Ceramics artist teaches students how to prepare for a successful career

Jimmy Edwards-Turner

Thirty-two-year-old artist Matthias Merkel Hess spoke to Cerritos College’s ceramic students last Tuesday night about the challenges of being a working artist.

He touched on the issues of sustainability of pieces, the problems with financing, merchandising and inevitable creative slumps.

Steven Poiter, 3D design instructor and head of the ceramics program, explains he and the ceramics students decided to seize the opportunity to speak with an artist in their field while his work was on campus.

His three-part presentation displayed some of his works and projects, some of which were in the campus art show, “Neither Swords nor Plowshares.”

Hess has studied art, specifically ceramics, for 10 years and now teaches a ceramics class at California State University Long Beach.

The first part of Hess’ talk was about the ideas he tries to express through his artwork.

“I try to investigate my own narcissism and the narcissism I see within society; people being focused on themselves,” he says.

Hess says this focus on the view of narcissism is reflected in many of his portrait work.

The second section of his talk was focused on his recent work, “The Devils Tower,” a scaled-down, 10-foot tall model of the Wyoming-based, 1,267-foot-tall national monument.

Hess says part of his reason for choosing to display this model was due to the contradictory ideas it would present.

To him, The Devils Tower is a natural landmass that also has marketability as a national monument.

“[Essentially] I took ‘Devils Tower’ on tour. When famous people go on tour, they have all this [merchandise] to sell. So I’m trying to talk about environmental themes, as well as take that commercial route,” he said.

This concept is what introduced the third part of Hess’ presentation.

He brings up the issue of artists having to deal with getting into the commercial aspect of art.

According to Hess, due to the “consumerist society we live in, artists may be forced to work more like conceptual laborers than expressive creators.”

He raised this question with his project “Fine Art 626-394-3963” in Santa Monica last spring.

With this project, Hess gives out his real cell phone number and e-mail address to people and asks them what they would like to see himself and other artists do for them as consumers.

One art product Hess was commissioned for was a line of “Special Friend” pet rocks, using clay to form several unique small stones.

As a  committed artist with much academic experience, Hess tries to address these issues and more with his artwork.

You can visit his website for show dates, photographs and more at www.merkelhess.net.