Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Somerville Ceramicist Arthur Halvorsen Brings Flower Power To The City

The hippies of the 60s evoked flower power in their fight against the "system."  Now in 2021, Arthur Halvorsen conjures up the power again, in the city of Somerville and beyond...

Arthur Halvorsen is a graduate of Maine College of Art where he received his BFA in Ceramics.
Arthur's work uses bright colors, textures and patterns on earthenware, gathering inspiration from pop art, coloring books and tattoos. Arthur is a Somerville Mudflat studio artist, he teaches classes and workshops at Mudflat but also teaches at Lesley University in Cambridge MA and and other venues nationally as a visiting artist. His work has been featured in Ceramics Monthly, Pottery Making Illustrated, Studio Potter, ArtScope Magazine and on WCVB Channel 5; Chronicle. Arthur has been recognized as a 2019 Brother Thomas Fellow recipient for his work in the field of ceramics within the Boston area.
Recently Arthur has been painting murals with spray paint throughout Boston. Keep up to date with Arthur more accurately on Instagram @arthurhalvorsen

How has it been for a creative person living in Somerville?

I have to say that moving to Somerville, as an Artist, brings with it a lot of benefits because of the Somerville Arts Council and all that they have to offer artists that live in Somerville. I couldn’t take advantage of what they have to offer in the past because I didn’t live in Somerville. I didn’t have the residency box checked off. I have lived in South Boston, Dorchester, Braintree, Newton,  and Chelsea, but I had my studio at Mudflat Studios on Broadway here in Somerville-- since we moved to the new building in 2011. I haven’t looked back since. Also I’m now a 10-15min walk to my studio from where I live. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing. I think it’s a little bit of both and I say that because I am an insomniac, so when I don’t or cant sleep, I’m in my studio.

You work as a ceramicist , but your recent project is spray painting flowers on abandoned storefronts in the city. Is this another direction for you, or just an extension of your work? Was this spurred on by the Pandemic?

I see both my work in clay, and my more recent work with spray paint as relating to one another and complimenting each other. The clay came first I have to say, but the imagery I use of flowers translates so well into spray paint. I think that has all to do with the thick black line. That line to me is an incredible vehicle for getting ideas across. I reference kids coloring books, stained glass windows, tattoos and drawings done with Sharpies-- like I did as a kid.

The spray paint did come out of the Pandemic. I work at a hardware store in the South End, and after one of the protests in the city there was rioting and looting. At the same time I had been self- quarantining  away from Mudflat because I am a front line worker, I haven’t caught Covid luckily, thankfully, but back in 2009 I had Swine Flu (I survived the Swine, ‘09!), and I didn’t know if having had that made me more susceptible or whatever to catching Covid, so I stayed away for 13 weeks. That made me so depressed. I’m an artist and I feel as thought I need to work with my hands, I need to do something with my hands, I need to be creative. So the store where I work was hit by looters and we had plywood in the windows, we sell spray paint, and that's where I was hit by lightning with an idea… So I think for a second.... I’m depressed, a lot of other people are depressed what can I do to make other people smile? What is something that I could do for the people of city, where we have been through so much. Flowers, flowers are what you give to show someone they’re special, to say “I’m sorry” to send your condolences for a friend or family member that has passed away, etc. Flowers are very powerful, they can sometimes carry a lot of meaning and take on a life of their own, so I didn’t reinvent the wheel. I did what I knew I could do best and just started spray painting my flowers around the city. It was already in my wheelhouse but only on what I call the band-aids. One could say that I am vandalizing the buildings.  But to be honest--  but I am only hitting plywood or rigid foam insulation, the band-aids. I am not and will not “tag” or spray paint a brick wall or something of the like, unless I have permission. At one point throughout the city, I had 48 spray painted murals. I also find it interesting about  which ones do stick around or are kept up-- available to be viewed by the public. I assume after the pandemic that some of these murals will migrate and have a new life. They may be  put in peoples' homes as art, to or they the art on the interiors of restaurants and local businesses. It is is going to be fascinating to me, where they end up.

For your ceramic objects you often take banal things like buses, city buildings, etc... that you infuse with colorful, bright, and provocative images. Do you see the extraordinary in the ordinary?

Short answer: Yes I do. Throughout my life I have a tendency to give inanimate objects personalities. For example I see the traffic cones and construction barriers as the urban wildflower. Imagine looking at a hill, field, meadow, whatever, you are going to see flowers and weeds, and more nature sprinkled in there as well. When I see the traffic cone as doing the same thing. They both signal for your attention and both are about survival, one is to entice a bee to pollinate it, the other is screaming “WATCH OUT!” or “DANGER, DANGER!” They’re both calling attention to themselves for a variety of reasons. I like to draw what I commonly see around me and make it special.

Why did you choose ceramics as your genre?

I graduated from Maine College of Art in 2007. When it was time to declare our majors I was torn between Ceramics and Photography, and in all honesty I didn’t want to be photographing weddings for the rest of my life. I would rather make the cake stand for the wedding. After watching the Reality TV show  Bridezillas, one time in college, we got to see how brides act on their big day. After seeing how they treated the photographer I said to myself: Absolutely not! Honestly that’s how I came to clay. Also clay has a lot of mystery imbedded in it. It’s an art and a science at the same time. You give up a lot of what clay could be by placing things or objects into the kiln. You put your pieces in the kiln and there is magic that happens when it gets glaze- fired and then you open up the kiln again. That could be like Christmas Day or the worst day of your ceramics career-- if everything gets ruined. You have to have gambling in your blood in order to make friends with clay. You get used to disasters and happy accidents happening all the time with clay.

Why should we view your work?

Well why not? Everybody at least likes, not everyone loves but everyone likes flowers.