THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS VOLUME XXIV NUMBER 2 WINTER 2008
  
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He Found His He(art) at KSC
Inspired by a fiery moment in ceramics class, Grava turned science into art.

Damian Grava '99 is likely to remember his time at Keene State as one spent discovering fire. Grava was taking a ceramics class with Professor Sam Azzaro, who invited him to experience the ceramics firing process using the wood-fired kiln out by the recycling sheds. At that moment, as an armful of wood was fed to " the beast" and Grava saw the fire crackle and rage and rush through the chamber, he realized he wanted art to be more than a pastime.

Grava graduated with a B.S. in geology, but rocks and ceramics aren't separate topics in his life. The sciences helped him to understand, and fully appreciate, naturally occurring sculptures. " My background in geology is a definite benefit, aiding me in the technical aspects of ceramics," he said. " It also provides me with most of my influences for my work, as opposed to cultural influences." Cultural influence wasn't without its place. An art history class with Henry Freedman and an oil painting class with John Roberts reinforced all of the lessons from Azzaro's class. The support of these professors, who would often choose Grava's work for student shows at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery, gave him encouragement to continue creating.

The color palette seen in a sunset or at twilight inspires the firing process Grava uses for his ceramics. He prefers the effects achieved with wood ash and baking soda over paint-like glazes. Pieces are leaned and " tumble stacked" against each other in the kiln, which helps to create surface designs as tactile as they are visual. With pits and splashes across the surface, the finished pieces could be a distant planet or a rocky outcrop rusted yellow from rain and iron.

Just as someone might run their fingers over a rock they find interesting, he wants his pieces to elicit the same instinct to touch. " I'm drawn to ceramics as an art material because it invites tactile interaction with the viewer, thus a more personal and musing experience," Grava explains.

What started as a way to blend his passions led Grava to a residency at Pottery Northwest in Seattle, Washington. His pieces are regularly displayed at the Higo Gallery in Seattle, and he was the featured artist at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection show " Traditions and Transitions – Arts of the Earth."

Last May, he had a show at the Eighth Annual Clay Invitational at the Art Spirit Gallery of Fine Art in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and exhibited for a fourth year at the Glenn Richards Annual Pottery Invitational show " Mingei Tradition in the Northwest" in November. When he isn't preparing for shows or working on his own art, Grava also teaches workshops on soda firing at Tacoma Community College.

Damian Grava, at his kiln in Seattle.