meet the makers | Jan 13, 2022 |
This Brooklyn–based ceramicist designs with intuition
This Brooklyn–based ceramicist designs with intuition
A Colorblast vase by Ceramic MeltdownCourtesy of Kyle Lee

Chances are you’ve already swooned over Kyle Lee’s colorful ceramic confections. Whether you came across one of his vibrant vases at West Elm or saw some of his bestselling vessels on Instagram, his handmade creations are everywhere these days. “I still make every single piece by hand,” he tells Business of Home.

Born in White Plains, New York, Lee grew up with a father who was an avid photographer and encouraged him to experiment with art from a young age. In college, he dabbled in arts like painting and photography, and spent the first few years of his career shooting album covers for vinyl records in New York. “One day—after a long, stressful day of photo shoots—I decided to take a pottery class at a small studio in Brooklyn that I passed on my way home,” he says. “Although I had never touched clay before, the process made so much sense to me. I was immediately addicted.”

Lee’s innate talent for pottery was so apparent that within a few short years of taking his first ceramics class, he was hired to manage the studio. In his downtime, he started exhibiting his work at galleries across the city and generating buzz in the downtown art scene. “I was eventually asked to teach pottery courses at the art school at the Educational Alliance in Manhattan,” he says. “Which, of course, led to bigger opportunities.”

This Brooklyn–based ceramicist designs with intuition
Brooklyn–based ceramicist Kyle Lee Courtesy of Kyle Lee

In 2018, he co-founded BKLYN Clay, a pottery studio in Brooklyn, and was named their first-ever artist-in-residence. “That’s when my work started to gain momentum,” he explains. “By the time the pandemic hit, I had partnered with West Elm and the Paul Smith design shop and gallery on a line of vases, and I knew it was time to open my own studio.”

Last February, he launched Ceramic Meltdown, where he hand-throws everything from vases and dinnerware to candles. I’m most inspired by the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, especially his linework,” he says. “I also draw from the work of Piet Mondrian, particularly his use of primary colors and simple shapes.”

His first (and most popular) collection, ColorBlast, features bowls, candles, cups and vases clad in a colorful dotted motif. “I use a layered, resist technique on the surface that creates a netlike effect,” he says of the series. “Each vessel is hand-thrown and -painted, and therefore truly one of a kind.”

Lee says his process is an intuitive one, where he instinctively forms vessels from memory, not prototype. “After 20 years of being a ceramic artist, I can throw a piece on the wheel from my mind,” he explains. “I often get so lost in the process that I lose track of time and forget to eat. It’s a mental escape.”

This Brooklyn–based ceramicist designs with intuition
A HandPainted vase by Ceramic MeltdownCourtesy of Ceramic Meltdown

Along with his ColorBlast collection, Ceramic Meltdown’s offerings include the Red Sun Vases, a series of black-and-white vessels bearing a single glossy red stripe à la Mondrian, and his personal favorite, the Basquiat-inspired HandPainted line. “It’s the most painterly of my collections,” Lee says of the latter. “Each piece gets covered in a coat of gesso before I paint it, just like a fine art canvas.”

Looking ahead, Lee—who still teaches courses at the Educational Alliance—plans to expand his ColorBlast and HandPainted lines with new introductions, and make in-person appearances at both the Worcester Pottery Invitational in Massachusetts in April and the esteemed St. Croix Valley Pottery 2022 Tour in Minnesota in May. “When I sit down at the wheel, there’s no telling how the piece will turn out,” he says. “That’s the beauty of the process.”

To learn more about Kyle Lee and Ceramic Meltdown, visit their website or follow them on Instagram.

Homepage photo: ColorBlast vases by Ceramic Meltdown for West Elm | Courtesy of Kyle Lee

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