contributing editors

Surana Singh-Bischofberger
Assistant Professor of Art History at East Los Angeles College

leeSurana Singh-Bischofberger is Assistant Professor of Art History at East Los Angeles College, where she has been teaching since 2004. She studied Art History and Visual Culture at U.C. Santa Cruz, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, and completed her master’s degree in Theory, Criticism, and History of Art, Design, and Architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Her research interests are in Modern European and Asian visual culture, with emphasis on India, Germany and Switzerland, where traditional imagery is used in constructs of national identity.

Interview with Chris Turk

The following interview with the ceramist Chris Turk is the second in the series of interviews for Artists & Professors, where practicing artists who teach at one of the nine colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District are interviewed. My goal as an interviewer is to ask questions whose answers will paint a picture of the artist and provide insight into the creative process. The reader also has the option of going further, and thanks to the digital format of West, links have been provided that offer instantaneous access to more content.

Chris Turk

portraitChris Turk is an L.A.-based, practicing ceramist who studied art and later ceramics at California State Northridge University. Turk has been teaching at East Los Angeles College since 2001, where he is Professor of Art. He has participated in numerous group and solo shows. In fall 2012, Turk will be in two group shows: Subjective Objectivity at the Ventura College Art Gallery and the Faculty Show at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

Please click on the links below for more information:

And for a view of his selection of works, click here:

On Tuesday, May 15, 2012, in the late afternoon, at a local Monterey Park eatery, I sat down with Chris Turk for this interview. In addition to accommodating this interview, he was so gracious in organizing a raku firing demonstration, which is available for our readers to view at the end of this transcript.

SURANA: What personal experience has had the greatest impact on your artistic production?

CHRIS: The relationships I have with my family and friends would most certainly be paramount to my work. I believe that the single most important aspect of that would be the relationship I have with my mom. Mom always encouraged creativity in the home and it stuck. I would be remiss to not acknowledge the birth of my son, Dylan and most recently the loss of my sister, Rhonda. These recent events have had a massive impact on my work both conceptually and aesthetically.

SURANA: What professional experience has had the greatest impact on your artistic production?

CHRIS: Teaching, without a doubt, has had a great influence on my work. Teaching requires one to truly practice what one preaches. It forces me to slow down and really consider the line of communication that I am trying to establish. It forces me to question myself and to, as I require of my students “justify everything.” It can also hinder the production of one’s work in that “active teaching” can often drain one’s own creative process. It is a delicate balancing act that we perform. If one leans too far to one side the other may be lost.

SURANA: If you would describe your work with no more than five adjectives what would they be?

CHRIS: Exploratory, reflective, emotive, integral, accessible.

SURANA: If you could organize a group exhibition with four other artists and yourself, living or dead, who would they be and why would you want to show your work with them?

CHRIS: Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, Artemisia Gentileschi, Ed Kienholz and Francisco Goya. I would choose these artists because I would have questions for each of them and it would be one hell of an after party.

SURANA: What sort of questions would you want to ask them?

CHRIS: Well, for Kienholz, I would ask: What were you thinking? Do you feel you are a part of this aspect of humanity that you represented, or just an observer?

SURANA: And, for Voulkos and Soldner?

CHRIS: Since they are both ceramists, I would ask them: When you look at contemporary ceramics, with respect to changes and contributions to the discipline that you made in the fifties and sixties, are you pleased or satisfied with your influences, given that you both worked in a more intuitive manner, rather than a more conceptual or theoretical approach as so common today?

For Goya, I would ask: How class conflicted were you? Since you worked for the aristocracy, and yet depicted lower class subjects and detailed the horror of war in a series of prints, where did you stand in regards to all of this?

SURANA: Where in the world would you go or have you gone for inspiration?

CHRIS: Travels to Europe and Asia have both been inspirational for one reason or another. Mostly, however, it is the great disparity in the attitude toward ceramic art that I found in both that was inspiring. Ceramics is very much a part of these cultures, unlike in the U.S., where ceramics are in many cases, secondary to the other arts. So, it was a real breath of fresh air to see these other cultures, which have long traditions of fine ceramics, mind you, have a completely different attitude and appreciation for the art. Japan, Italy and Sicily were especially eye opening.

SURANA: What in LA inspires you?

CHRIS: The food. I jest, sort of. No, it’s the diversity. I love the diversity in L.A. In virtually minutes, one can leave an area that is dominated by one culture and be in another. And in a city this diverse in culture, one is also exposed to a multiplicity of ideas. That is what makes L.A. so great. It’s also what makes the art in L.A. so great.

SURANA: If you could give yourself any bit of advice ten years ago, what would that be?

CHRIS: To always seek balance between teaching, art-making, family, and taking care of yourself. That is really the key to having a successful life in all respects.

SURANA: How might this advice have impacted you as an artist?

CHRIS: I think I would just be more productive with studio practice – which is something that I am trying to focus on now.

SURANA: Besides the visual arts, would you share other art forms that you are interested in?

CHRIS: I love music and food of all types. I seriously contemplated culinary school when I was younger, but I knew that it would only lead to an early grave. Did I say I really like food? Music too, is really important to me also. I need it.

SURANA: Considering the body of your work, what piece has impacted you the most, or would you explain why one in particular is your favorite?

CHRIS: This is a difficult question. I guess, because in some way, they are all like your kids. How can you pick one over the other? I suppose that I am most connected to my most recent work “Holding Back Tears,” 2011-2012. It marks two milestones for me. One, it is the last in a body of work titled “Markers,” that I have had a real pleasure working with. More important, it is the work that I used to deal with the passing of my sister Rhonda. It is commemorative of her life, the massive impact she had on thousands of people, our family and the emptiness her death has left behind.

Afterwards, Chris and Surana returned to East Los Angeles College where Chris had prepared to demonstrate a raku firing.

Click the following video link to hear Chris answer this question and view his demonstration:

(duration of video is approximately five minutes)

Interested in the artists that Chris Turk would have in his group show? See the following links for video, still visuals, and content:

Peter Voulkos: see the following link for Voulkos & Co.

The official website of Paul Soldner:

“Ed Kienholz Five Car Stud 1969-1972, Revisited,” formerly on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, see:

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, see “Goya, Framed by His City Madrid.” New York Times, June 22, 2008. Written by: Andrew Ferren.

Artemisia Gentileschi, link for Judith and Holofernes on display at the Museo di Capodimote in Naples, Italy:

Editor: | West Los Angeles College | 9000 Overland Ave, Culver City CA 90230 |
Production Mngr: Michelle Long-Coffee | Web Design: Clarissa Castellanos