Keith Schneider grew up in the mid-century surf and skate culture of Southern California. In the late 1970s and through the 1980s he studied art in San Diego, Arcata and Santa Barbara, and was drawn to the Californian Funk Art movement. This appealed to his aesthetic and sensibilities more than the Abstract Expressionism or Minimalist art movements that had dominated the attention of cultural theorist for three decades. Funk Art’s irreverent humor and play with puns engaged his interest, and he cites sculptors Robert Arneson and Richard Shaw, and the painter Roy De Forest as sources of inspiration. It presented a more informal ceramic practice, and championed ceramic sculpture. Funk art gave artists permission to be mischievous, petulant or even silly.
This sense of mischief may be the reason that he is also attracted to trompe l'oeil - a French term that translates as "fool the eye." His figures are created as transmogrified vessel-based forms in ceramic made to look like fabric and wood. Sometimes they are provided with vessels of their own such as a boat or wagon. His whimsical animal characters resemble cobbled together toys, worn, torn and repaired, loved and lost. Standing resilient, despite their threadbare appearance, they solicit our sympathy and affection. Keith tells of how, “often, as I am working, these pieces take on a life of their own and it is interesting to me that some of my characters seem worried and perplexed, some quizzical and amused, some mischievous and playful. As I live with these characters, I believe that they speak to me about myself.”
Keith explains that he is interested in objects that wear their history or appear to do so. "To me, this implied history sometimes helps to create something for the viewer take away. With clay, I try to create a sense of age comparable to that of actual objects I am attracted to. The life story that each object could tell remains a mystery, but the hint of its past adds another layer of richness." Texture is an integral part of his work. He tells how, “The malleability and consistency of clay allows for endless options for tactile surfaces, and in my case, permits me to recreate in my pieces textures and finishes found in the real world.” Often the textures are drawn from his collection of fabrics and textural molds taken from found objects.
Theses collected found objects and studio ephemera are then used in a separate but connected body of work. Sticks, spent paint brushes and scraps of fabric come together to form birds and strange dog forms. Another great influence on Keith’s work is the naive nature of outsider and folk art using nonconventional materials to craft a unique vision. These strange, sculpted apparitions relate directly to their ceramic cousins, linked through materials and process like a genetic marker. The artist applies the same exacting detail to surface on these objects as he does to the ceramic sculptures. Indeed, you would be forgiven for mistaking a mixed media piece for one of his ceramic works, completing a circular joke, as his ceramic works mimic the mixed media materials.
Keith Schneider is a ceramic artist and Art Professor living in Arcata, CA. He received his MFA degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1985 and has been teaching ceramics and drawing at Humboldt State University since 1988. As a professor in the ceramics program at Humboldt State University for more than 20 years, Keith Schneider has introduced multiple generations of students to ceramic techniques. Keith’s ceramic figures are exhibited throughout the United States, he has won numerous awards, and has been featured in a variety of publications including Ceramics Monthly magazine. Ceramic Techniques Keith Schneider combines a number of techniques to build his ceramic sculptures. He will begin by throwing the main elements such as the body form, wheels, hats and other circular objects. Other elements are press molded from casts of his collection of buttons and found objects. Less symmetrical elements of the form, legs, carts, musical instruments, are made using the coil or slab-building methods. Once leather-hard the main elements are constructed together using slip to create the figure's general armature. Thin slabs of clay are rolled onto textured fabrics, or textured plaster molds. These are carefully attached to the armature with slip, taking care keep their fluidity and natural-looking folds and wrinkles. Once the textured slabs are attached to the armature other elements that contribute to the character and personality of the piece are added. Texture is added and the surface worked until all the details needed are in place. The piece is dried the very slowly, partially covered with plastic. This takes time to prevent cracks from forming in the slabs. When the work is completely dry, it gets a cone-03 bisque firing. Watered down underglazes are applied to the surface and buttons painted, and then it is fired at cone 05. A dark underglaze stain is then applied and sponged into, and from the surface to bring out various textures. When the staining is complete, a light yellow or white underglaze is dry brushed over certain areas to add highlights and create contrast. Next, glaze is applied to buttons, hats, and areas that may need luster later. The piece then goes in for a third firing to cone 05. When cooled, luster glaze is applied areas such as zippers, snaps, and buckles for accent, and fired a last time to cone 017.