wanted to stop teaching, so I moved back to KC and started my two businesses, easy Ceramic Decals and the Matter Factory in 2004.
What, in your opinion are the greatest challenges facing students about to enter the field as professionals?
I would probably say that making choices in terms of career and life style are choices that often become constrained by economic issues. So being able to do what you want to do and making the money to do it is one of the hardest things. A lot of my peers who are emerging or mid career potters, you know, it’s almost always the same kind of thing people talk about, what they’re scared about or complain about is making enough money to pay bills. That’s the hardest thing in terms of day-to-day, if you isolate from the equation “how to make the best work” (which is hard as hell on its own), making a living is tough.
What is the role of your two businesses and how do they function in your professional career?
When I was living in New York I really wasn’t that great at self-promotion, I was very content just making the work, but very rarely were people knocking on my door wanting to see it either. So I made a conscious decision to make that part of the process. The first example of that was being involved with the Artstream Gallery in the early days. It was about finding a way to sell work that was maybe a little more interesting than just packing it up and sending it off to a gallery. Then I found this niche, which was decal printing, it was fairly new technology and I was curious about it for my own work. Very few people knew what it was or had access to into in the United States. So I did some research and was thinking that if I invested in it I could maybe make a business out of it and use the technology for myself. Well, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. The decal company is very democratic in the sense that I will print anything for anyone, little puppy dogs, a memorial plaque, or decals for artists whose work I love and respect. Economically that is what supports my studio and a lot of my other endeavors; the sale of my own work is a component of that too. The Matter factory is really what I’m more interested in. It’s essentially a business that I created as a frame-work for different pursuits of mine as an individual artist or in collaboration with other artists. In some ways it’s like a brand or label, an umbrella organization that projects can fit under. It’s a small unconventional factory with interns from the Art Institute of Kansas City and one other employee. My work is made here and I collaborate with other artists or designers to make small editions of things. It’s a long term project and it’s not yet where I want it to be, but these things sometimes takes longer that I’d like. It has a long ways to go, but right now I’m sort of on the cusp of a few things kicking into higher gear. The infrastructure is ironed out; the nuts and bolts are there. It’s just the kind of stuff you just have to pick away at, you know, the right kind of clay, the right kind of equipment, and the right kind of market. The next level for the Matter Factory is the marketing aspect. Now that the structure is here and I’ve had some collaboration with other artist I’m ready to do something on a larger scale and find a way for the work to get out into the world. Part of that includes more traditional galleries for ceramic art, but in some ways those aren’t the proper venue for work coming out of the factory. The right venue would probably be like a more up-scale ‘design’ store or a ‘home’ store in some of the bigger cities. It’s really a matter of approaching particular stores that I would be proud to have my working and starting some kind of relationship with them. Since I’m working with function on most of the projects my relationship to design is tied through that and a design store would be such a great venue. Studio ceramics as a whole hasn’t really tapped into or pushed enough into that venue. As a field we sell our work to a particular type of place and a particular type of client that already have some interest in the medium or the field, but there’s so much potential for other avenues.
How important is your location in Kansas City to your success as an artist, is location something others need to consider?
Location is super important. Some people will do well wherever they are and will be happy wherever they are, but most people need a particular set of things to feed themselves, artistically, intellectually, and emotionally. For me it was great to move back to KC. It’s a big enough city that there are always new people to meet in the art community and that may not happen in a rural area. Kansas City is also relatively inexpensive which has allowed me to invest into the studio and that wouldn’t have been possible in NYC. It’s a perfect fit for where I am professionally. I like working in the mid-west or what some people might call the ‘hinter-lands’ because so many great things in New York come from the mid-west.
When you exhibit your work, how do you know what venues are right for you?
I’ve found that there’s not a clear path, but one things leads to the next. Maybe it starts with having a piece in a group show and then from that someone sends me an invitation to a different show, but I get to establish a relationship with a place that way. If a gallery asks me for work that I don’t know, I’m a little more wary because I don’t know how professional the outfit may be, like, am I going to get paid, is the work going to be displayed in what I think is appropriate, will it sit there forever? Those are some of the concerns I have, but for the most part, I accept invitations to places that ask. Sometimes I’m involved in actually creating the opportunity like the Artstream gallery. I really prefer the kind of venue where I’m helping to create the venue itself. In the spirit of this I developed what the Design world calls a ‘pop-up’ store, which would be like a high-end fashion label or something that may go to a location and only be open for a month or even just a night. Mine is a little more permanent that that and opens up once a month for the local gallery walk on First Fridays. It’s nice ‘cause there’s no shipping, no bubble-wrap, you’re not splitting your sales with a gallery, and it shortens the gap between my studio and the context of what the works ends up in. It’s the same kind of things that all sorts of potters have done for a while, like the road side stand, or the studio sale. Now there are certain restraints, I mean I can’t run a full-time store, a printing company, a studio, and have a life. I kind of tested the waters by opening up the pop-up stores once a month. The time commitment is just right for my work.
How do you ‘stay connected’ to your peers and the larger community of ceramic artists? Are your contacts limited to the ceramic field?
I’m lucky that the Kansas City Art Institute is here. I have a relationship with them by sometimes being a visiting artist and more importantly I have interns from there. That’s really good in terms of keeping me in contact with younger people in the field. Of course just having friends and peers in the field through relationships made by being in school or residencies certainly provides a lot of that network. A week doesn’t go by where I don’t talk to some old friends or talk to people with technical questions about our material. That’s one of the reasons I think NCECA is so big is that our field requires a lot of technical information that we are tied together out of necessity and it’s the ultimate ice-breaker to start conversation. I mean, how many times do you hear the question, “what cone is that fired to” or some other glaze questions. Sometimes that’s just a way to start a conversation with someone. It’s also important to have friends and contacts outside of ceramics. It’s really such a small, insular field that it’s cool to be able to see work through the eyes of people that maybe don’t know anything about ceramics and see how they respond to it. Our field is so chocked full of little things that are passed down from ‘who knows where’ that have become really dogmatic and it’s great to talk to people that don’t have that reaction. That’s one of my attractions to the Matter Factory, it allows me to collaborate with individuals that aren’t from a clay background and make work with individuals who know a lot of things I don’t and aren’t bogged down by all of the technical knowledge about clay.
What do you feel is the role of the ceramic artist in today’s environment of interdisciplinary arts? And what advice would you offer to young professionals seeking their place in the world?
In my mind there’s a difference between people that are working with ceramics and concerned with utility and function and people that are working with the medium as a material in and of itself. They may not be concerned with utility. I see a bigger gap between those pursuits than maybe some of my peers see and it’s not a hierarchy type thing. My advice to someone making pots that’s concerned with design and functions would be different than what I’d say to someone working conceptually or with installations. They can be such different strategies and our field can be so inclusive because a lot of people working in the conceptual mode have a background in pottery and have made pots. Commonly they have to teach others how to make pots. There’s this kind of umbilical cord and sometimes I think that maybe it needs to be cut. Too often work gets made that references things it really has nothing to do with. There should be free reign to pick and choose mediums and materials that are appropriate to the work and that should be OK. There’s a lot of power in the ability of ceramic artists to push the material and use other materials to make what they want and sometimes that seems relevant, but other times it’s like, “big deal…you’ve got Styrofoam and clay together” like who outside of ceramics thinks that really shocking? That’s one of the mine fields working in that arena people have to be careful of; if you’re going to work outside of the field you need a perspective from outside of the field.