For as long as she can remember, Payton Koranek — now a ceramicist, sculptor and teacher — has been surrounded by artists. She was inspired by the clean lines, color and complexities of cartoons as a child, but drawing and other creative disciplines remained mere pleasant pastimes. It was in her exposure to clay and classical sculpture that an artistic identity began to form, as did her functional pottery pieces and eventually anthropological figures.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a purist when it comes to ceramics, but I also wouldn’t call myself a multidisciplinary artist,” Koranek said. “Once I chose clay, I said, ‘This is what I want to know the ins and outs of. This is what I want to stick with.’” With the mastery of a craft comes challenges, setbacks and “doubts that keep the progression,” as Koranek says. What might be viewed as obstacles, the artist uses to continuously propel herself forward in her craft. So much so that she went on to complete an MFA at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, became an adjunct professor with a passion for teaching the art of clay and is currently completing a residency in Rome.
It all started with a pottery wheel and a piece of clay. This, combined with her love for classical sculpture, eventually morphed into sculpting on the wheel and using the Roman influence to form facial features.
With many current works conveying modern themes through abstract symbols, Koranek prefers to draw inspiration from the past — specifically, clay sculpture from the Renaissance and Baroque periods — to inform the present. The classical influence is inescapable, but her pastel colors breathe life into each face, creating a stark contrast to the pale tones of classical sculpture.
However, the past always leaves its mark on the present, as is reflected in her use of traditional materials such as clay and terra sigillata; as well as using the female figure, specifically the face, to convey distinct facets of humanity, regardless of the time period.
By using what Koranek describes as “the power of the multiple,” her work references how we are always surrounded by symbols of everyday life, whatever they may be. These symbols, in conjunction with female faces sculpted from nothing, are in more ways than one a summation of the solitary human experience, in which everyone is different, though often with a thread connecting us together.
“As much as my art is a progression of myself, it’s a separate thing for the viewer, who sees the pieces independently, not knowing who I am as an artist,” Koranek said of the viewer experience. Art is a message. Art exists as self-extension and societal connection. The moment the viewer beholds a piece of art, that experience is their own, drawing from it what they will. The art must stand alone and convey its own message, and regardless of how her pieces are received by the viewer, the molding of clay into something significant is, as Koranek puts it, “fulfilling and gives [us] something in this really complicated life.”