American ceramist Justin Novak received a BFA in Communications Design (Illustration) from the Pratt Institute, New York in 1983 and an MFA in 1996 from the State University of New York (SUNY), New Paltz, where he taught from 1997-2000. He has been Assistant Professor of Ceramics at the University of Oregon, Eugene since 2000. He was an invited artist-in-residence at the International Ceramic Center in Skaelskor, Denmark in 2001 and at the Watershed Center, Newcastle, Maine in 2003. He has also been visiting guest artist at several institutions including the Parsons School of Design (2002), The Ohio State University (2003) and the Rhode Island School of Design (2003). Novak has won several awards and grants, among them an Oregon Arts Commission Visual Arts Fellowship in 2001 and a John Michael Kohler Arts Center residency award in 2004. HIs raku-fired expressive figurative sculpture navigates a fine line the between the tasteful and the grotesque, while subverting the historical genre of the figurine, e.g. with his ‘disfigurine’ series, in which physical wounds such as bruises and lacerations serve as metaphors for injury to self-esteem and other psychological harm.
Ceramic’s residual historical value is set on a very traditional, conservative and westernised model, and Novak’s sculpture is a vehicle to unpick and destabilise its austere solidity. ‘Disfigurine’ evokes classical female figurative representation with its use of a simple white porcelain and ornamental plinth, but depicts a darker act of self-harm as scissors are brandished to precisely incise a deep cut into the models wrist. Novak seeks to make a political statement on artistic beauty and order often meeting precisely at a point of deep unrest, and at greater overall cost to social responsibility.
Novak’s “disfigurines” reposition the historical context that ceramic classically retains — investing in a traditional western, bourgeois perspective and then subverting it to introduce a fresh and often haunting model. ‘True Love’ finds sentimentality at a difficult axis, the central form stripped of any notion of decoration or presentation for a simple, rough block of clay — the peeking rodent implying a gutter or trench cutting through. Two figures, male and female, stand split by the gulf; separated but in tune.