2013 was the last year of the creative Drive
Sat & Sun: The weekend after Mother's Day

Interview with John Turula: Founding Member

May 6th, 2013 by

John TurulaIt was a damp, dreary day when I pulled into John’s driveway but his cheerful ceramic pieces punctuated the yard and welcomed me with their whimsical personalities.

Jenelle Ludwig Krause: When did you start making art?

John Turula: In college, but it was all in the margins of my science class notebooks. I doodled. I copied cartoons. I couldn’t draw realistically, I could not take 3 dimensions and put them into 2 but I could make line drawings. I would look at magazines and then copy strips – my earliest influences are comic strips and cartoon artists. Don Martin, especially, influenced how I like gestural drawings.

When I look back on it, it doesn’t really make sense but I thought that the cut off point for being an artist was if you could draw realistically. And I couldn’t do that so I decided to get a degree in biology.

The real turning point for me was, with my science degree, getting a job in a military hospital instead of going to Viet Nam when I was drafted. The hospital that I worked at had an award winning craft shop. They had wheels, kilns, leather, stone cutting. It was really a nice studio and it was where everyone hung out that didn’t want to be in the army. Just all us guys that were mostly medical and dental workers. It was like the MASH unit. That’s where I started throwing pots.

After the war, I decide to go back to the University on the GI bill to study art – ceramics. And then I started accepting my doodles as my reference point and as my source material, and that opened the door for me to become an artist.

Where do you get the most joy out of your work?

I think because I love comics and the humor – not just from the text of the comic strip, but from how the characters look — I feel satisfaction and joy from my work when I see humor in it. The doodles always have elements of humor. For the clay pieces, there’s some kind of gesture, some kind of a personality that you see by the stance. I usually work until something makes me laugh. Eyes that are somewhat askew or somewhat surprising. It’s more the approach of shape, I suppose, or intent. The process seems irksome to me these days, it’s tedious, but at the end of it, after all this hard physical work, if the final piece looks funny to me, it’s worth it.

My stacked ceramic pieces are successful if they have a figure, if they have a personality like that of a literary character. After reading a book, you feel so sure some character was real. And sometimes these figures to me look like they have something… like an inner something. It’s elusive. That’s when they feel successful. And mostly I’m looking for something light-hearted. The world is so troubled, so making something that brings smiles feels like success.

What are you working on these days?

I’m working on a paper for publication that I’m calling The Local Voice. It’s a collection of history, visual art and literature from this area. I’ve even got an old Native American map of West Central Wisconsin. What’s interesting about The Local Voice is that it satisfies my comic book sensibilities. I see it more like a comic book sheet than a formal literary piece. You are pulled in by the visuals and then you find yourself reading a poem.

John TurulaAt first when you don’t understand the media, you are too clumsy with the tools to translate your idea. And then, after a while, you are not clumsy anymore. Artists, as they mature and get old, hit their stride with their work. That’s when the big boys and the big women are really shining because they know how to manage the media and their tools.

But for me working in this media is still stupefying. Because I’ve never designed a paper before, I’m making decisions based on my intuition rather than experience. That’s why it takes me so long to formulate a thought. Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just stare a long time to see what kind of arrangement pops into my mind. It’s fun to be on shaky ground.

Do you remember when the Creative Drive started?

Mostly I remember the social aspect of planning it, of getting together with Brian, Sheralyn and John. I remember solving problems together and the challenges of actually being able to put something like that together. There were clues from other tours, but it seemed like we kind of had a different take on it from the start. Now we have something very unique.

Come meet John and his ceramic pieces for yourself and see if they make you smile. They will be on display at the Silver Bison Ranch during the Creative Drive, May 18-19th, 2013.

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