Burke Residency 13: Yue Zhou

Written by Emma McFarland


Posted on August 04 2021

EMMA: Hi Yue! It’s such a delight to send along some inquiries about your work, thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit of your history with ceramics?

YUE: Hello, I’m Yue Zhou‭. ‬I started and run my ceramic studio in Portland, Oregon‭.‬ I was a product designer for a few years after graduating from college, it’s a disciplined and calculated process where every design decision was made for targeted market, that aspect of the job left me feeling creatively detached‭. ‬I was introduced to clay at my local art center in early 2017, and immediately I was drawn to the intuitive quality of this medium‭. ‬

Yue Zhou Ceramic Artist

E: You describe your work as “expanding the way that ceramics are perceived” and I’d love to hear you elaborate more on this intervention.

Y: Growing up in China, I was exposed to traditional Chinese ceramic culture, and I never felt the connection to its history and the aesthetics of ancient pottery‭. ‬The stereotype wasn’t broken until I started to work in clay, and began to see all the work contemporary ceramic artists are making‭. ‬So from the beginning of my practice I was curious to explore ways ceramic work can be perceived without presumption or expectation‭.‬When you’re presented with a painting, you simply won’t bring any expectation of what the painting can be‭. ‬And to me, that’s the most thrilling part of experiencing art‭. ‬

E: Clay is such an interesting medium as it undergoes something of a phase change as it begins as wet and fluid, then becomes dry and solid. Could you talk about your investigative approach to the fluidity of clay and the way it communicates texture and form?

Y: It’s fascinating how clay goes through stages of transformation and leaves very little clue about its original state‭. ‬Clay moves like time, it never stops evolving‭. ‬And there’s always a limit to what can be explored in each phase‭. ‬So I like to respond to the state of the clay, and the state of my mind‭. ‬I would throw some basic forms and investigate how they would react to one another‭. ‬The rawness of clay feels to me almost like an invite to just play and not worry about leaving a “mess”‭. ‬


E: I was immediately drawn to your ceramic combs—not only are they so sensorially compelling, but they particularly laid bare for me what you mean when you describe your work as “genreless.” Would you talk a little bit more about what that means for you and how you explore it through the medium of clay?

Y: It goes back to the idea “expanding ways ceramics are perceived”‭.‬I see it as a message to communicate that ceramics can be something we don’t expect it to be‭. ‬When I had the idea of making combs with clay, my practical instinct just rejected it as it would be your shortest lived comb you’d ever have‭. ‬But it also became the reason why it intrigued me to make them, and I hope the fragility of the comb brings some unfamiliar sensation and experience‭. ‬

E: As a follow up, I was struck by one of the captions on your Instagram that said, “We tend to hold back when we see things that’s hard to put into categories.” I love the various tensions you point to here, like those between curiosity and fear or expectation and surprise, for example. It seems that your work invites the viewer to examine these tensions at the level of the body and how it relates to surrounding objects; I’m curious to know how this is connected to how you approach intimacy and tension in your work.

Y: I always think to myself that I’m just a very shy extravert‭. ‬It’s a privilege to connect with people through the work I make, no conversation is needed to bridge the connection, and that’s magic to me‭. ‬It’s a safe and warm feeling to see and touch a familiar object, I’m absolutely the opposite when it comes to food, I would always order the same dish that I know its going to be delicious‭. ‬But that’s because I take food seriously‭:) ‬I love taking risks and explore new ideas when it comes to clay, and I think sometimes the tension comes from this approach‭. ‬

E: When I look at your pieces—particularly your “altered” works and ceramic combs, I find myself thinking about the Bauhaus adage “Form follows function” and wonder if this concept is something you expressly address in your work. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Y: I think I might have unintentionally make the connection to it‭. ‬I try not follow any rules or expectations when I work, and that has became my “rule”‭. ‬“Altered” bowl was an accident , I was just throwing a bowl and ended up almost recycling it, one of my studio mates at the time suggested that I “save” the bowl‭. ‬So I decided to add some absurdity into the form, it would no longer be able to hold liquid to perform its function, so I named it “a bowl in its dream”‭. ‬

E: To end on a more personal note, what other curiosities or pleasures have you been exploring lately when you’re not making art?

Y: It’s hard not to mention my two cats, they’re my joy and bring no inspiration into my work, but I love that about them‭- ‬living their best cat lives with no expectation‭:) ‬Oh I also love standup comedy, I only just started watching it after moving to the States‭. ‬So I have a lot to catch up on‭.‬Comedians are great at creating unexpected materials, and I find that relatable to my own work‭. ‬In fact, a friend once described my work as “funny ceramics” and it’s still my favorite critique about my work‭. ‬

E: Thank you, again, Yue. I’m very much looking forward to exploring your wall hangings at Burke!

Y: Thanks Emma! I really enjoyed the conversation! 



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