Ceramic works by Bill Geisinger are a poignant reminder of our love for simplicity, natural materials, and the personal connections that are all too often overlooked in this instant technology-driven world.
Bill’s works are made using local clay that he dug up himself and fired using eucalyptus wood in his beautiful off-the-beaten track studio and kiln in Sabastopol, California. The fallen ash on the earthy surface of the clay creates exquisite natural landscapes that are surprising and mysteriously captivating.
Over 40 years ago when Bill was an aspiring painter and art student, he visited San Jose State University’s ceramics studio and became enthralled by the tactility of clay and its unique ability to connect with our lives. He went on to study under Professor James Lovera and Harry Nakamoto, who was his teaching assistant at that time. One day in class, Harry showed a film called “The Potters of Japan” by Richard and Marj Peeler. The sound and images reminded Bill of his days growing up in Japan in the early 1960s. “Maybe this was the beginning when I became a potter” Bill muses.
So began Bill’s life-long love affair with clay that continues to the present day. Bill was hired to establish the clay department at De Anza College, which also played a big role in shaping his growth as an artist as he points out that “there was continual interaction to learn and grow from the many visiting artists and the students themselves.”
As an addition to his learning, Bill also regularly takes groups of people who are deeply interested in Japanese ceramics over to Japan to visit with local potters. In the past few years, I have traveled with the group as its interpreter and on each trip, we visit over 15 potters in various regions.
Bill must have visited over a hundred Japanese potters by now, and I am amazed at how his love of the material and process continues to keep him curious and intensely interested in what others do. He says that he is most fascinated by how they work, generate ideas, and motivate themselves.
Bill aims to create work that is quiet, simple, useful, and that has a meaningful connection to nature. To me, it is notable that a potter like Bill who has seen so many alternative processes and techniques tested by others wants to create ‘simple’ work using traditional methods.
In a world where 3D printers can create complex and fascinating ceramic forms from your imagination, and kilns can be controlled to exacting temperatures with a computer, what is the significance of digging up clay and chopping wood to fire for 4 days in a self-built kiln? Simplicity is a concept that is seemingly easy to understand but remarkably difficult to practice these days.
Perhaps the significance lies in the fact that any vessel can hold water, but a quiet vessel made using natural materials and with attention to the process provides us with space and allows us to dream. Like the time when I looked at Bill’s vase and imagined how the ashes flew around in the hot kiln. Or another time when I felt inspired to put a flower bud in the vase and self-reflect, or invited friends and prepared some tea. Because even in this age where the Internet is always within reach, our most important connection to beauty is personal and emotional.