Faces in the Clay: Interview w/ Outsider Artist Ron Free

We've had out fair share of visual artists, animators, illustrators and film makers here at the clubhouse, but we've yet to feature someone whose work takes the concept of strange into the realm of 3D. Today's guest, Ron Free, is one such individual whose body of work is as hard to define as the anatomy of his figurative sculpture. Often taking the form of faces within the clay, Free's ceramics are filled with an emotion that the artist hopes to transfer from his mind to the viewer. From his studio in Georgia Free was nice enough to take some time to answer a few questions about his creations.
You seem to work mostly in ceramics, but you're also an illustrator as well. How do those two skills relate to one another in your work?

I find that my illustration skills help to detail and create a life-like facial appearance. I use bamboo skewers as a pencil many times to illustrate in the clay like I would use on paper. Working in a 3 dimensional space has improved my illustrations as well to understand shadows and texture even more.

Artwork © Ron Free

Do you have a studio where you create most of your work?

I make my work in my studio at my home or at my kitchen table (if the wife doesn't hit me in the head with a frying pan for doing so).

Much of your ceramic work seems to share in the tradition of "face jugs" which are said to have been intended to warn off spirits (aka mischevious children). Is this a conscious association or simply a coincidence?

I was somewhat familiar with face jugs and appreciated their primitive folk art stylings, but not until I started my own path did I learn of their true uses. Mine seem to draw them [mischievous spirits] to it (including my own kids); they normally seem quite fascinated with them.

What are a few artists or works of art that you have found to be sources of inspiration?

Gosh, where do I start? Dr. Seuss, Jim Henson, Brian Froud, Ralph Steadman, Tim Burton, Tex Avery, Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, Pablo Picasso, Mike Magnolia, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, F.W. Murnau, Robert Wiene... there are so many more.

Artwork © Ron Free

Your sculpture often depicts fantastical, perhaps monstrous, creatures. Does each "character" have a story or personality?

I believe that personality is the basis of most of my work, I almost never start with a pre-planned idea. I begin the sculpt and let it develop as I work on it. It takes on a life of it's own, guiding my hand and telling me what it wants to be. They are all my own personal little clay golems.

How long does it typically take to create a piece from beginning to end?

It depends on how in-depth a specific piece wants to be. If it's wood-like or scales, horns, multiple eyes, etc. that just takes time. I would say my simple pieces take 45 minutes while the more in depth can take 4 hours or more.

Are there any hidden meanings or metaphors behind your work?

No, not really. I create because it's something I must do. It makes me happy to create it and I hope it makes someone else as just happy to receive it. I want someone to see that little window I have in my mind and share a piece of it. The only way I know how is through it's physical forms you see here.

Artwork © Ron Free

Aside from clay, what other materials do you incorporate into your sculptures?

I use broken porcelain plates in some pieces to create horns or teeth. I also use glaze to coat the pieces (which is finely ground glass and other chemicals). That's really all I use.

Would you consider what you do Outsider Art or Folk Art? What's the difference?

I would consider myself an Outsider/Lowbrow Artist with Folk tendencies. My subjects commonly are pop culture-like in nature and on the illustration side I have been professionally trained. Since I have never taken a sculpting class that is where the folk side comes in. Folk and Outsider Art is commonly know as a "self-taught" form. I have always thought of Folk as the more rural form, but you are just splitting hairs there. I just am what I am.

What's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

Existing. I was the kid you just could not put into a category and as an adult you still can't.


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