To me that’s obviously the most important thing. Did I come out the other end with a new idea about something, do I see the world differently by now? If you don’t figure out anything during the making then what are you doing it for? It should be more about the labor of your mental, spiritual, physical states.

When you sit down with your pieces, are you trying to work through something?
It depends on if I'm making a piece for someone or if I'm making a piece just for the exploration of the material. I just made a series of six tea bowls for a person I know quite well. I decided that I really needed to get inside who that person is, so I made the bowls after observing how they drink tea, how that person’s lip touches the cup, how their hand approaches how their hand wraps around the cup and why it’s comfortable.

When I'm climbing I think okay how does my hand hold this rock. I feel a ceramicist needs to go actually touch the material. Clay is so magical because you’re referencing back to the geological formations that have created that material, the millions of years of erosion, you’re turning the sedimentary material through this metamorphosis, transforming it back to rock. I'm digging a lot of my own clay, I'll go out and find dead kill, chop them down, split each piece of wood then fire the kiln with it. To me the clay and the ceramics- it’s so much about the process. It may even be more interesting to me than the actual forms that come out. 

One of my favorite philosophers, Andre Gidé said trust those that search for truth, doubt those that find it. And I love that, that’s kind of my MO.

Can you talk to me about your thoughts on impermanence?
My mantra is it comes, it goes, it’s gone. I live by that. I've been flooded, which was simultaneous to getting robbed. I was left with the bathing suit I'm currently wearing, t-shirt, my flip phone and my debit card and ID and this little ceramic mollusk I always carry around. The next day I found out that my apartment in Boulder flooded. And then I'm in this clothing store in Berkeley California, and I'm talking to these Tibetan owners and one guy kind of looks at me and knows something is up. And as a Tibetan would be so perceptive, he starts telling me this story about how this farmer is standing on the river bank and is all pissed off because all his cows just got washed down river in a flood and the Buddha comes along and looks at him and says what’s the problem? And the farmer goes all my cows are gone, I've lost everything and the Buddha goes, it must be nice not to have anything anymore. And this guy tells me this right at that point you know, I didn’t tell him what had happened, he just looked in my eyes and knew. 

I love the idea of the breaking, the ephemeral. I love making sculptures that exist in space for a few moments then are gone. A lot of the pieces I've been doing lately are with string. I put string out in a big space with one thread and run it around for hours and make this giant web sculpture of sorts and then at some point I'll walk by with a lighter and burn the connection points. I'm from Pittsburgh and my least favorite material to work with is steel and glass. That material has this machismo to it like, we’re going to last forever. I kind of love the idea that you can have this piece that exists, use it for awhile and then one day it hydroplanes off the counter and breaks and you’re like huh, shoot. 

Impermanence to me, it comes it goes it’s gone. There’s tension in that moment when you know something is going to break. How do you preserve it, how do you hold on to it? I find that tension to be incredible potent. Watching someone hold a thin cup or interact with a structure that is precarious. Seeing that commitment to preservation and to holding on. Studying and practicing buddhism on and off for years now, it’s the backbone— don’t get attached, it’ll be gone tomorrow.

What do you think at this moment, the role of art in the world is?
That’s a nice question. That’s always turning in my head. I think the best art, or the art that I'm trying to make is art that sort of snaps someone out of their daily existence, the daily patterns of how we live and reminds them that hey, you have agency, you have a never ending ability to change or to grow. The greatest reset button for me is a really great piece of art and I just stop and am stuck with it. And I can’t move, I can’t function, I have to deal with it, I have to think about everything differently.

Do you have a relationship with your ego while you’re creating?
I'd say when I'm making and creating and am truly in it, I'm not there, I'm gone. You watch the sun move across your studio and you just happen to see things come into formation. I'll get into my studio early in the morning, have my cup of coffee, thinking about where these pieces have to go today, and then somewhere around nine I start disappearing, I call it losing your head. If the pot needs to be moved to the left and slapped with a brush and ripped open and attached back together it just happens, my hands are moving but my head is not, my head is very still. I'm just breathing.

Was it a process for you to get to a place where you could lose your head?
I got into art from a funny place, I wasn’t a creative kid. No one talked about art. In high school I had a series of bad concussions, I couldn’t focus, I had this weird problem where I thought my voice was across the room, so when I spoke I would be trying to catch it over there. I decided smoking pot was the answer. So one day I was sneaking out to go smoke and Mr. Carlin caught me and he was like why don’t you throw pots? Mr. Carlin really saved my life, he gave me a chance to do something that was really different than anything. I started losing my head. I’d make some bogus excuse that there was a huge art piece I was making and couldn’t come to math. I was skipping class anyway, like I don’t care, fail me, I can’t even catch my voice. But art was… I was just losing my ego, and then my voice started to come back, it was the process of centering the clay, that brought my head back to center.

That was the moment I realized I was onto something. it reduced all my anxiety, it took away all that pressure and pain and the voice in my head that any real artist has there, the doubt, working is usually the way to get through that doubt for me. it’s like okay I'm going to make, I'm going to create, just show up every day. Because if you don’t it doesn’t happen. 

How do you define success?
Recently my dad and I were hiking in Boulder, we were coming up the trail and I told him, look we have 3 more switchbacks and then we’re going to turn around this big rock with a big indentation in it and there will be some lichen on the back of that rock and then we’ll have another 100 feet. And he looks at me and was like how do you know that? I was like well I've spent my time up here, I've observed it. And he was like yeah but you know it so intimately? To me that’s success. 

Getting yourself in relationships and familiarizing yourself with your surroundings and being so present that you know the turns on a trail, and that you know the folds of a hillside. It’s about being tuned into my surroundings and doing things well. 

My last question is what is beauty to you?
Beauty is the present moment. Beauty is seeing life without judgement. Realizing that energy is neither bad nor good, but rather in our intention. I'm thinking a lot about life and death and all the layers in between. It's the edge of the cliff and the space below. It's the giant redwoods of the pacific northwest, and the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Nothing these days can be seen without appreciation. We are a part of it. Seeing life non-dualistically allows me to locate my center. Perceiving without barriers, perceiving with openness, offers me a space necessary for growth and sustaining life. And that's beautiful. Zola told the impressionist to go outside and look at the world. I follow that advice. Go experience it all, because you may be surprised to learn something new.

Ryan Schnirel