By Anya Otterson
Adding on to the big year Kittredge Art Gallery has already had is What Happened Here: Puget Sound Alumni Show. This is yet another event during Kittredge’s 75th anniversary. The exhibition displays the art of past University of Puget Sound studio artists who were particularly outstanding students. All sorts of different media are displayed, from pottery to sculpture to painting. A sculpture made of LED lights and a waterfall of brightly-colored petals that cascade onto the floor are just two of the many eye-catching works.
One of the Puget Sound alum displaying his work at the show is Jonathan Steele. After graduating from Puget Sound in 2014, he went on to get his MFA at Oregon College of Arts and Crafts. Since then, he has become the resident artist at Pleasant Hills Pottery in Oregon, maintaining the studio, teaching pottery classes and making, showing and selling his own work.
Steele is excited to be able to show his work at the place where he got started as a sculptor and potter. His classes here set him up with the foundational skills to be able to craft beautiful, solid works.
“I took a variety of courses and learned little bits and pieces of skills that fit together,” said Steele.
Steele explained how his later work was influenced by the feedback he received at Puget Sound. His professors asked him why he chose to make the figures that he did, and why they were worth being made.
“I left UPS with the feeling of having accomplished something in the sense of graduating and writing a thesis but still had a lot of big questions,” he said.
In graduate school, he focused more on communicating his ideas through his art, building on what he learned at Puget Sound. Now, his work focuses on combining art and science in abstract forms to convey a sense of philosophy, using geometric patterns to make abstract works of art.
Steele added that his work being displayed at the alumni show is different from that which he was making in school. He chose it because it had never been displayed before, making it a fresh, new take on exhibitions for him.
When delivering his work to Kittredge Gallery, Steele reminisced about his first show, which took place there.
“There were so many firsts for me here that are now essential to being able to do what I do,” Steele said.
Reid Ozaki is another Puget Sound alum displaying his work in the show. After graduating in 1973 with a degree in biology, he went on to get his MFA from Puget Sound in 1975. At the time, the graduate program in studio art that accepted nonmajors.
Now based out of the Proctor District in Tacoma, Ozaki teaches ceramics classes at the Tacoma Community College, and makes and shows his own work. He added that he is incredibly appreciative of his wife, whose working has allowed him to have more freedom and grow as an artist.
Ozaki had no idea that art would end up being his path in life. He didn’t take a ceramics class until his junior year of college. When he did take one, he found that he wasn’t good at it either. However, he didn’t give up and steadily got better.
“The material itself seems to be the drawer for me. It’s satisfying to have the object itself,” Ozaki said, explaining what pulled him to ceramics as an art form in the first place.
Japan places quite a bit of value on ceramics, and Ozaki draws inspiration from Japanese tea ceremonies to create his pottery.
“I channel that aesthetic using typical Western materials. I’m not trying to duplicate work being done in Japan,” Ozaki said.
The connections Ozaki made while at Puget Sound proved to be incredibly valuable. Through a professor who knew the wife of a former Japanese prime minister, he was able to take summer classes with her and the professor, and was introduced to several potters in Japan. Ozaki came away from Puget Sound with a solid network of artists.
“I was tickled to be have been invited to participate,” Ozaki said when asked about the alumni show.
Some pieces of his personal collection are on display at Kittredge. They are smaller-scale, functional tableware. The difference in techniques used to make the pieces is a nod to the variety of work that Ozaki does.
Be sure to stop by Kittredge Art Gallery to catch the show, learn more about the featured artists, and see the opportunities available to Puget Sound artists. The show runs until Feb. 18.