We continue our BIPOC Artist Series with Ricky Kwong, San Francisco artist and owner of Bowl Cut Ceramics. Ricky teamed up with us in 2020 when we were searching for ceramists to make some exclusive to us mugs and planters in our colorway. We fell in love with the craftsmanship of his work, and the abundance of personality his pieces have! Some will describe Bowl Cut Ceramics as whimsical, playful, quirky and cute. But there's also a wacky quality to his designs that we find equally as intriguing.
Perhaps this is only expected from someone who has curated an Instagram story called Weird Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, Ricky shares on the Bowl Cut Ceramics IG account weird things he owns; a stained-glass style portrait of Oprah, hot dog finger gloves (seen above), and recently a chia head of Sophia from the Golden Girls. His full embrace of the strange, mixed with his modern aesthetic, makes Bowl Cut Ceramic absolutely one of a kind.
We asked Ricky some questions about his serendipitous start as a ceramist, his use of pop culture as a means to connection, the challenge of making tangible art, and what a Bowl Cut future will look like.
You left the frenzy of a "digital fast life" to pursue your own business with Bowl Cut Ceramics. What did that journey look like for you?
Bowl Cut started out as a small experiment of what a brand could look like if I could do and create whatever I wanted with my own hands. I’ve had quite a long career in design and e-commerce in a big corporate environment and felt like a tiny cog in a giant machine. I decided to take a break from that world to recharge and gift myself the luxury of time to do nothing. During this downtime, I took a lot of walks around the city and serendipitously happened to walk past a pottery studio and signed up for a class on a whim. I had no prior experience or desire to work with clay- I just wanted to try something new for fun. Eventually, pieces were piling up in my apartment. I decided to photograph my creations, and put them online. I took all my learnings from my previous career and played with creating a brand and web shop, once again, for fun. Fast forward a few years later and I’m still at it!
Creating my own brand and business is completely different from working for a well established company - there are zero guidelines and expectations, which is scary but fun. I love having the freedom and control to do whatever I want with Bowl Cut. But what I love even more is not having to do anything I don’t want to do.
Who are some ceramists or artists that have influenced you?
I try not to follow other ceramic artists too closely for fear of being overly influenced by their amazing work. I take a lot of inspiration from interior design and fashion - especially in terms of colors, graphics, and patterns.
My favorite visual artist is Mark Ryden. His work is a perfect marriage of creepy and cute, with a hint of nostalgia. His figures have giant doe eyes that look sweet and innocent yet exude a sense of malevolence. It’s that sense of juxtaposition that fascinated me. I also love Yayoi Kusama, whose work is deceptively simple yet instantly recognizable. She’s an embodiment of her own work - always wearing a bright red wig and dressed head to toe in polka dots. I’m fascinated by that level of branding, whether intentional or not. From a contemporary brand standpoint, I admire Dusen Dusen for starting out in fashion and textiles, and expanding that into a really cohesive home goods line. Every season I’m in awe of what new items she introduces.
"I’d love to have a full line of home products and live in a fully decked out Bowl Cut home wearing Bowl Cut clothes eating Bowl Cut cereal out of a Bowl Cut bowl watching Bowl Cut TV. "
Food and pop culture seems to be a big influence in your illustration and ceramic work. What about the two inspires you most to create art?
I was raised by TV, so knowledge of pop culture was my way of feeling connected to the rest of the world. For example, my current obsession is the multidimensional movie “Everything Everywhere At Once.” My brain is filled with hot dogs and googly eyes. This movie personally resonated with me and many others (especially Asian people or children of immigrants) on an emotional and cultural level, but I also love how visually silly it is. So I’m taking those bizarre visual elements of the film and using them as jumping off points for some pieces I’m working on at the moment (stay tuned)! I’m an extremely private and introverted person, so pop culture is a way of indirectly starting the conversation without revealing too much of myself.
In what ways has jumping from 2D art to 3D art been a challenge?
So much can go wrong when working with a tangible, three dimensional medium! Most of my work prior to this has been digital where I can infinitely adjust things and hit undo if I don’t like it. There’s no undo button with clay. There are so many steps in making ceramic pieces, and there is a chance of error in every stage.
The major challenge is reminding myself that the final piece is a physical object that people will touch, hold, and use. How does it feel in my hands? How durable is it? Does it function as intended? These are questions I’ve never had to ask in my previous work.
What advice would you give an aspiring artist wanting to turn their art into a business?
Keep making things! Make a ton of things. The more you create, the more you’ll find your personal style. This will in turn help create a visual signature for your business and set it apart from others. If you’re looking to get into a store, do some research and see if your art makes sense with that store. Oh, and be nice to people - that goes a long way.
What is next for Bowl Cut Ceramics?
I’d like to explore more interesting three dimensional shapes. The past few shop updates I’ve made included mugs with distinctive visual 3D elements, like fried eggs or raised fingers wrapped around the cup. I’ve gotten to a point where I have certain styles of mugs that I always need to have in stock, and this can feel repetitive since I’ve made hundreds of them by now. So as a rule, for every 10 mugs I’m making I have to make something completely new and weird to keep things fresh. And sometimes that one weird thing becomes the new staple.
Much, much further down the line, I want Bowl Cut to be more than ceramics. I’d love to have a full line of home products and live in a fully decked out Bowl Cut home wearing Bowl Cut clothes eating Bowl Cut cereal out of a Bowl Cut bowl watching Bowl Cut TV.
It looks like Ricky has gotten a head start in his brand expansion. Bowl Cut Ceramics has just launched its own apparel line! You can get beanies and tees by visiting his website and you can shop his planters and mugs at our shop. If you enjoyed this BIPOC Meet the Maker blog, sign up for our newsletter and get blog updates delivered straight to your inbox!