Sandy Simon is a studio potter, owner and manager of TRAX Gallery in Berkeley California. She has taught at the Chicago Art Institute, Purdue University, the University of Indiana in Bloomington, the Appalachian Center for Crafts and at more than 100 workshops nationwide and abroad. She is one of the all time best potters in American today.
What advice would you give a young artist?
About what? love? work? life?
Truly, I would say to stay UN comfortable, do what it is that comes along by way of opportunity even if you like where you are and things are going smoothly. Get experiences; as many as you can. Don’t be afraid to move around. Get a cardio workout every day, take a walk in nature, feel gratitude for all that you have (even if you think it is nothing).
What advice would you give to an artist pertaining to the dream of being able to just make, but the reality of having a job that pays the bills?
Just being able to make is not all that much fun. What is important is “getting out of the studio and opening your eyes to new people places and events. Don’t always go to movies: go to the theatre, go to concerts, go to bookstores. It’s how much you feed your system that allows you to draw on the well for the making. Artists who are anti-social or who always stay in the studio are boring and make stuff that is strictly up their ass. Self absorbed art is everywhere. It’s hard to make art. It’s a job. Many dedicated artists were first athletes who had to get up at dawn and work out and then again and again. Making art is a discipline, the shorter your time; the more efficient you become. I will add that it is certainly important to make your work and to make it in a continuum so that you feel the continuity and that you aren’t fragmented in your steps. For me I had to go to the studio FIRST each day or soon the day would be gone and I had paid the bills, cleaned the house, baked bread, shopped, but I hadn’t made work. I still struggled with these priorities today.
Which do you find exerts a stronger influence on your work, success or failure?
Failure can only be a guide when you learn from it. Arrogance gets you no- where. A good artist is always a conscientious learner, a good listener and a quiet observer. Certainly you cannot move forward with your work unless you are a critic. That means never being totally satisfied with what you have done. Andre Simone wrote: “A connoisseur not only knows his job, but delights in it, he recognizes what is the best of its kind.”
What was most difficult for you when you finished school?
I moved from MN to GA and lived and worked in a chicken coup with a dirt floor for 2 yrs. making pots paying a rent of 30.00 a month. The discipline of work was probably the hardest thing. I didn’t have a job. I had to make pots and I had to sell them. I was naive enough to believe I could do it. AND guess what? I did. This experience gave me courage and I did many things after that because I wasn’t acting out of fear, I lived my life out of a “knowing” that I would always survive.
When you decided to open a gallery, were you able to complete your ultimate vision for what you wanted, and how were you able to do that?
The verdict is still out on this question. I decided to open a gallery because we lived in a huge warehouse in Berkeley, owned it, and had the space to do so. I didn’t have to pay rent. If I did, it never could have worked. Pots just don’t generate enough sales or money to pay rent in a retail district. But the gallery idea was to honor potters’ who had devoted their lives to making functional work for everyday use. Very few galleries have done this successfully or with any long-term commitment. Personally, this always bugged me. Now that I see the flip side of the coin, I understand why this is so. And that is, it takes a lot of money to run a gallery. Pots don’t generate it. I believe they can, if the turn over is high, but so far it isn’t. Most of the public would prefer to buy directly from the potter. What a gallery does, is make the work accessible, as well as educate the public as to who is in the field making work. The role of the gallery is much more extensive than I believed when I was coming up. With the internet, the playing field becomes leveled. Buyers can locate potter’s directly and buy from them. They do this. But it is a lot for a potter to keep up with; most would prefer to be in their studios. Customers want to feel recognized by the gallery, appreciated, as they deserve. A personal connection is important. I want people to call me and talk about the potter’s they are interested in. There is vitality in that.
I have had my gallery, TRAX since 1995. If I had to pay rent here in our new space, I couldn’t make it. Many days go by where few people come in and no sales at all. But 16 years is a long time to be in business and business has certainly picked up…but so has the competition. There are a few online only galleries, there is ETSY, there are personal web sites, there is marketing far slicker than I could muster – all of which share the green. What I’d like to see happen is to generate more sales by creating a larger audience of appreciation for pots.
Warren MacKenzie, was my teacher, and he graciously gives me his pots to sell. People are crazy to get them. The ability to be able to have them has brought much attention to TRAX. He used to get mad at galleries that would buy his work and re sell it at a higher price. But now, he realizes that times have changed, expenses are huge, and no one can sell his pots by simply doubling the price. The secondary market, in the case of MacKenzie’s work, has dictated the pricing structure. Previously, people were buying his pots from me and re-selling them the next day on Ebay for much more money. He was really not OK with that, so, he says, this is amount is what I need, sell them for whatever you can. In this way, MacKenzie supports the gallery and the other potter’s whose work I show.
I usually sell most of the work out of the shows I have, but my gallery shows only well known potters. I also try to show work that isn’t commonly seen, but my criteria is that if it doesn’t sell, I have to like it enough to buy it myself. So it is very personal. I have gotten a very dedicated clientele, but it is not big enough to float the boat without constantly trying to get more people loving pots.
I am fresh out of school, only two years, and I am curious about how to approach galleries, and when?
I hate it when someone comes into the gallery, doesn’t look around, doesn’t appreciate what is in it and just says to me, I’d like to show you my work, how do you go about it? I hate that. If you live in the area, go into a gallery often, chitchat, and “appreciate” what is there. Comment on the work or look hard at it. Etc. If you don’t live in the area, check it out online. Find a good fit for your work by what it is that the gallery is showing. TRAX doesn’t show sculpture, so if someone sends me sculpture pictures, I’m not going to respond. For me, I like a short email note and two or three images. If I want to see more, a web site link is good, if you don’t have one, I’d invite more digital images.
So most importantly these questions are only suggestions, I really want to hear what you are most the most interested in.
I am interested in becoming a better person; more spiritual, more in touch with my center. Serenity would be the answer to that. I seek serenity. And I am constantly working on turning more people onto pots and potters, adding that joy to their life. I wish schools would take this approach……appreciation is the key. Not to mention “passion”, passion is essential.