Born and based in Providence, RI
Meticulously sculpted and psychologically charged, Judd Schiffman’s ceramic wall works intermix life experiences, cultural references, and historical imagery to probe how narratives are shaped. Drawing with clay, Schiffman makes glazed porcelain and stoneware tableaus with lively figures, fauna, and flora—each of which are installed on the wall as respective parts of a whole composition. The artist culls these eclectic motifs from children’s stories, modern art history books, YouTube cartoons, medieval manuscripts, and other sources that he encounters as a husband, father, and professor. The installations address layered themes ranging from myth-making to humanity’s relationship with nature.
The forms remain moveable within the frame that encircles each scene. Schiffman invites rearrangement of these pieces, which shifts the stories that his works tell: “The framed narratives open up a common ground where the viewer can enter into dialogue as a participant among the characters, objects, and landscapes,” as the artist explains. Schiffman’s embrace of ceramics and collaboration bridges earlier art movements: the reclamation of craft in the 1960s and ‘70s by artists who rejected stereotypical notions of pottery and textiles as domestic, feminine, or lowbrow; and the emergence of relational aesthetics in the 1990s as a genre of social art that empowers the viewer to take part in the work. Indeed, Schiffman integrates approaches from across 20th-century art history while meditating on the contemporary human condition.
Schiffman received an MFA in Ceramics from the University of Colorado, Boulder following a BA in Human Development from Prescott College. He serves as Visiting Assistant Professor of Ceramics at Providence College and has lectured at Harvard University and Brown University. The artist was shortlisted for the Hopper Prize (2021) and was awarded an Emerging Artist Grant from the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts and Windgate Charitable Foundation (2017). Schiffman has been the subject of institutional solo exhibitions at the Brown University Joukowsky Institute, Providence, RI (2019); Brown University Hillel Gallery, Providence, RI (2016); and the University of Colorado Art Museum, Boulder, CO (2015). His work is found in collections such as the Alex Somers Collection, Los Angeles, CA; Paul and Estelle Berg Collection, Providence, RI; and The Miriam Hospital, Providence, RI.
Using clay as a drawing material, my ceramic wall sculptures are a psychedelic concoction of lived and imagined experiences that ponder the power of our personal stories. As social and political tensions continue to build in the world, there seems to be little room for compromise as we all become more identified with our own story of how things should be. Through exploring personal narrative, my work seeks to look beyond the story in order to find the space where collaboration can happen. The framed narratives open up a common ground where the viewer can enter into dialogue as a participant among the characters, objects, and landscapes.
The content and process of my studio work is informed by my life with my five year-old daughter, Franny, and wife, Athena. As we navigate children’s stories, YouTube cartoons, songs, and art history books together, we discover and collaborate on images that I then refine and make out of clay. Utilizing the objects and images that Franny gravitates towards, the textiles Athena makes, and other powerful relics, narratives are composed reflecting the inner life of the contemporary family, rites of passage, and grappling with the complexities of being a father. My work explores themes of masculinity, discovery of self, sexuality, and family, and all the nuanced guilt, confusion, and elation that exist in tandem. Along with relics found in my own domestic environment, depictions of animals in museum collections have become the ideal actors in this drama.
Being a father, I am in the midst of one of the most significant transitions of my life, and my work over the past five years expresses the complexity of the patriarchal, nuclear family system I find myself in, as well as the tenderness and energy I receive through my new family. Raising a young child at its best is a collaborative experience, and my work follows suit. Ideas of authorship and the role of the individual artist are challenged as I copy and skew historical images and objects, and then invite my wife and artist friends into my studio to arrange and re-arrange the installation.