We had the good fortune of connecting with Sasha Koozel Reibstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sasha, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk taking plays a big role in both my life and practice but in very different ways. In the studio, I fully embrace risk and find it is one of my biggest attractions to ceramics, the dominant material in my work. For me, creating art is a collaborative and exploratory process and by working in clay, the kiln becomes my collaborator and the material is able to transform through firing in ways that surprise me, an alchemic process which I find very rewarding. When I am not satisfied with how things come out, that just becomes another challenge and the problem solving and experimentation that comes from tackling these “failures” is often when I discover new techniques and ideas that are even more exciting than what I originally imagined. Because of this I am able to enter the studio as a research lab, allowing myself to continually be searching for and embracing new ways of conceptualizing and making my work. In my personal life however, I am pretty risk averse. I have always been practical and my need for health insurance has dictated a lot of my professional decisions, discouraging me from pursuing solely a studio practice and instead relying on a career in academia to support myself and my family. I have always had a passion for teaching and value the opportunity to help support students in achieving their personal and professional goals so this dual career has offered me the best of both worlds as the stability of this income allows me to take the risks in the studio that would be a lot harder to justify if I was relying on selling my work to make ends meet.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What ‘\are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
My work reflects on experiences of transformation, alchemy and the sublime, manifesting in sculptures that undulate between soft and hard, alive and static, reality and fantasy. I want to subvert expectations for both subject and material, introducing mystery and questioning assumptions about beauty and value. I began travelling at a young age and the richness of the fabrics, foods and landscapes of these experiences blend together in my memory into a soupy mix of lavish golds and glitters gliding over dry, and cratered rock or gloopy, mid-boil lava. This paired with nostalgia and a genuine attraction to all things glam has led to my predilection towards overly decadent surfaces and obsessively detailed forms. I am losing the specifics as these memories fade and as I age, it feels like time is moving quickly. Mortality looms large in my consciousness which is why I create objects in mid-transformation, moving through time so quickly as to be caught in motion.
My studio is also a place where I can fully embrace escapism and have found that the arts are uniquely suited to simultaneously embrace the fight and flight response. I am able to productively create work while becoming fully submerged in a fantasy world. This allows me to turn traumatic experiences like infertility, pregnancy loss and struggles with mental and physical health into fuel for my practice. My works are also incredibly labored, involving an obsessive attention to detail and lengthy periods of repetitive action that while hard on my body, are very soothing for my mind. The studio additionally serves a safe place where I can embrace failure, turning it into an opportunity for further problem solving and experimentation. I love this challenge and the idea of a flawed object finding its way to an unexpected and ultimately more successful end.
As in all aspects of life, 2020 has posed unique challenges to artists who are now dealing with an entirely different landscape of how to engage and access viewers through a largely digital realm and without the intimate engagement of a physical exhibition. Especially as someone whose work is nuanced and textural, it is a huge loss to lose this in person interaction. At the same time, I have been pushed in new directions and have recently set up a shop on my website for purchasing small works directly from my studio, something previously only possible (in large part), if you were able to attend regional gallery exhibitions. Selling directly through my online platform has opened up the audience who is able to access my work and the overwhelmingly positive response has offered cause for optimism in times when that has sometimes been difficult.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
When people visit, the first thing I tell them to do is check out all of the awesome art work at the airport. I have three installations currently on view there in Terminal 2, right before the escalators to baggage claim and its so fun for our visitors to get to see them as soon as they arrive! Depending on when they land, we either head straight to Ocean Beach for burger at Hodad’s and the sunset or wait for the following morning for classic greasy spoon breakfast at the Old Townhouse Restaurant and a walk on the OB Pier, one of our favorite spots in the city. We also always take folks to the zoo, which is such a unique treasure and wonderful experience for many of our friends and family who are visiting from large cities on the East Coast. At some point, we will usually head to Coronado for lunch at Leroys and then a walk to the beach where we can dazzle our visitors with the pyrite in the sand offering the magical feeling of wading through seas of gold. We also try to hit some of our favorite spots to see art – Quint Gallery, MCASD and Bread and Salt and grab dinner and cocktails at Barrio Star. If we have time, we’ll also head up north to Stone Brewery for lunch in their awesome outdoor patio garden in Escondido and a hike on the nearby trails at Elfin Forest. There so much to do and enjoy, its always a whirlwind trip that leaves folks eager to come back soon for more!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to give a shout out to my husband, Jones von Jonestein. Without his incredible support I would not be able to juggle teaching full-time, raising two young children and maintaining an active studio practice. Especially now, in times of Covid, he has stepped up and taken over homeschooling our 8 year old and childcare for our 3 year old, both of whom have been home fulltime since March. In addition, he has always been an important sounding board when I am working, offering me critical feedback, insight and technical support to allow me to embrace ambitious opportunities and ideas.
Photo credit: Jones von Jonestein