Doug Herren, 58, whose whimsical, Picasso-esque ceramic works are currently on display at Gravers Lane Gallery, 8405 Germantown Ave., through Nov. 20, is a “very prestigious and cutting edge …
Doug Herren, 58, whose whimsical, Picasso-esque ceramic works are currently on display at Gravers Lane Gallery, 8405 Germantown Ave., through Nov. 20, is a “very prestigious and cutting edge artist” and “one of the most organized artists ever,” according to Brittany Novotny, co-director of the Vernon Filley Art Museum in Pratt, Kansas, where Herren was born and raised.
“We always knew he was very artistic,” said his mother Marilyn, when Herren returned to Pratt to exhibit his works two years ago. “We knew it would go somewhere, we just didn’t know where.”
Herren is known for his brightly painted large-scale ceramic sculptures that are hybrids of industrial equipment and traditional wheel-thrown pottery. Many of his sculptures appear to be constructed from machine parts or ironworks that have been reconfigured with bolts or rivets and repainted to look new.
Ignacio Villarreal, a reviewer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Herren had an exhibit in 2017, pointed out that “each sculpture of his includes objects that have familiar visual associations. There are elements that suggest a trophy, an engine block, sirens, pipes and fittings, but they are combined in unusual and unexpected ways. To further their sculptural ambiguity, each form is displayed on altered and reclaimed wood timbers that serve as unique pedestals.”
Herren did his undergrad work at Wichita State University, majoring in fine arts/ceramics, and earned a master's in fine art in 1992 from Louisiana State University. After working in Helena, Montana, he was accepted for a ceramics residency at The Clay Studio in Old City in 1996, and was a resident there for five years. While there he met another resident, Kukuli Velarde, a native of Peru, a painter and ceramist and now Herren's wife.
“I think a lot of folks who have an early interest in art get into painting and drawing in the beginning because it is pretty easy to start that way,” said Herren, who is also an adjunct faculty at Moore College of Art and Design and a studio technician at Swarthmore College, “but for me working in clay was far more riveting. I think I like the more physical demands and challenges it presents. They attracted me more than working in 2-D.”
Herren has had work accepted at two international ceramic biennials to date, one in Italy at Faenza, the other in Spain at L’Alcora. Both places now have his work as part of their permanent collections. His work is also included in the collections of the Yenggi Museum of Taipei; Kamm Teapot Collection, Sparta, NC; Fuller Art Museum, Brockton, MA, and an installation of his work was on display at the Philadelphia International Airport, Terminal A-West.
Oddly enough, Herren insists that the pandemic “was definitely a hit for us, mostly for our daughter since she had to continue schooling at home, and while I stopped working at the college, I was lucky to be kept on. My wife and I have been lucky in having our studios at home so we could work on our projects, and the show at Gravers Lane is a product of this.”
When asked what was the hardest thing he had ever done, Herren replied, “It was leaving Kansas to go to grad school down in Baton Rouge, LA. It was a pretty uprooting experience to leave like that, but it definitely helped me advance my work during my three years there. Afterward, moving to Montana and then Pennsylvania went smoother.”
When asked what person had the biggest impact on his life, Herren said, “I have to credit my father for that. He had a great work ethic and was very handy, and that is something I definitely I picked up on and reflected.”
Herren was also asked what person, living or dead, he would most like to spend time with if he could, his reply: “Arthur Clarke, the science fiction writer whose work I’ve long enjoyed. I got into astronomy very young. Kansas has great dark skies, and seeing the movie '2001' (based on an Arthur Clarke novel) very young made quite an impression. Since I moved to Philly, I got back into observing again as well as building my own telescopes.”
Herren and his wife live in Kensington and have their studios in their house. They have a daughter, Vida, 9.
For more information, visit dougherren.com or graverslanegallery.com. Len Lear can be reached at chestnuthilllocal.com