Fred Yokel was born and raised in California, mostly in the Santa Clara Valley, with ancestral roots in Switzerland, Germany, Scotland and England. “And yes,” Fred affirmed, “I DID play with dirt in my back yard when I was a kid. Little did I know where that would lead.”
Fred’s obsession with clay started in high school. He enrolled in art classes when he was a sophomore, and as soon as he touched that gooey malleable earth, Fred knew that he wanted to play with clay for the rest of his life. “I took ceramics classes throughout my Sunnyvale High School days, learning as much as I could through classes and extra-curricular activities such as workshops and seminars.”
Upon graduation, Fred enrolled at San Jose State University, where he focused his studies on ceramics under James Lovera, Robert Fritz and Herbert Sanders, with other influences thrown in by David Middlebrook. “I also shared a studio off campus with some of my friends for a few years. We built our own kilns and made items to sell in the local art fairs.” Fred also worked in a local ceramic supply shop building kilns while attending SJSU.
After graduating with a BA in Ceramics, Fred became a production potter at two Bay Area production pottery houses. He taught summer classes in production pottery and an Adult Education ceramics class. “Production pottery was fun and educational, but I got more pleasure out of designing one-of-a-kind pieces and exploring raku surfaces and organic-looking textures.”
Fred decided to go back to school at California Institute of the Arts, where he received his MFA in Design and Advertising. “Currently I have a graphic design business while still creating ceramic sculptures as much as possible.”
Over the last few years Fred has been concentrating on loosely human-based sculptures that express emotions or whimsical stories through their stance and mass, rather than through detailed facial expressions or realistic anatomy. “They are far from anatomically correct humanoids, and I like it that way. They give me the chance to explore the tension between a larger-than-life figure performing a delicate action. And you know what? It’s way fun!”
What are you trying to do to people with your art?
I’m hoping that people will see the humor in my pieces and perhaps laugh. I’d like them to contemplate what the combination of the title and the pose are implying and relate it to something in their own lives that sparks a memory. Trying to show the viewer the twisted thoughts and ideas in my mind is a challenge that’s actually lots of fun, at least for me.
How would your creativity express itself if you couldn’t work with clay?
I’d probably be painting. I like painting with the rich, deep color of oil paints and playing with thick, impasto textures. I constantly get inspired when I’m at a gallery or museum and see paintings that express those qualities. I’d like to explore some figurative work in painting, like Bay Area figurative artists Elmer Bischoff, Nathan Oliveira, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn and David Park, among others.
Where do your ideas come from? What’s your creative process?
I think about and watch people. I look at a situation that someone, including myself, is in and make up a story that goes along with it. I try to reduce the situation to one defining moment that can be turned into a sculpture, and pull out that essence with the movement, gesture or stance. These stories that I “make up” are things that actually happen to almost everyone at some point in their lives. And if it hasn’t happened to the viewer personally, they probably know of someone that has been in that situation.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Dark chocolate gelato from Gelato Classico. That’s not much of a guilty pleasure, is it?
Whose work is in your own art collection?
My own collection ranges all over the place. I like texture and unusual surface treatments. Peter Beard with his unusual glaze combinations and the great way they create new colors where they overlap. Nice color usage. Duncan Ross with his subtle terra sigillata coloring and beautiful patterns. Ricky Maldonado and his wild, detailed dot patterns and exquisite forms. Kristin Doner and the crusty, ancient looking texture on her amphora pots–one of my most favorite. They look like they were just dug up from the ocean floor. The detailed carving and very cool marble-like surface treatment of Jeff Margolin’s horse hair raku pieces. Great forms, too.
How important is “craftsmanship” in your work?
Craftsmanship is way important to me. I always look at my pieces when they are done and think, “I could have done that better.” Too bad the work has been fired! I can see what I think is high quality craftsmanship in my mind, but getting my fingers to function to that degree of perfection doesn’t happen all the time. So I just try to do it better on the next piece. It’s a constant struggle.
If you were conducting this interview, what question would you to want ask?
If you could have a one-on-one apprenticeship with an artist (living or not) for a week, who would that be and why?
I think maybe Ah Leon. I’d like to watch his work ethic in person and go through his daily routine to see his total process. Books are great to get an idea of what’s going on, but nothing beats being there day to day to see how things that might go wrong get fixed. It would be great to see him make a simple plank of wood even. Or one of his exquisite tea pots.