Responsive Clay


Michele Quan’s ceramic objects

Clay is a tactile and very responsive material, it lures you in, yet can be fickle and impossible to rush with potholes at each of its states, from wet to dry, dry to bisque and from bisque to its final fired state. This can both be insanely frustrating or it brings beautiful gifts. I hand build, slip cast and throw on the wheel. I love earthenware, stoneware and porcelain, each for their unique qualities.

I make forms and objects in clay, some of which are skulls & bones, malas, wheels, needles, teeth, shells, jewels, bells, guns and keys. I use these as a canvas on which to paint images, symbols and text.

I was a jeweler for twelve years and to this I credit why I like work to hang and why I make pieces that get assembled together. Non-ceramic materials in my work include hemp rope, cotton tassels, felted wool and wood. I like to imagine the work installed outside in trees, similar to when I designed earrings and I would see them in multiples on the ear.

Words are a huge source of inspiration for me, the written word, quotes, lyrics, stories, poems, and teachings. What I read is a springboard on which images arise and from which decisions are carved. Sometimes, what I see in my mind is complete and what follows is just plain execution. When it’s made, I think,  “Yep, there it is.” Other times changes occur, happy accidents and sudden flashes of inspiration, crossroads of ideas create layer cakes.

The majority of the last firing I did was a collection of bells. In Japan visitors at shrines ring ‘Suzu’ to announce their presence to the resident deity. Ringing them alerts the gods, divinized heroes and spirits, and also helps to acquire positive power and repel evil. For me, they were made in homage to the present through sound and partly inspired by the following quote.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne

Impermanence and interconnection are ideas I keep returning too. ‘Mono No Aware’ is a Japanese term that translates into ‘the pathos of things’, and refers to the awareness of impermanence. I think of it as “the beautiful sadness of things passing.” In that, no thing or being is excluded.

I draw often, but not solely, from writings, teachings and explanations of Buddhism, which has an extensive visual language. I understand the meanings to be universal to all, independent of religious attachments.

I strive to connect the inner world with the outer world without suppressing that sometimes things just don’t reconcile. There is an Allen Ginsberg poem that plays often in my head and is about everything that lives under the surface swept under the rug, our waste, in sewers and out, our forgotten, our ignored.

 A contemporary First Nations artist said to me recently, “Everything we need to know is in the sky.” Sometimes when you look at the sky it can cut right down to the bone. This moment, in the midst of it all, is what I attempt to convey. My hope is that my work serves as both objects of contemplation and as a source of encouragement inspiring reverence. However, a little irreverence and a lot of silliness can go a long way. And don’t forget the rock n’ roll.

Michele Quan is originally from Vancouver, Canada and moved to New York City in 1984 to study graphic design & photography at Parsons School of Design. Twelve years prior to embarking on her current medium of clay, she co-founded the NYC jewelry company Me&Ro. Her mixed media and ceramic work continues a lifelong pursuit to bring visual form to our internal landscape and locate the thread that connects us with the experience of the world we live. To learn more about Michele’s work, please visit