Meet Topher Gent
2020 CERAMICS Resident
SY: HI TOPHER! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? What department are you working in?
Hello! I am Topher Gent and I’m an artist and designer in the Ceramics Residency.
SY: Where are you from?
I’m a native Rhode Islander! And as I’m sure you’ve heard, we never leave. Or if we do, we come back. I grew up in West Greenwich, but have been living in Providence since 2008.
SY: We get this question a lot… how would YOU define Industrial Arts?
Good question! I think the term Industrial Arts has evolved into quite a broad category. Typically you hear about the usual; carpentry or woodworking, metalwork and blacksmithing, masonry and pottery, glass or even sewing, textiles and other potentially functional crafts… But today I think technology plays a role in Industrial Arts to include robotics, CAD, 3D printing, and even programming and coding, which all correlate with the more traditional forms that we typically think of. I think it’s great that Industrial Art is always evolving… it provides a greater contemporary relevance to the Industrial Arts in general.
SY: What have you been working on?
I’m always working on a million different things at once, but right now I am focusing on a sort of installation piece that involves throwing many vases in the same form but different sizes that all equal my weight in clay. The idea is to use each vase as meditation or reflection on craft and the process of making. I hope to simultaneously create a written component with each vase… I’m still working out the details. Soon I’ll dive a bit deeper into some super functional work.
SY: Who are your greatest inspirations? What work influences your work?
I’m really inspired by architecture and design, specifically by some greats like Frank Lloyd Wright and Eero Saarinen. I visited the Saint Louis Gateway Arch when I was a kid and it has been infused in my mind ever since.
I’m also particularly fond of Charles and Ray Eames. I’m an overly proud owner of an Eames Leg Split.
Aside from being inspired by design, architecture, and engineering, I also draw some formal inspiration from natural forms, structures, and proportions.
SY: Do you show your work? Where can people see it/ buy it/ experience it?
I do! I am currently represented by Coastal Contemporary Gallery in Newport and have also recently shown some of my furniture and lighting designs at the Architectural Digest Design Show and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City.
SY: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic practice?
My background is in furniture and lighting design and fabrication, which is currently my job but also a facet of my art practice. I work primarily with 3D media, but I try to stay interdisciplinary. I have incorporated drawing, painting and photography into my work recently. I’m thrilled that I am able to have such a wide range of studio access with the residency and I aim to make ceramics a strong aspect of my studio practice moving forward.
SY: How did you find The Steel Yard? What were you doing before you joined the Residency Program?
I was actually got involved at The Steel Yard a little over 8 years ago as a work-study studio assistant while I was completing my BFA at RISD. Prior to joining the Residency Program, I was (and still am) working as a furniture designer/maker and maintaining my own studio in Providence.
SY: Have you ever worked in a shared studio before? What do you think?
Yes! We had a lot of different shared studio spaces at RISD, but I’ve also been involved with The Steel Yard studio in various capacities over the years. While there is something I love about having my own private space (space to think and talk to myself) I also love the experience of a shared studio. There are always people to bounce ideas off of and ways to thrive off of the collective creative energy. It’s nice that there is also a deep respect for each other’s different practices, and people totally understand when you’re “in the zone” and quietly focused on whatever you are working on.
There is also this great educational aspect to the Steel Yard’s mission, so it’s in the air, and there is always something to learn from one another.
SY: Have you ever taken a Steel Yard course? Can you tell us about your experience?
I have! I have taken a handful of ceramics courses at the Yard. I didn’t have time to fit this into my experience at RISD, so I’m grateful that I had opportunities here to get acquainted and build my skills in the medium. I think I’d like to take more if I can find the time – there’s always something new to learn and I like how the yard offers flexibility with specialized courses and those that can help people at any skill level. Plus, the instructors are wonderful!
SY: Have you ever Instructed/ or been a TA for a Steel Yard course? Can you tell us about your experience?
Yes! I used to teach welding courses at the yard. I started as a TA for a few courses before I began teaching Weekend Welding Workshops, Intro to Welding: Thinking 3D, and I fondly remember a course “Typography in Steel.”
Fun fact: One of our current metal residents Ben Levine was one of my students, and I was a student in a few classes with Ceramics Fellow Danika Notar. It’s cool to see how things come full circle with the resources and opportunities that the Steel Yard offers.
SY: Have you ever worked on a Public Project? Can you tell us about your experience?
Another yes! I had quite the run making various benches (and other things) with Public Projects. You can find my work in North Kingstown, Pawtucket, and nearby on Valley Street in Providence. Some of these projects were very collaborative and others were solo. But that’s what’s cool about Public Projects. I was able to work with other experienced makers, and also work with people new to making, teaching them about design leading into fabrication.
It’s a great opportunity that the Steel Yard provides working artists and fabricators. Prior to working on public projects, I hadn’t created any public work before, and doing these projects helped give me the credentials and experience to eventually take on my own private clients and contracts to create a number of pieces for both private collections and public installations.
SY: Have you ever attended a Steel Yard event? Can you tell us about your experience?
For sure – most recently the Halloween Iron Pour. The Steel Yard is such a unique venue, and the events always have a cool artistic flair to them. It’s great to see how connected and integral the Steel Yard is to the community in Providence. If you need to see tangible evidence of the value of community arts access – the Steel Yard is the place look.
SY: When you’re not in the studio working- what do you do in your free time?
What? I don’t understand this question.
Just kidding. I enjoy spending my rare free time outside of making art having good food and drinks, and generally spending time with my partner and friends. If I’m lucky I’ll go for a hike in the woods – a nice way to clear my mind and get centered.
SY: We talk a lot about ‘Yardies’ here- curious, what does YARDIE mean you to?
I guess a Yardie is anyone who gets involved at the Steel Yard in almost any capacity. Whether you work here, volunteer, or take a course – YOU are a Yardie. It’s really cool that this term exists. I have always felt this, and I constantly hear it from others: the Steel Yard has a great way of making people feel welcomed and involved.
SY: What are you MOST excited for this upcoming year?
This residency, in general, is most exciting to me this year. It’s a huge opportunity to expand and shift my studio practice. I’m improving my skills, learning a lot, and getting to know more people. It’s exciting!
SY: What do you think will be your greatest CHALLENGE?
I’m not sure… I’m relatively new to the wide world of ceramics and there is so much that I want to keep expanding on but also new things that I want to try. I also maintain my full-time job at the lighting design firm Studio Dunn. This residency is unique in that it is local, and that I can still maintain the essential “money-job” while working as an artist (that’s a big topic in and of itself.) So, I guess the challenge will be fitting it all in and balancing it with the various moving parts of my studio practice.
OKAY, TIME FOR RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS!
SY: Favorite food?
SY: Favorite movie?
There are a lot of great films out there, so I can’t pick one. But in general, I love Wes Anderson’s aesthetic. Also science fiction (the Fifth Element?) or movies about the future. But I also have a secret love for terrible disaster/apocalypse films. Have you seen Volcano? I mean… c’mon. A movie about a volcano erupting in downtown LA? Does it get better?
SY: Favorite book?
M-Train by Patti Smith
SY: Favorite artist/maker?
This is an impossible question to answer.
SY: What skill would you like to master?
SY: Favorite tool in the shop?
Years ago I might have said TIG Welder. I’m still totally a fan, but these days I’m obsessed with the challenges that the ceramics wheel presents to me.
SY: Annnnnnnd finally, is there anything else you’d like the Yardie community to know about you?
I’m just generally excited and grateful to be here.