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Malia Landis: Sculptor/Ceramic Artist

There is an element of grace that flows through the work of Malia Landis.  It's magical in a way that it gives the viewer a three dimensional sense of surrealism that you can also take home.  Landis utilizes memories and environmental elements from her experiences living near the coast in California and on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Plants for growth, braids for time, boats for journey and birds for migration and nesting.  In addition to her creative abilities Landis has a smart business sense and knows when a piece should be a consumer piece and when a piece should be a portfolio piece.  Her side company Salt and Earth has helped her reach a larger audience for her abalone shells that vary in size, from hand held to a custom sink.  Landis recently moved to the Oakland Bay Area where she will be hosting an open studio in the coming months.
To see more of her work check out her Instagram feeds @malia_landis and @saltandearthceramics her website at   and her esty shop for S a l t a n d E a r t h

You can see more of her work alongside artists Michelle Gregor and Eve Mathias, next March 2015 at San Jose City College, in San Jose.  And, most exciting of all she will be having a solo exhibition next September 2015 at the Roscoe Gallery, 25th Street in Downtown Oakland.   

Malia Landis at work with a commission piece for an abalone shell sink.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Quietly nestled in her studio Malia Landis creates miniature beauties that reflect on her time growing up in Hawaii.  Surrounded by inspiration from the islands of her childhood Landis follows her instinct towards the creations that begin in her mind and flow through her fingertips on a block of ceramic clay.  There is a delicacy that exists throughout her work and one that carries a story in each piece.  

Malia Landis at work in her studio creating a series of head busts for her Thesis project that she earned at San Jose State University.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Gardenia Bloom' detail, Porcelain, Stoneware, 13"X8"x8", 2014.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Many times I hear people describe an artist as not like their work, yours however I feel has this nurturing quality to it that I see in you.  Do you think that because as a ceramic artist you mold your work from a solid block of clay into a sculpture that there is a closer connection to your work than other mediums?

Clay has an immediate and inherent intimacy to it because of its malleability.  Wet clay has memory, it records your touch and mark into something archival.  I love clay for its temperament and sensitivity and am never board of its complex chemistry. It takes patience to understand and work with the material, you constantly are experimenting and investigating, especially when building complex pieces.  This makes my relationship with the material always fresh and rewarding and I am constantly learning when presented with new variables such as the weather.  Once you nurture and invest so much energy and time into something, inherently you feel very connected to it in the end.

While documenting her Thesis show Malia made note to try and photograph her thumb print that had made it's way in some of the Leis she made for her 'Handmade Rhythm' piece.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Clay shavings on the floor are a common element in Landis' life and being from Hawaii sandals are too.  Photo © Aimee Santos

With many artists being out priced of Art Districts was it a challenge to find a location in the Bay Area that allowed you to keep your craft practice a priority in finding a place to live and work?  Can you speak to the pitfalls and compromises?   

When I finished school this past Spring, my partner Wesley Wright and I, also a ceramic artist, decided that our priority was to find and establish ourselves a studio space.  Leaving the comforts and privileges of the University was a challenging transition.  On top of that, we were competing with the the onslaught of Silicon Valley hires.  The competitive housing market in the Bay Area is a real thing, and what we experienced is that we were likely to be out bid for what we considered just within our means.  Our expectations to find an industrial space with minimal amenities was not unrealistic, but all around the East Bay these ideal studio spaces are getting face lifts, and are being marketed to individuals who are willing to pay more.  We were lucky and found a live/work loft that could house our kilns and equipment, and offered us an opportunity to have in addition an affordable living space.  I feel that we may have lucked out as well in finding one of the last live/work loft opportunities that do not inhibit you from being loud, messy and productive. 

'California Bloom' Stoneware, Porcelain, Wire, 32"x20"x15", 2014.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Divergence keeps up whole' Stoneware, Twine, 15"x9"x6", 2011.  Photo courtesy of Malia Landis.

Salt and Earth Ceramics is Landis' side business.  When she is not creating imaginative sculpture she is selling her wares at craft fairs locally in the Northern California Bay Area.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Can you describe how Salt and Earth came about and how you now have two sides to your work?  

When I first started working with clay, I knew right away that I wanted to be a full time maker.  And I knew, in order to do this, I needed to sell my work.  One of the first bodies of work I made ended up developing into quite the production line, and it happened in a really natural way.  I had sculpted an abalone shell as a gift for my Dad, an abalone diver and avid outdoors man, when I realized how complimentary the form was to being both sculptural and functional.  As I created the first abalone, I thought, "what if this was bigger?".  So, I made it bigger, and then bigger, and then the biggest size I could fit into a kiln.  I started having inquires to purchase the ceramic shells- and so began  s a l t  a n d  e a r t h.  The creation and management of a small business has given me the opportunity to be independent and self reliant.  What I also have to do is be self motivated.  This can be the most challenging element to any art practice.  You must be willing to work, all of the time, everywhere.  In order to be successful, you make your art practice your priority.   I find that in my production work, I need to be consistent and calculated, and when I want to be experimental and expressive I focus on my more conceptual work.  It is a dichotomy that keeps me busy and satisfied. 

Malia Landis works on a commission piece of one of her Abalone shells that is part of her side business Salt and Earth and Sky.  CLICK THE IMAGE to view her Abalone creations.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Malia Landis is a ceramic artist based in Oakland, CA.  Click on any of the images to see more of her work.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Pacific Bloom' detail, Stoneware, Porcelain, Wire, 32"x20"x15", 2014.  Photo © Aimee Santos

One of Landis' signature pieces she sells is Zodiac cups through a silk screen transfer process that she developed while in graduate school at San Jose State University.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Handmade Rhythm' Porcelain, Hydrocal, Gold Leaf, String, 30"x20"x8".  Photo © Aimee Santos

Many artists who experience a displacement from their home environment go through a dark period of feeling lost yet your work seems like it is constantly evolving.  How do you think your creations have maintained a more positive aesthetic?  Or am I wrong in assuming this? 

Much of my work is about Hawaii, where I spent much of my childhood and well into my formative teenage years. In some of my pieces there is a certain sense of longing. a nostalgia for a place and time.  But, I choose to celebrate in remembrance the place that I long for, and in this process I am there. So I guess there is both a joy and a sorrow in the work.

'California Bloom' Stoneware, Porcelain, Wire, 32"x20"x15" in front of 'The Rhythm: Birth' Stoneware, Gold Leaf 27"x14"x5".  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your ‘Boxes' series feel self referential in both internal and external qualities. Can you describe the formation of this project and how it allowed your work to evolve to your current project ‘Bloom?’  

In the box series, I was interested in the story book format the framed niches provided. I had been previously investigating inside and outside spaces and creating nooks and dwellings inside vessel like sculptures, composing a space that felt safe and protective.  My work is often very delicate and complex, so this format functioned as a technical choice as well.  At one point, I realized that the box format was dictating how I would start a piece, and I wanted to change my own perspective of what the foundation of the piece could be, and how that would alter the sculpture over all.  Those delicate parts, in all of their intricacies, could live on the outside of the form, and they themselves became the protective barrier.

'Residence' Earthenware, Screen Print, Horse Hair, Glass, Wire, Luster, 16"x12"x5" 2012.  Photo Courtesy of Malia Landis.

To see more Malia Landis' work simply click any of the above images.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Attention to detail comes with the job in the life of Malia Landis.  Do it right the first time and it makes the production process down the line go much more smoothly.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The Abalone shells Malia Landis makes come in a variety of vibrant colors and unique textures on the back side.  Click the image to see more.  Photo © Aimee Santos

What can we look forward to with your work aesthetic and any upcoming shows or workshops? 

Since the move, I have been super busy mixing, testing, and producing a new line of glazes for s a l t  a n d   e a r t h, that will be launching this next Spring, 2015.  Recently I finished some of my first sculptural pieces made here in the new space, and am super pumped on these newest "clusters" and "blooms" that are coming to fruition.  You can see my work alongside artists Michelle Gregor and Eve Mathias, next March at San Jose City College, in San Jose.  And, most exciting of all- I will be having a solo exhibition next September at Roscoe Gallery, 25th Street in Downtown Oakland.   

As far as workshops go, Wesley and I are planning to host a variety of handbuilding workshops this next year in our new space!  Also, I will be teaching a Screen printing and Image Transfer onto Clay course this next Spring at the Palo Alto Art Center in downtown Palo Alto, and another in July at the Mendocino Art Center in Mendocino.