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Molding multitudes: Potter Chas Frisco on ceramics, soccer and the beauty of changeability

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Chas Frisco is comfortable with unpredictability.

As a potter and a soccer coach (he is in fact both) you have to be – when so much as a flame flickering a little differently, glaze leaking unexpectedly, some salt you added to the sawdust of a pitfire, a pass gone sideways or a goalie having an off night, can alter outcomes completely.

“In ceramics you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen every time,” Frisco said.

The beauty of it? You can always re-fire something. Go back to the wheel, or the table, or the slab and start again. Or accept the slightly different outcome, consider it worthy nonetheless. This is something Frisco learned early on. That and clay, like the steps it goes through to become something, is nothing if not-forgiving.

Chas Frisco Pottery

Ceramic artist Chas Frisco shapes up a coffee pour-over funnel Wednesday afternoon in Milt's Barn at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

“I try to stay away from throwing things in the garbage,” he said. “I don’t know who is going to react to what, if a piece will speak to someone in this way or that way.”

Born and raised in Kansas, Frisco’s first experience with the material was in an 8th grade art class. His parents, though not artists themselves, encouraged their kids – Frisco is the youngest of four – to explore mediums of all kinds. His siblings were all interested in drawing and painting, but Frisco soon realized three-dimensionality was more his calling.

“I thought to myself, ‘I have to figure out how to keep this thing in my life.’” He said. “Initially I wanted to be an architect so it was also a matter of doing that and working in [pottery] at the same time.”

After finishing his bachelor of fine arts at Wichita State, Frisco would go on to get his graduate degree from the same university – this time focusing entirely on ceramics.

He still laughs at his mother’s reaction when he told her he’d be pursuing ceramics fulltime.

“When I told her I wanted to go to school to be a potter, she thought I said pauper.”

He likes to use the term in lieu of sculptor or ceramicist because, he said, it keeps him on his toes.

“It checks my ego,” Frisco said. “Ceramicist sounds like a scientist, sculptor sounds like I’m this big deal. Being a potter, I want to align myself with the idea that potters work hard but are still creative, they are intelligently digging up clay and throwing it.”

Chas Frisco Pottery

Ceramic artist Chas Frisco paints detail onto one of his cloud plates Wednesday afternoon in Milt's Barn at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

Now a 30 year veteran of the medium, Frisco’s work straddles the line between functional and sculptural, ephemeral and physical. Landscapes, dreams and careful detail all interact in the shapes that emerge from the pitfire – which he digs and constructs himself – or the kiln.

His body of work is not confined to mugs and pots but expands far beyond: to bracelets, boxes, clouds, goblets, plates and incense holders, a large face that can double as a pot, landscapes and bulbs and shapes to which he lets the viewer ascribe meaning and function.

OPEN FOR INTERPRETATION

Ambiguity is an old friend. When someone asks Frisco what a certain piece might be for– to drink out of or displayed or to be used as something else – he let’s them decide. Who is he to define function when that would limit the possibilities of so many of his objects?

Frisco points to an elongated oval vessel in his workspace at the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Milts Barn, one of two studio spaces in which he also teaches classes.

“The lines on that container are obscure enough that it can be something, a wave or the bottom of a cloud.” He said. The container, oblong and white, sports a lid, a wavy black lines of paint adorn its base. “It’s ambiguous but I still want to lead you in a way that you can put things together in your mind, so your own details become something.”

Chas Frisco 3

Next, he points to a plate.

“Someone said this looks like sheep, and I was like, ‘Good, but that’s just a square plate with lines.’ And that’s exactly what I want my work to do, for people to take it somewhere else but not require a whole lot of explanation on my part.”

Chas Frisco Pottery

Ceramic artist Chas Frisco paints detail onto one of his cloud plates Wednesday afternoon in Milt's Barn at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

It is seemingly infinite interpretations like these that keep him motivated.

“The fewer barriers I give myself the easier it is to make,” he said.

Pottery isn’t the only thing in Frisco’s wheelhouse. Soccer occupies much of his time too.

"As a side hustle, and until I could become an 'art star' or professor, I turned my soccer playing hobby into a soccer playing career. This decision allowed me to make art in the daytime and coach soccer in the evening," he said.

He has coached all levels, from collegiate teams to kids as young as 5 and 6, almost as long as he’s been throwing pots. The two disciplines compliment each other in his world, active processes whose changeability requires great attention and technical skill. Where some might see the two as opposites, Frisco has always considered them to be harmonious.

“As an artist I am always thinking about the ‘what if’,” he explained. “I try to teach my players the same. I want to make players that will be brilliant, able to get out of a tight spot, whether you’re a goalie or a defender, try something a couple of times, find a way to get out of trouble or a right spot.”

He uses one of his sculptures as an example.

“What if I do this and this certain movement and make a plate, you could use it as that, it could be decorative, it could be something you use every day. It can hold food. So much can happen.”

It’s abstract, sure, but he comes back to it often, always marrying sports and art in his life.

Frisco is currently taking a break from coaching in order to focus on ceramics, attend craft markets and show up in the arts community, teaching and selling his work, but he plans to continue doing both in the future.

"Being involved in my community is important so coaching sport and showing and teaching art affords me this."

To see more of Frisco’s work, visit his Instagram at @chasarts. Frisco will be teaching a wheel throwing and hand building class at the Museum of Northern Arizona on Mondays from 12-12:30 p.m. and 5-7:30 p.m. from January 10 through February 14. Future sessions will also be held beginning February 27 and April 18. Frisco will teach a private hand building class at Coco-op every Tuesday beginning January 11-Feb. 15. For more information or to register for classes email Firsco at chasarts101@gmail.com.

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