Conversations with an Artist: Dana Chieco

We love how the colors of the sea, from the various locals across the world that Dana has lived and traveled, inspire Dana Chieco's ceramic forms and glazes. While sublime individually, these ceramic vases and sculptural vessels play so well together, in groups they are dramatic! For maximum effect, think, a line of them down your dining table or grouped on an entry way pedestal. We are always excited when Dana leaves for far-flung places and returns with additions to our collection of her work. View Dana Chieco Ceramics here.

8 Questions
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
Although I did not become a professional artist until later in life, my earliest memories include moments of serenity, joy, play, and sustenance derived from creative expression. Whether with crayons, Play-Doh, magic markers, or paint, I loved expressing my inner world through color, textures and form.

Later in high school, I excelled in drawing classes and contemplated going to art school, but like so many, deemed it impractical. This path not taken stayed with me for decades, and I finally pursued my dream in 2020, when I moved to Bath, England, and attended a mixed media art school. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, I spent much of my time painting in my flat and exploring hundreds of miles of walking trails in the idyllic countryside among ancient trees and rolling hills.

Amidst this beauty and stillness, I reconnected with my essence and remembered how art and nature deeply nourish my soul. 

Dana Chieco Wheel Thrown Ceramic Vases Los Angeles

What themes do you pursue in your ceramics collections?
Having spent almost 20 years working in office settings where productivity, competition, and hustle culture were taken to stifling extremes, I find myself drawn to the creation of organic vessels that are self-contained, serene, and beautiful to behold exactly as they are, without having to serve a utilitarian function.

I aspire for the curves, textures and colors of a collection to feel harmonious and cohesive, as if the pieces belong together and speak the same language, yet also convey this imprint individually.

I pay attention to how my work feels to be held and often consider the symbology of vessels as it relates to the practice of unconditional love– of receiving and being received, holding and being truly beheld.

I am also deeply inspired by nature and its majestic and unrivaled beauty teeming with life. I love when a collection resembles a forest or a collection of seashells, the glaze ripples in waves, or the clay speaks of geological formations, constellations and galaxies.

Tell us about what influences the direction for your craft.
Clay is wondrous in its infinite potential for creative expression as well as the ease with which I find myself in a flow state. I love the freedom of creating spontaneously without expectations. It is as if I am voyaging out to sea on a grand adventure with an unknown destination, each time I sit with a mound of clay between my hands.

I am simultaneously drawn to pushing beyond the edges of my abilities because it allows me to better understand and appreciate the materiality of clay, and more deeply immerse myself in the making process. This could involve going narrower, wider, taller, larger, trying new types of clay, playing with unexpected proportions, or combining multiple thrown parts by hand. What unfolds often depends on how the clay responds to me, and as if in a dance, the form emerges. 

How has your work developed over time?
My journey with clay has been unexpected on so many levels. I am still guided by the same impulse for creative expression, catharsis, artistic and spiritual growth, freedom of being, and moments of joy, but the outcomes have evolved in unpredictable ways.

I had no idea I would enjoy making bottleneck vessels as much as I do, or that I would more recently become interested in making open-mouth vases, or I would embark on combining and hand-carving multiple parts. I can see how each phase of learning serves as a building block or gateway to new forms.

It is never easy trying something new – and feeling like a beginner over and over again – but I try to honor what arises and allow its expression. The moments of serendipity are exciting, as is knowing that there is no end to the ways in which my work will deepen, develop and blossom over time.

Dana Chieco Ceramics Vases and Vessels Los Angeles

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Clay! ;)

I am a member of a community studio in Los Angeles, “The Pottery Studio,” and love the huge open garage doors, fresh air and sunshine. It’s a beautiful and inspiring space.

Do you collect anything?
I am an avid traveler and on my journeys, I love to buy ceramics and jewelry handmade by local artists. These items hold vivid memories of beautiful places and moments in time. My little collection of pottery was actually a clue that perhaps I would enjoy making it. 

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
I recently learned about artist Sherrill Roland. His haunting, brilliant, poignant and courageous work deeply inspired and moved me to tears.

From the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery website: “Sherrill Roland’s interdisciplinary practice deals with concepts of innocence, identity, and community; reimagining their social and political implications in the context of the American criminal justice system. For more than three years, Roland's right to self-determination was lost to a wrongful incarceration. After spending ten months in prison for a crime he was later exonerated for, he returned to his artistic practice, which he now uses as a vehicle for self-reflection and an outlet for emotional release. Converting the haunting nuances of his experiences into drawings, sculptures, multimedia objects, performances, and participatory activities, Roland shares his story and creates space for others to do the same, illuminating the invisible costs, damages, and burdens of incarceration."

What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
“Creating art is for you, dearest. It is not to prove anything to anyone else or even yourself, but rather, to soothe your heart, nourish your soul, alchemize emotions, and contribute your unique expression to this world. Find the media and modalities that connect you to the wondrous and infinite world of all that is within. As with any relationship, there will be ups and downs. Keep making, even when it’s terribly hard, when you question your abilities or the larger purpose in creating, and certainly, when you feel stuck. You won’t be able to ascertain the path ahead but for one step at a time. Your joy in making is enough.”

Bonus Question:
What role does music play for you while you work?
Music is indispensable for me when throwing at the wheel. It seems to occupy and settle my mind, allowing me to drop deeper into my heart and a meditative state, especially when I’m listening to songs that I love (which tend to be ‘80s and ‘90s favorites). There is nothing more perfect than when the beat of the music aligns with the rhythm of the wheel, and the clay moves effortlessly between my fingers, as if riding a wave. 

In her pottery Dana aims to convey the beauty, presence and uniqueness of objects made by hand, while making your dearest spaces feel even more like home. The collection at Poet and/the Bench is inspired by the colors of the sea. 

View Dana Chieco Ceramics here.

~ Bonnie & Jeffrey