Natan Moss Ceramics is a unique ceramic studio operated on the East Side of Los Angeles by designer and ceramicist Natan Moss. Natan has been working in clay most of his life, learning from his uncle David Cuzick, a successful California studio potter. Natan's philosophy is to make simple, elegant pieces which explore the duality between art and functionality. Though Natan finds inspiration from many places, Japan, Scandinavia and 1960's Italy have been particularly influential. Read on for insights into his method.
Photographs by Marielle Chua
'Many a potter has written parallels to wheel throwing and all different kinds of spiritual enlightenment, which it can be at its best'
On Function And Sculpture
Having learned to work with clay from my uncle in the studio potter tradition of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, I have a tremendous amount of respect for functional ceramics. The idea that the ceramic vessel in a tea ceremony or a plate at a dinner party is merely there to facilitate the lived experience around it is both deeply humbling and conceptually very powerful.
For this reason I’ve maintained 'Natan Moss Home' for functional work as the other half of my studio has moved into larger art furniture and sculpture.
Throwing 100 cups in a row can be a very satisfying if you can get into the right mindset; many a potter has written parallels to wheel throwing and all different kinds of spiritual enlightenment, which it can be at its best. However, if you’re not in the proper mindset it’s easy to feel like a factory worker pumping out widgets. Because I struggle with this at times, being able to balance my work with more sculptural pieces is a personal necessity. As much as I’m interested in the humility of functional ceramics, I’m fascinated by non-functional work as well. In my mind these kinds of objects are meant to stimulate the senses and elevate the energy purely by their presence in a space. It can be a conscious or unconscious feeling that anyone who’s ever walked into an Apple Store versus a Wal-Mart can relate to. When designing this kind of work, I pull inspiration from a variety of places, though mainly in art mediums other than my own.
On Current Work
In true fashion of trying to maintain the balance in my functional and art pieces, I’m doing a lot of functional sculpture. Being able to combine functional and sculptural into side tables or lighting is something I’m finding the most rewarding at the moment.
Texture & Pattern
I have a few different designs that I’m working on with texture and patterns these days. I used to do mainly wax resist, contrasting the raw clay with the glazed parts, that graduated to using under glaze with my 11th dimension series, which I always say is inspired by my interest in String Theory, but I think It’s mostly a super time consuming way to doodle. My newer work is much more three-dimensional. I throw or extrude pieces of clay to add recesses or humps to the vessel, which I use a Sureform tool to finish, trying to always maintain a certain minimal quality as I have a tendency to overwork pieces.
Working With David Cuzick
Growing up I spent very little time in my uncle’s studio. I made an odd paperweight or ashtray with my cousin, but never gave it much thought beyond that. In 1998 I went to the Middle East to be a photojournalist and sometime during my time there of being put into one horrible situation after another, the calmness of working in relative solitude began to appeal to me. I moved back to California and began interning with David full-time. It was hard physical work but eventually I learned how to throw, glaze and fire a kiln. It wasn’t until graduate school that I was really able to appreciate the opportunity I was given by having a relative who was already in the business. There is a lot to learn working with clay; there are so many variables that go into firing earth to 2,400 degrees. By studying under someone who has that much experience you can really streamline the trial and error process. My time spent working with David was like an intensive master course. Though one never fully removes the mystery from the process, starting off that way was a tremendous benefit.
David has a degree in chemistry, so his approach to glazing is quite scientific. Many ceramicists use the glazes their school sets out for them or ones they buy prepared in a jar. In my opinion by not understanding what glazes actually are and how they work, they’re missing out on half the process. When I was first tasked with making glazes I was fascinated by the assortment of materials, Feldspar, Silica, Lithium, Cobalt, Copper Carbonate - raw materials mined all over the earth. This really brought home to me how connected this craft is to the natural world. Using these natural elements, craftspeople have meticulously formulated and reformulated over many generations before they’re written down very specifically on a 3x5 card for me to precisely weigh and mix. David has such a wide range of colors to glaze his pots, which I think is part of the reason his work is so unique.
Another reason his work is so unique is that he never makes the same design twice. When he throws 100 cups he makes each and everyone different, helping to fight the widget-making syndrome. With a loyal clientele built up over many years, he has the luxury of doing exactly what he wants, as a wholesaler I’m required to make most of my functional work to order, but in my more sculptural work I rarely make the same thing twice.
Los Angeles Ceramics Community
Because I‘ve always maintained my own studio, coupled with the fact that I mainly wholesale directly to stores, I’m not as a part of the ceramics community as other local ceramicists. A lot of people begin working at a class or a shared studio and are able to tap into that community. I know a few other local ceramicists and they’ve been a great resource for finding assistants, creative and business collaboration and general friendship. I will say that potters are by and large a very generous and enthusiastic group of people.