by Thalia Stopa | Coral Patola’s ceramics are more than just vessels for eating and drinking, they are also conduits for reminiscing and daydreaming. Each of the born-and-bred Vancouverite’s creations are imbued with the artist’s nostalgic, nomadic sensibilities and her love of the Pacific Northwest. The whimsical illustrations characterize the innate beauty of everyday mundanities she believes we often take for granted. And, as a nod to her passion for climbing, the handles are inspired by a piece of protective gear, called a piton, that was traditionally hammered into the rock face to prevent falling. We pinned down the rambling woman prior to her participation in Got Craft? to discuss her line of ceramics, Piton Pottery, and extraterrestrial souvenirs, among other not-so-mundane things…
Where do you live and what makes it home? I live in East Van and work in Kitsilano. I feel like I have two homes in that sense. I love the vibrant eccentricity of East Van and in Kitsilano I love the huge trees and proximity to the beaches.
What about your surrounding inspires you? I’ve always been inspired by the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. There’s this beautiful tranquility where the mountains meet the sea. It captures all the seasons perfectly, whether it’s a snowy winter, rainy grey fall or when the trees start budding again and the air becomes warm — it always carries this feeling of nostalgia.
Tell me about your day (today) in ten words or less. Inspiration, excitement, stress, and chores. There’s this romanticized idea that being an artist and creating is really beautiful but that’s only a very small portion of what I do daily. Actually making something takes a lot of preparation and has many steps in-between the processes to have a functioning studio.
What does a typical day (if there is such a thing) in the studio smell, taste and look like? I arrive at the studio in the morning, make myself some tea and head to my work area. I take time to sit and think before doing anything, usually making lists or sketching. I do this as prep the night before too but redoing it helps me focus on the goals for the day. It also gets me excited to get my hands dirty and dive into what needs to get done. Once I’ve focused my mind on what I want to do I put on my overalls and get working. Actually working in the studio ranges from many different tasks; I could be throwing on the wheel or mixing glazes or reclaiming clay. When I’m working on a batch of work it depends on where I’m at in the process. Because working with clay is very time-based, you rely on where the material is in the drying process. In the studio it is always dark and cold when I arrive but once I start moving the space heats up quickly; there’s this rustic quality to it that I love. The space is quite old and everything creaks; it has its quirks, just like an old house.
What is your studio uniform? I’m always in my overalls, and maybe a hoodie or plaid shirt when it’s cold in there. I love my overalls – they make me feel like a kid again but also make me ready for business.
Mountains or ocean? Since I live in Vancouver I don’t have to choose, which is great because I usually flip flop on which I like more. I think I would rather live in the mountains but I would need to visit the beach or some large body of water often. That’s just how I feel today though, I’ll probably change my mind by tomorrow.
What is the weirdest source of inspiration that you have encountered? I feel I am constantly finding inspiration in my surroundings. It’s not particularly strange but whenever I see another artist working or doing something they’re excited about it fuels me to get excited and work on whatever I’m doing too. I read haikus and listen to spoken word and it always makes me amped up and feel passionate. It’s not necessarily about pottery but working when you’re feeling a general passion about life is what makes me very productive. Also just cranking some Black Sabbath totally puts me in the zone to work.
You’ve got quite a few piercings and tattoos. If you had to design your next tattoo, what would it be? I’ve always got lots of ideas for my next piece and I’m never really sure which one will come first but I never design them. I’ll look for an artist whose work and style I love and give them an idea to run with. Tattoos are a way of collecting other people’s artwork for me.
If you could only use one colour of glaze for the rest of your life, what would it be? It’s so hard to decide on glaze, it is so much more than just colour. Glaze is texture, feeling, and atmosphere, colour is just a part of what glaze can do. In my personal practice I use whites and clears a lot because I feel that they can really show off the clay body and my illustrations well. But I love dark temmoku glazes which give off warm brown tones with reds and golds.
What material have you not used but would love to? I would love to incorporate wood pieces in my work. Adding wooden handles or creating spaces that have this feeling of raw materiality to them would be incredible. I’m not much of a perfectionist though and when it comes to wood working I feel precision is key, clay is very forgiving for the most part. You are able to add and subtract material from a clay piece easily before it’s fired.
Tell me your favourite meal – food and beverage – and what their ideal dishware would look like. A gin martini is my favourite drink. I make them at home and use some hefty whisky tumblers I made in one of my first years doing pottery. I think it’s time I rework some of my old designs and refine them. I would love to make some ideal drinking tumblers. Like stemless wine glasses they would be short and stout but more of an angular hourglass shape. I’m also a big fan of cheese. So maybe a more organic-shaped cheese platter to contrast the sharp angles of the tumblers.
If you weren’t working with ceramics, what would be your choice material? If I wasn’t working in ceramics I would probably go back to straight-up illustration. Or if I could choose to learn a totally new craft I would try glass blowing or wood turning on the lathe.
Aliens have invaded earth and they want to take home one of your pieces as a Vancouver souvenir. What would you give them? I would like to think they would take some of my vases that have human genitals sculpted on them or drawn on them. It would be a reminder to them of the differences between our species.
Tell me about a memorable souvenir you’ve acquired. I’d say I’m a fairly sentimental person so most of the souvenirs I’ve acquired are photos or cards or shells, pinecones and rocks. For me these little things have stories but if I ever forget what they symbolize I can just get rid of them without being sad. I do have a beautiful collection of ceramics from various artists that I’ve bought while travelling and the great thing is that I can use most of the objects daily. I recently went to NCECA in Portland, Oregon which was a large ceramics convention – or, as I like to call it ‘ceramic-con’ – and I bought a beautiful flask by Debra Oliva.
You’ve been commissioned to create the table setting for a dinner party of four or five (excluding yourself). Who – living, deceased and/or fictional – would be in attendance? Jeong Kwan, Marina Abramovic, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, and Rebecca Solnit. I’ve been asked similar questions in my day to day life and never been able to come up with a group of people for these fantasy situations. This time I think I’ve really nailed it for myself; these people have really inspired me throughout my art practice and influenced my thought process.
It’s the not-so-distant future and we’ve changed the way we consume food and drink. What are you making/doing? Before I started doing pottery I worked in ceramic sculpture. I think if we no longer had to eat off dishes I would go back to making sculptural forms. Even during my pottery practice I like to work sculpturally and make forms for an avenue of my conceptual and critical thought. Having both a utilitarian practice like pottery and a more free form sculptural practice rounds out my needs as an artist. This also keeps the inspiration flowing as each practice influences each other.
It’s the not-so-distant future and clay is a depleting resource! What is your choice material? If clay is becoming a depleting resource I can only assume most natural materials are becoming rare. So possibly working digitally, making light sculptures and using projections to create allusions of space and form.
If you could be buried with one piece of pottery, to take with you into the afterlife (a la the ancient Egyptians), what would it be? I would love to be cremated and then buried in a handmade urn. Maybe I’ll make my own. It would be unfired so everything could deteriorate and go back to the Earth in the end.