Danny Kaplan Studio

Danny Kaplan on art, family and holidays in Cape Cod

“My mother has always been a driving force, supporting my creative endeavors, however misguided. Her perseverance in all that she takes on has always been tremendously inspiring.” - Danny Kaplan

Born in New York City and raised in Aix-en-Provence, Danny Kaplan grew up steeped in the rich atmosphere of Provence’s colors, textures and flavors. From this grew a love for interiors and textiles and a passion for the traditional pottery of the region. Visits to the local brocante and antique markets showed him first hand that the elevated and the humble can sit beautifully side by side. Kaplan went on to study creative writing, art history and fine art at The New School and Parsons School of Design, New York. It was this, combined with remembrances of the vivid colors and textures of farmers markets visited throughout his youth, that first inspired his work as a prop stylist and later to developing his own collections of table lamps and one-of-a-kind vessels. Explorations into the wheel-thrown and handbuilt methods, and rich, tactile glazes allow Kaplan to create unique, sculptural pieces intended for everyday use. Using traditional techniques to create contemporary ceramics, wood firings in Upstate New York enrich his wares with an unmistakable depth and magic. Now, for Queen’s-based Kaplan, though still inspired by the colors and textures of his childhood, it’s a relentless search for the quintessential blend of beauty and utility that drives his work.

Danny Kaplan at Sculpture Space NYC

Danny Kaplan at Sculpture Space NYC

What was it that drew you to a career in the arts, and ceramics in particular?

I’m very fortunate that my parents noticed my affinity for art and ushered me into classes from an early age. We were also Americans living in France, and as a family we eagerly took in the architecture and history. My elementary school was in Aix-En-Provence, the birthplace of Cézanne, and so I guess you could say I was steeped in it. Although I had an appreciation for the regional ceramics of Provence it wasn’t until much later that I found my way to the material.

Who’s the person that most inspires you?

My mother has always been a driving force, supporting my creative endeavors, however misguided. Her perseverance in all that she takes on has always been tremendously inspiring. I’ve also been very much inspired by those ceramic artists whose work went through a constant evolution. Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) and Hans Coper (1920-1981) are examples of artists whose work with clay transformed throughout their career. I love the collaborative work of husband and wife potters Otto (1908-2007) and Gertrud Natzler (1908-1971) and in a more contemporary context, Magdalena (b. 1929) and Michael Frimkiss (b. 1937). Their work celebrated each of their talents in distinct ways but always remained in perfect harmony.

Where’s the most unforgettable place you’ve travelled?

Antigua Guatemala: the colors and the baroque style homes are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The ruins of colonial churches blend with overgrown tropical nature. The city stands in front of a volcanic complex known as La Horqueta, which makes for a truly cinematic backdrop. I was so taken by the textiles and local markets, where there was every type of mango you could imagine. We travelled there during the Easter Festival, when the streets are traditionally decorated with dyed multi-coloured sawdust in intricately stencilled patterns. These are then trampled during the Palm Sunday procession; quite a sight!

What’s the best souvenir you’ve bought home?

I truly fell in love with the textiles in Istanbul. I took a trip there with my mother a few years ago and have incredible memories of that trip and the time we spent in the markets.

Complex Lamp B by Danny Kaplan

Complex Lamp B by Danny Kaplan

Tell us about a recent “find” ?

A recent find is a book, Ceramics by Philip Rawson, recommended to me by a friend; incredible essays on the symbolism of form as well as sections dedicated to technique. It draws me back constantly.

If you didn’t live in New York, where would you live?

At this point in my life it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else, but sometimes I fantasize about living in Los Angeles. I love the ceramic community out there and the rich history of California ceramics. There’s a small gallery, South Willard, in Chinatown that shows a lot of ceramics, representing artists like Roger Herman. I love the work there. There’s also a stretch of Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood with incredible design shops like, Lawson Fenning, The Window, Galerie Half and Sumner. South Willard, 970 N Broadway ((323) 653-6153; www.southwillard.com); Lawson Fenning, 6824 Melrose Ave ((323) 934-0048; www.lawsonfenning.com); The Window, 6825 Melrose Ave ((323) 939-6909; www.windowthe.com); Sumner, 6915 Melrose Ave ((818) 606-4312; www.sumnershop.com)

Which artist would you collect if you could?

In terms of ceramics: Hans Coper (1920-1981), hands down. I’ve never seen a piece of his that I don’t love. I’m also a giant fan of both Alberto (1901-1966) and Diego Giacometti (1982-1985). I’m very inspired by both their sculptural and functional work.

An object you would never part with?

My Nancy Kwon ceramic lamp. Nancy Kwon was my studio mate at Sculpture Space NYC and recently moved back to California. Her parting gift was her very first table lamp. I love it so much. It’s handbuilt stoneware and even the lampshade is ceramic. The balance of the piece is perfection. Nancy Kwon (www.nancykwon.com)

What was the last thing you bought and loved?

I bought a funny little mid-century wooden bust at a tag sale recently. It’s hand carved and almost seems unfinished. It’s both modern and surrealist.

Complex Lamp A by Danny Kaplan

Complex Lamp A by Danny Kaplan

Something you have your eye on?

I’ve looked into doing a workshop at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. It’s basically Mecca for ceramics. To spend a few weeks just developing new work, away from all distractions here sounds like a dream. Unfortunately it’s not easy to carve out the time but it’s a good goal to have. Anderson Ranch Arts Center, 5263 Owl Creek Road Snowmass Village ((970) 923-3181; www.andersonranch.org)

What’s the best gift you’ve been given?

My dog Tess was the love of my life. She was a birthday gift when I turned 19 and I got 13 incredible years with her. I think about her all the time! She saw me through my twenties a time when I struggled to find my path and my medium.

The site that most inspires you?

Provincetown, Massachusetts. My happy place. I go there every year for two weeks at the end of August. It’s at the very tip of Cape Cod and the most magical place on earth. It’s rich in history and art and has the most incredible sunsets on the bay. I also get to spend time with close friends I only see once a year and feel very connected to. I always leave feeling recharged, inspired and ready to begin all the new projects I conceptualize there.

If you had to limit your shopping to one neighbourhood, in one city, which would you choose?

Not to be cliché but shopping in Paris is second to none, especially Saint-Germain. My mom lives in the 6th near the Bon Marche and the streets in that whole area are full of small shops with the most incredible 20th century design; the likes of which wouldn’t be able to survive in NYC. It’s always such a treat to spend time there. I rarely buy anything but there’s a lot that I covet!

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Recently read the Life of David Hockney: A Novel by Catherine Cusset. Part novel, part biography, a beautifully written account of Hockney’s life.

Ceramic vessels by Danny Kaplan

Ceramic vessels by Danny Kaplan

What’s your biggest indulgence?

Summer eats! I love Connecticut style lobster salad rolls with fries. Mary’s Fishcamp in the West Viillage has one of my favorites, the other is at a roadside shack on Montauk Highway. The signage just reads LUNCH in painted letters, you can’t miss it. The lobster meat is mixed with mayonnaise, lemon and seasoning and piled high on a hot dog bun This epitomizes the beach and endless summer for me. Mary’s Fishcamp ((646) 486-2185; www.marysfishcamp.com)

What would you do if you weren’t working with ceramics?

I might work with wood or metal. I’m very interested in exploring those materials in conjunction with ceramic.

What other occupation could you see yourself doing and why?

I worked for several years as a prop stylist in the ad world. I’d be doing that still if I hadn’t found my way to clay. I very much enjoyed the work and loved the people in the industry, I got to explore different aspects of design and style in impermanent settings and it certainly helped shape my aesthetic and has informed my clay practice.

What’s next?

I’ve got a few things in the works. I’m very excited for a forthcoming collaboration with a lighting company. Looking ahead, we’ve  been developing new concepts with custom-made hardware and exploring new types of sculptural lighting including pendants and sconces, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I would also like to create more large-scale work employing other building techniques. This summer I’ve been developing a coil-built end table. As someone who mostly uses the wheel, coil building has been an exciting new challenge; luckily my assistant is very skilled in that technique. It’s super thrilling to move up in scale but also branch into other aspects of design.

Benjamin Weaver