Watching people walk past Luke Allen’s ceramics is an exercise in excessive good tidings.
“Whoa,” someone will say. “Dude, I’m so stoked on all of this.”
“This is amazing,” someone else will say.
What do they see? They see a handbuilt ceramic “Average Watering Can” that can, in fact, function as a watering can (or a pipe) and also features a flesh-colored replica of an average-sized penis. (“I just want to really celebrate being average,” Allen says. “Being average is awesome!”) They see a cast of his tongue. They see one piece adorned with shavings from Allen’s curly ginger beard (“I tell people if they want to think it’s my pubes, it’s my pubes,” he says.) In a world of workaday ceramics, where one pot looks like the next pot looks like the next — all slight variations on what Heath Ceramics has been doing for the last 50 years, and generations of minimalist-minded ceramicists before Heath — Allen is doing entirely his own thing.
It’s a niche — handbuilt ceramics with secret compartments for stashing away recreational drugs — but it’s one he’s mastered, with humor and boatloads of good energy. Allen, who now lives with his family in Daly City, spent seven years in Rochester, New York, after graduating from Manhattan’s Pratt Institute with a degree in illustration; in Rochester, he met his future wife and further developed his sculptural practice. “I was working at a fabrication shop and as an artist’s assistant, which gave me a resource to answer all of my questions about materials,” he says. “I learned that sometimes even the professionals have no idea how to make something. They try and fail and do it again until it works. Just like learning a skateboarding trick.” He stayed until 2013, honing his own vision in a studio made affordable by western New York’s low cost of living. All of those experiences were poured into a final show there. “I made these little beasts that had deer fur on them, which I tanned, with little penises, casts of my teeth and tongue in their mouth and glass LED lit rays shooting out of their eyes,” he says. “I tanned the deer hides, learned how to cast and make molds. It was the culmination of having the space, and the resources I had tapped into while in Rochester.”
Low-cost studio space was, unsurprisingly, harder to come by in the Bay Area, and it wasn’t until his father’s death, six years later, that he kicked his sculpture practice back into high gear, following a series of only-in-the-Bay Area jobs, like a stint at The Progress and time in Pacifica’s parks department. “My dad died in 2019, and that helped me take the leap into ceramics — kind of like, What are you waiting for? You’re not here forever.” A co-worker gave him a discount code for a class at Clay by the Bay in Nob Hill. “I was hooked,” he says.
Three years later he’s a full-time ceramicist, with plans to expand his brand with hand-illustrated apparel and more: “Incense to go with my incense burners, more pipes, bongs, bowls, housewares, and more wacky commercials for my Instagram.” He sees his work in the tradition of great stoner ceramics. “I think it has been a rising tide,” he says. “What I mean is that ceramics and stoners have been together forever. When I was a teenager, my friend Justin Fields made a ceramic bowl and we smoked out of it. It did not work very well. But it was like he got one over on the teacher — or maybe the teacher didn’t care, who knows. I think all stoners have a story like that.” Asked what he thinks of stoner ceramics’ most famous practitioner — Seth Rogen, who debuted his ceramics on Instagram in 2019 — he is nothing but complimentary: “I think Seth Rogan is rad and that since he is well known by everyone, he is bringing the community of stoner ceramics to a wider audience,” he says. “Sounds good to me! Let’s all make rad stoner ceramics!”
See Luke Allen’s work at the Renegade Craft Show, this weekend at Fort Mason.
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