I have collaborated with Exposition Goods on this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Would you like some Wabi-sabi with that? Those might be the first words to come out of my mouth in the presence of ceramicist, James Barela. But, it’s not me being rude or insensitive, I’m just a sucker for a good rhyme. James is the creator and humble mastermind behind Baetanical, a minimalistic ceramics studio. Not only has he embraced the Japanese philosophy of “Wabi-sabi” in the creation of his stunning and unique minimalist planters but, he’s also got a cute furry friend, Luna, to boot (hint: meow).
Lucky for me, I was able to welcome a little Wabi-sabi into my own home. One of James’ pots is currently sitting on my dining table filled with a stupendous little succulent. I don’t exactly remember when I came upon James’ work. What I do remember is being stopped mid Insta-scroll and eye locked with the beautifully simple designs he creates. It’s always such a kick to have beautiful accents to adorn your home. But, what’s even more wonderful is getting to know the story behind those accoutrement.
A minimalist designer, James grew up in the artsy town of Santa Fe. He would later study in Austin and live in London, finding inspiration in many corners of the world. His pots have a way of bringing homes and gardens to life with a statement piece that doesn’t need to scream for attention and his quiet and quirky demeanor shines through his minimalistic pots splashed with glazes in pastels and bold hues. What could make it any better? A much-appreciated obsession with middle-aged actresses. Can I get a nod to Kathy Bates and a twirl for American Horror Story?
So, what, exactly, is “Wabi-sabi”? You might ask. Well, I’d spoil it now but James gives it to you in his own words in our Q&A. Read more about James Barela and Exposition Goods in our conversation below. And don’t forget to check out his shop!
Q: Where are you from?
A: I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico and went to college in San Francisco. I was also able to spend a good chunk of time in London, which is a wonderful city for design. I eventually found myself in Austin, Texas where I came to grad school for design. There I was able to work with primarily graphic design and photography, under the umbrella of a discipline called “visual rhetoric.”
Q: How did you get started in the design world?
A: I have an appreciation for the art world, but my style of thinking is more based on a structured approach to creation. I’m someone who really benefits from barriers and limitations, rather than a free-form style and that type of thinking helped me understand that design is where I can have the most impact. I enjoy that I’m able to express my values and point of view through my work. I stand by my creations and let them do the talking.
In school and on my own, I learned to work with all different types of media: letter press printing, sculpture, knitting, crocheting, painting, screen printing, etching, coding, collaging, analog photography, etc. I simply enjoy the process of making, from 2D to 3D, tactile to digital, and ceramics is my medium of choice.
Q: Fun facts?
A: I have a weird obsession with middle-aged actresses, i.e. Sigourney Weaver, Kathy Bates, Judi Dench, Rosie O’Donnell.
Q: How did Baetanical get started?
A: A few years ago, I found myself becoming further attached to my computer and phone for extended periods of time as I began my career as a graphic designer. I knew I needed to break the monotony. I decided to take a class on wheel-thrown ceramics with the intention of creating planters for my extensive collection of plants. Originally, my plants were all in typical terra cotta pots, but I began slowly replacing them with my handmade planters while sharing them on Instagram. I received a positive reaction and expanded my practice into a business.
Q: What’s the primary mission/goal with your work?
A: My primary mission is to provide well-crafted, modern objects that delight viewers by reimagining their home and garden spaces. I focus on ceramics but have the intention of expanding to other products in the future, all to support that same mission.
Q: Where do you find the majority of the inspiration for your pieces?
A: I get inspired by Japanese aesthetics, which has an extensive history and tradition in ceramics. The style employed is often very minimal while also celebrating the handmade aspect. They also have a phrase for the acceptance of imperfection called ‘wabi-sabi.’ I like to live by that worldview.
Q: Do you have a favorite piece or one that you feel best represents you? Which one and why?
A: Totally hard to decide! My most favorite pieces are usually because of the relationship between my favorite plants and my favorite colors. [Below] are some of my favorites.
A Few of James’ Favorite Minimalist Planters
Images Courtesy: James Barela, Exposition Goods (Thanks, James!)