Kottler (March 5, 1930 – January 21, 1989) was an American ceramist, conceptual artist, and professor of ceramics at the University of Washington, credited as a seminal force in redefining the direction of contemporary American ceramic art. Influenced by the Bay Area funk art movement, he is best known for his multiple series of decal plates that rejected traditional studio ceramic practices that emphasized and valued hand-made objects, and focusing instead on mass-produced store-bought plates and commercial decals to create pieces decorated with appropriated images from popular culture to convey Kottler’s political, social, and personal messages. Based on these works, he developed a reputation for using coded images, wordplay, and biting humor which established Kottler's reputation as a satirist and decalomaniac. Originally trained as an optometrist, Kottler graduated from Ohio State University in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences. While working on his undergrad, he took a university ceramics course in 1952 that shifted his focus and returned to Ohio State to study ceramics. Kottler began his career with a traditional crafts orientation; as a student, he had been trained in traditional ceramic techniques and glaze technology. After earning a Master of Arts in Ceramics from Ohio State in 1956, he was offered a scholarship to undertake a Master of Fine Arts at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. It was there that he met and studied under Maija Grotell, a teacher and artist who profoundly influenced his ideas about art and education. With support of a Fulbright grant, he spent time working at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and at the Arabia Ceramic Factory in Finland, studying the creation and application of ceramic decals and working with renowned potter Kyllikki Salmenhaara. He returned to Ohio State, where he received a Ph.D. in Ceramics in 1964 with his dissertation An Exhibition of Pottery in Support of Three Processes in Ceramics, and later moved to Seattle where he joined the University of Washington faculty in 1965
Kottler’s philosophical combination of sacred and profane, utilising commercial pottery with decals as a vehicle for his art, grew in response to the Bay Area funk art movement and shares many of its ceramic-centric ideologies towards humour and a rejection of ‘traditional’ art principles. ‘The Last Supper Ghost’ is a perfect example of the simple and profound alternations Kottler tended to lean towards, the transformation of Jesus at the last supper into a white-sheeted ghost a vaguely childish reduction of the weight and shape of the original iconographic depiction, but with a remaining resonance.
Kottler’s sense of humour and irreverence for established modes of art theory was cultivated by his exposure to California Funk — an artistic movement in 60s-70s that rebelled against nonobjectivity and celebrated crude or unrefined results, with particular regard to ceramics as a sculptural device. “Royal Red Vase” defines its form by the use of a Rubens-Vase effect, the artist mirroring his own inward-facing silhouette to create the illusion of a vase in negative space as a visual gag. It performs its role as a vase, a sculpture, and a self-portrait; whilst adhering to few traditional notions of those formats.