Just My Cup of Tea

Storytelling Ceramic Artist Patrick Johnston Returns to

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Fanciful, lopsided, charming, and lovable, Patrick Johnston’s
teapots have little in common with their sensible, symmetrical
counterparts. His functional vessels are more than just hot
beverage dispensers — each pot is also a storybook character in one
of the artist’s whimsical tales. “For me, teapots are
representative of communication,” said Johnston. “You invite
someone into your home, serve tea, and talk. My work is all about
pure communication, and the stories I write are about freeing
yourself from whatever is holding you back.”

Johnston began exhibiting his work in the late ’90s while still
a student in Santa Barbara City College’s art program. His
storytime tea party exhibitions at D’Angelo, Muddy Waters, and Roy
met with instant enthusiasm and attracted hundreds, but
Johnston — known to his fans as PJ — felt he was stuck in an
artistic rut. Encouraged by SBCC art professor Christopher Bates,
Johnston applied to study art at the Rhode Island School of Design,
where he graduated from the BFA program in 2003. Since completing
the program, the artist has been based in Orange County, but he’s
determined to make a Santa Barbara comeback — his show at Reds next
month marks his triumphant return.

teapot.jpgAlthough clay is his primary medium,
Johnston considers himself a writer and storyteller as much as a
teapot maker. “Essentially, I write children’s books for adults, to
help them regain the consciousness of being a child,” Johnston
explained. “There are too many miserable adults out there.” When
asked whether his interest in liberation from depression comes from
personal experience, Johnston was candid. “I’ve been in situations
where I was unhappy, I realized it, and I changed. My life is a
process of recognizing barriers and overcoming them; recognition is
always the first step. I’m a very brave person. I risk it all every

Johnston has titled his latest teapot story I Remember Being a
Cow. “Cows are complacent, peaceful animals — they don’t really
know what’s going on in their lives, and they don’t worry about the
future,” he said. “I Remember Being a Cow is a metaphor for
simplicity, and a reflection of a time before technological
inventions took over; a time when the inner child ran wild.” The
appealing teapot characters that illustrate his story vary from
squat and lumpy to tall and elegant, but Johnston’s narrative of
his pots doesn’t stop with formal description. “Some are nervous,
and some are in total command of the situation,” he noted. Fans of
Johnston’s work from the 1990s will notice developments since he
was last in town.

He now imprints words from his stories directly on the surface
of the pots — a new dimension to his work that he claims would
never have developed had he not left Santa Barbara to study at
RISD. “They’re still absolutely funky, but they have gesture and
poise,” he said. “I feel my work is a thousand times stronger than
it was.”

4•1•1 Approximately 20 of
Johnston’s teapots and accompanying books will be on display and
for sale at Reds Café along-side other artwork during the month of
December. On December 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Johnston will read
his teapot stories. Tea and hors d’oeuvres will be served; drink
specials and live jazz will follow. For more information on the
artist, visit claystargallery.com or email
Patrick Johnston at hot_soup8@hotmail.com.


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