A ceramics class for Albion College staff members last fall gave Jason Moritz an opportunity to connect with experiences of growing up in the Midwest as the son of a talented painter and formerly living in Los Angeles. But he never expected to create pieces worthy of display in a show as large as ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.
The Certification Officer in the Education Department and Fritz Shurmur Center for Teacher Development at Albion, Moritz created ceramic tiles depicting scenes of southern California, collectively titled Smoggy Sunsets over Blue Palms, Los Angeles, 1998-2007. The tiles will be on display at Kate Lewis’ studio during the show, which runs from Sept. 21-Oct. 9.
This is the second straight year in which Moritz’s family will have an entry in ArtPrize. His wife, Melanie Hilliard, had a photography project displayed in last year’s show.
“I owe this experience to my mom, my wife and the Albion College Art Department,” Moritz said. “One of the great things about working here is you are exposed to great people and great things. The art class was a nice way to unwind after a busy day of work and it gave me the opportunity to meet people from other departments of the campus.”
Though Moritz held a number of jobs during his nine years in L.A. – he worked as a middle school teacher, at UCLA’s research library in Westwood, and in the archives for DreamWorks and Universal studios –the sunny skies and warm temperatures were constant. Moritz said he had trouble finding his niche in the art studio, but inspiration struck when he reflected on scenes of palm trees in contrast to the impending gloom brought on by thoughts of a cold, snowy Michigan winter.
He pointed out the palm trees’ blue color was a “happy accident” that occurred when instructor Casey Merrild applied the glaze, but it is a reminder of the hue of the leaves in the rays of the setting sun.
“I like living in Michigan, but it is very different, and the tiles are a way to remember [L.A.’s] beautiful weather,” Moritz said. “[I remember] the palm trees get these weird shades in sunset. It was auspicious how the tiles turned out.”
Moritz said he thought about giving away the tiles during the holidays last year, but his growing attachment to his artwork and the difficulty of shipping fragile items led him to ArtPrize. He still likes the idea of selling some of the pieces to give his artwork the opportunity to travel “somewhere around Michigan or to another state.”
The ceramics class has inspired Moritz to delve into another creative outlet, writing. His essay about a friend who rides his bike on an eight-mile stretch across the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois will be published in an upcoming edition of Boneshaker magazine. And Moritz and Hilliard are combining their writing and photography skills on a fictional piece about a bicycle shop.
“It goes back to being inspired to try stuff,” Moritz said. “The [genes to try ceramics] were inside me. It took an e-mail from [art professor] Lynne Chytilo to bring it out of me.”