Worlds in motion
Though he spends his days firing clay into immovable shapes, Bar Shacterman thrives on motion. A Ukraine native who immigrated to Israel at age 6, and later toured the world before settling in Northern California, Shacterman’s artistic outlook is a product of the cultures he’s absorbed on his travels. He’s even incorporated motion into his normally static art form by staging live sculpting shows with a band, manipulating clay in response to the music.
This interview started in his crowded indoor workshop in his Fair Oaks studio, and then moved to his outdoor workspace—which contains two kilns, dozens of hand-carved mallets and clay-shaping tools, and an unfinished wall-sized ceramic piece involving Lady Justice and the Ten Commandments. It ended in the front room, supervised by his sculpted mythological deities—all alien limbs, science-fiction mechanics, warrior armor and holy visages.
These sculptures will migrate to Gallery 2110 in July for Shacterman’s exhibition Gods and Planets in Clay.
What do you hope to communicate with your art?
I love to leave the interpretation to the people who are watching. No matter how well I could do the interpretation, I cannot do it as well as you can do it in your own mind. I can tell you something very scary, but I cannot scare you more than you can scare yourself. If I tell you about something beautiful, I cannot do it better than you can do yourself with your imagination.
How much of your sculpture is improvised?
Some of it is planned; especially if you are going large-scale, you cannot change in the middle. But you can plan something very well and then you start doing it, and it doesn’t work. So, it does move, and it takes its own life.
I don’t want to sound too bombastic, but I don’t know how much is you doing it and how much is the art doing through you. I put this on my website and I feel it strongly in my work, [from a] song of Hafiz, you know? “I am a hole in a flute.” You start something and then something comes through you, and then you’re looking at your work in the gallery and thinking, “Wow. I don’t have anything to do with that.”
With ceramics, is there a danger of sculpture exploding in the kilns?
This is mythology. This is because they want to save money, so they fire too fast. If you know how to fire and you’re willing to fire in the right way, it’s fine. You’re not supposed to have air bubbles? Nonsense. You’re not supposed to fire thicker than a half-an-inch or an inch? I have fired things much heavier than that. If you’re firing slow enough, you can go without any problems.
You have moved a lot: Russia, Israel, Europe, India, Japan, New York. Are you still moving?
No. I love Northern California. It’s the best place in the world. It’s very open, in the way that you can do—artistically—whatever you need to do. It’s very free. You can really express yourself. … Besides, I have 10,000 pounds of clay sitting over there. It’s going to be very difficult to put it on a plane.
Do all of your past homes show up in your art?
Yes, of course. I had an art critic look at my work and say I had been influenced by Japan quite a lot. That’s right. If you look [gestures to sculpted figures] you can see a little Japanese in what they wear, especially the armor. It’s like a samurai’s.
You’re Jewish, but spirituality from all over the world is reflected in your art. Does that mirror your personal spiritual evolution?
It’s possible. When you’re a kid and you’re looking around and talking to people, you can see that life doesn’t begin and end with the things that most people try to get: money, power, relationships. And you can see that the people who get these things often aren’t too happy, and they have regrets. So you start asking yourself, “What is life about?” …
And every religion says it has the answer. So you start listening and you see that some of them are more correct. You won’t find where to walk; you really find where not to walk. For you. It’s very individual.
So, yes, I express some of the spiritual stuff I see in my art. I started sculpting planets. And then I sculpted some landscapes for those planets; I call them “clayscapes.” They are like artifacts related to those planets. And then I started doing mythology for those planets—beings. So everything you see here is a piece of that imagination. I don’t know if I am playing God.
Each of us plays God in a way. You have a lot of living organisms in your body that have nothing to do with you, so many bacteria, so many viruses. You are basically a universe. And if you really go in, it’s endless, as endless as if you go out.
So I try to play with those ideas.