Ceramic Artist Burt Horowitz with work from his luggage series | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom
Is it leather or is it clay? These ceramic works of art from Burt Horowitz capture the transient beauty of leather in stone. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The boutique hotel El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, in Santa Barbara sees luggage of every conceivable shape and size, from the smallest handbag to the heaviest suitcase. However, when pottery artist Burt Horowitz checks into El Encanto, he brings luggage the likes of which no employee — or, for that matter, no guest — has seen before. Though appearing to be normal leather bags, upon closer inspection, Horowitz’s bags reveal their stony secret: They are made entirely of ceramic clay.

When I met Horowitz at El Encanto, where he regularly exhibits his pottery, he quickly made me feel at ease in the upscale venue. After shaking my hand and exchanging introductions, he led me with authority (standing nearly a head taller than me) to a side table, and we began discussing his work. He began by excavating his relationship with the material itself, telling me, “I love the expression of clay, because clay is just dirt. I mean, it is a primal material; it comes out of the ground.” Illustrating the relationship between humans and clay, pottery connects Horowitz to a prehistoric process. He went on, saying, “For me, working with clay is the essence of life.”

In his current practice, Horowitz tends toward unconventional works of pottery, creating pieces that serve to incite an emotional response. However, that wasn’t always the case. He began working in pottery in college in Iowa (Drake University) as a break from his classwork as an economics major. After a career as a business owner and salesman, Horowitz found creative expression in the primal nature of clay, something that he has continued into his retirement in Santa Barbara. Born and raised in Chicago, all of his children moved to California, as well as a grandchild, and now “here we are and absolutely loving it,” said Horowitz.

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

In search of a more unconventional artistic pursuit, he began thinking outside the box with his pottery. “I’ve always just done vases and bowls,” he said. “Finally, after I retired and kept doing vases and bowls, I just got tired of it.”

An urge to break from convention is present in much of Horowitz’s work. His luggage series perfectly demonstrates his desire to resist conforming to expectations of form and material, creating a work of pottery that surprises and deceives. “I saw this bag sitting on a counter,” he told me, showing me a picture of a perfectly ordinary leather bag. “Look at the way the fabric just naturally falls and just makes you want to pick it up, or touch it, or get closer to it.” Upon closer inspection, however, these moments of sculptural beauty vanish in the flexibility of leather. By hand-building the bags with detailed surface texture, Horowitz preserves the transient beauty of leather in stone, a process he deems “interpreting” rather than sculpting. This interpretive illusion is only broken by its own captivation. “When you clink it with your finger?” said Horowitz, “‘Oh, this is made out of ceramic.’”

This interactive element is what Horowitz searches for in his pottery, seeking to create a reaction from the viewer. “Most people are not going to have too much to say about an object that looks exactly the way it’s supposed to look,” he told me. “You’re not going to pick up a cereal bowl and inspect all the sides of it.” But while his leather series provokes surprise and curiosity, more recently, Horowitz has attempted to provoke deeper feelings, creating a series of pieces titled War and Peace in reaction to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

After communicating with a Ukrainian potter friend living in Kyiv and hearing a firsthand account of the destruction, Horowitz began to understand the urgency of the conflict. “She would have to run in the evening with her husband into the forest because of the rocket mortars hitting Kyiv,” he said. “In that communication, I realized how she was really hurting.”

The series, which exhibited with Rich Wilkie’s fundraiser Eyes of War — Eyes of Hope at the Community Arts Workshop in August, sees a layer of darkness applied to Horowitz’s unconventional style. Maintaining an interest in materials such as metal and fabric, objects of warfare are distorted, bent, and disfigured. In one, which he calls the “GQ Fashion Warrior,” a life-size military jacket is decorated with the regalia of warfare, including a pistol, knife, and magazines of ammo. “We have a tendency to take violence and make it one of our primary forms of entertainment,” said Horowitz, saying that his intention is to remind the audience: “These are all implements of death.”

“I like the idea that when you throw clay on a wheel, the first thing you have to do with it is center it,” Horowitz said. He appears to inhabit this philosophy himself, approaching his work with a relaxed and centered demeanor. When describing audience reactions to his work, he said calmly, “They either really like it, or they really don’t. And that’s exactly what I want.” Ultimately, Burt Horowitz most wants his works to provoke thought, conversation, or feeling. In doing so, he hopes to inspire change in the world, saying, “That’s a beautiful thing. That’s the whole point.”

Burt Horowitz exhibits his pottery on Saturdays from 2-4 p.m. at El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel (800 Alvarado Pl.), and online on Instagram @burtwarepottery. He can be reached by email at Burt.Horowitz@gmail.com.


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