MARK: This is the backyards of Key West podcast, my name is Mark Baratto and I am sitting here at 1201 Duval Street at the infamous Key West Pottery, with the magical magician, the artist himself, Adam Russell. Welcome to the show.
ADAM: I’m stoked, thank you so much.
MARK: I’ve seen a bunch of your stuff because we were talking before and I used to live across the street for a month. We walked by and see your stuff and of course on Instagram you are like an Instagram celebrity down here because typically people don’t have many followers at all down here and you’ve got quite a big following because of the work that you do. It’s great to actually be in the store and to meet you and maybe before I go you can show me the backroom where all the videos and the magic happens?
ADAM: Actually, that’s one of the things that we talked a lot about is that, a couple of years ago we used to be on Truman Avenue here in Key West. Lovely location, great neighbors, we loved it. Not as great as terms of business traffic, but when you came to Key West originally it was really just about setting up a studio. Not necessarily becoming this…
MARK: A studio to make, and not to sell?
ADAM: Yeah, just not even really as a retail venture but just have a space to create work because at that time, I say we because it was my wife Kelly, we were pursuing a more conventional artist gallery relationship. The artists kinda is the hidden little Quasimodo in the back and he’s making work and you have a face person out front in various cities around the world. Typically, Americans doing that right now.
MARK: Like a wholesaler, right? You’d be selling to them at a lower price?
ADAM: Yeah, kind of. So, if you would imagine throughout history especially in modern art setting, most artists make work and then you’ve really made it when you’ve got a gallerist who is essentially your partner. They are selling it to their list of collectors that they have cultivated and it’s long and hard work, over time, they have the facility, they have the store front, all that.
MARK: Right, they are the business aspect of it and you are the artist. And you keep the two separated.
ADAM: Exactly. So, that’s kinda like as basic as it was, it was my understanding of the art world coming out of a non-profit background. Working in the arts my entire life, but really what we wanted to do was create a studio that was capable of making high-end work that we could then shop around and find us galleries. The funny thing that happened is just the magic of Key West, people just started to stop by the studio. They would see the work and they were like, “Is this for sale?”
MARK: How did they come by the studio? Was it open air and they just walked by?
ADAM: It was on Truman Avenue at the corner of Truman and Grinnell, next to Island Bicycles, so there was some foot traffic and people coming into the bike shop and we just hung a sign outside that said pottery. We have given it a little bit of class with this and that, brand new to the island, we came down with literally nothing.
MARK: And when was that?
ADAM: This was in 2009.
ADAM: So, we had nothing except for and you know what artists have? They have this, well you’re possessed by this love and this dream and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t work out but you have to keep pushing on. Essentially, that’s who you are in a way.
MARK: Well, what would signify it not working out?
ADAM: I guess not working out would be, compared to where we came from in Toledo, Ohio, which has a lot of love and respect for that art scene and community, but compared to where we came from Key West is very expensive place to live. So, there’s as an artist couple with two children, there’s some really non-emotional pretty straight up stringent guidelines about what it means to make it or not make it. For us, be able to provide the opportunity that we want with the kids, and opportunities for ourselves, and not be asking favors. That was always my thing about business is that we had people who really put us onto it. Great dear friends of mine, mentors, so on and so forth, that could help us out with a place to live for a little bit. You know how it is.
MARK: Yes, of course. When you don’t the kids it’s cool because you are eating noodles and sleeping on couches and you’re fine with that.
ADAM: It’s all good. Yeah.
MARK: It’s totally different when those little ones come along.
ADAM: But it’s like when we first getting started, the feeling I had was that we had to make this go because you can’t take favors forever. It is good and best to be able to shake hands and give heartfelt thank you and say “hey man, because of you, we’ve made it.” We are doing it. So that to me was how I measured success. Back then and even still now, we have been fortunate that Key West has wrapped its arms around us and embraced us and inspired us, you know? It’s grown from there but we started the studio as just a studio and then the people of Key West and consequently of the world were in Key West. They came through and said, “hey, you know we want to buy it right from you!” So eventually and I may not be the quickest learn on it, but okay, let’s have a go at this. Now what you see here on Duval Street is coming back to your original question is that this is our retail space, our gallery, and for a long time the gallery and studio were in the same place but now there’s actually a division of church and state. So the videos I make at my studio which is up island about a mile.
MARK: Oh wow!
ADAM: And this is our clean space.
MARK: I figured not being an artist myself, or an artist in different ways, we would come by and my wife is more of an artist and we are like, okay I know what they are doing… they’ve got the gallery here, he’s making everything in the back and living right above it and we thought, how cool!
ADAM: It would cool, but this building is, and I’m not sure what vintage maybe 1930’s construction and it’s solid. They don’t make them like this anymore type of solid. It was the Miami Herald outpost 36 seasons, it’s kind of a cool thing in the sense that it was a slop for a long time down here, but oh boy I would love to live upstairs and work out the back.
MARK: But I think there’s got to be, well I like to have separation. I’m a consultant and I do everything myself and I rarely work at home. It’s not like I’m being bothered, I just like to get out. I like to have noise, that’s just how I operate. Like we were talking earlier and my brain works is that if there’s chaos in the background, I can work. If it’s quiet, I freak out. I need that. So, like I’m a coffee shop jumper and in Miami that was really easy to do, but down here it’s a little bit harder because they are like, you gotta get outta here.
ADAM: It is hard, I’ve never worked in restaurant or service industry, but there’s not like a café culture as much here as what you see in other cities to just hang and work.
MARK: Well, that’s because, and I’ve talked to a couple of cafes that are here and they are like, “Listen we don’t make money on the coffee, we make money on the booze and the food, right?” And I made friends with some of them and they are like, you can come in anytime you want, but I still don’t want that because I know they are trying to make a living. I went to Starbucks, and they are fine with letting me sit there all day. I don’t like the coffee, but its fine… and Starbucks if you want to sponsor me, I’m sorry that I said that, but they’ll let me stay there because it is corporate. So why Key West? What was the appeal? Did you visit before or were you like, Key West or bust?
ADAM: You know what, I had been in Key West as a kid. The family mini-van trip as a teenager and loved it. Actually, one of my fondest memories of that trip is Key West that I’d ever had a mango. And I didn’t know how to eat it so I bit right through the skin which is like Pine Sol? But I bought that from a young man down in Bahama Village and it wasn’t necessarily Key West, per se. I was a public art administrator in the city of Toledo, so I was working in the field of art, specifically sculpture mostly, conservation and new acquisition and it was a great job. It really showed me where the rubber hits the road in the art industry and these people have to get it done, you know what I mean? This is not just about oh if we get to it.
MARK: So, the business aspect.
ADAM: Yeah! And you hear words like, okay artists don’t have to be born rich, you know what I mean? It’s like this is work and there’s a certain way this is done and I really got that education there. Ultimately, I knew that that wasn’t for me entirely. Because I wasn’t making the work and I was always, well I put it this way, I wanted to be the dirty one. You know? In the studio, making the mess. Exercising the demons, exercising the visions, just getting it out. I’ve always been compelled in that way. During that time when I was applying to the Artist Residencies and while I didn’t have the most well-developed portfolio in the world, because I was working fulltime and raising kids, too and the whole deal. I saw an opportunity come through on one of these list serves that we were a part of at work and it said, “Cultural Manager in Residence.” Or, actually call for Cultural Manager Residency. I read the criteria and I thought, “Well, heck I’m a cultural manager and I’m managing an art collection.” It just so happens that it was the Studios of Key West. So I wrote them and it was, I think darn near their first season of hosting people for residences, maybe second, but very early on and I talked with the then director and they said, “Why don’t you come down as an artist if that’s really what your ambition is?” You could stay a little bit longer, come on down. I had a painting project going on at the time that was called “Oneness Identity Project” and little did I know the whole thesis of this project, could be summed up another way “One Human Family.” So, they brought me down to work on this project, develop the philosophy behind it which is already really well set in Key West. One Human Family is our slogan and they introduced me to that, and they brought me down for a month. That was in 2009, and it was a pretty big gamble for us, if I’m honest, even just leaving work for that amount of time. We were a little bit hand-to-mouth at that time.
MARK: So you were saying that taking the gamble, taking the whole family, coming out here for the month when you left, did the company you were working for, did the Studios say you could come back, or was it like, “See ya’ later?”
ADAM: No, they are still some of my dearest and closest friends. It was the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo and it’s a non-profit organization up there and they are continuing to set the pace for, and I’ll tell it bigger than it actually is I’m sure, but they set the pace for the Midwest and rust belt as far as arts and innovation in the city and outlying areas, inclusion, all these things. They were supportive of me and I think that probably in that way they could see that there was some risk, too. They put a lot of investment into me at that time, but I think, and there’s this thing when you work with people and you know them, you are actually working with the person. You have to know that, each person is complete and has their dreams and goals, whether you like it or not, and you might as well be supportive. They really, truly embodied that and so there was some flight risk, you know what I mean?
MARK: Of course.
ADAM: I came down for a month and as I said before, right after that last week in November, and without a D.C., had put on a thing for Art Basel in Miami, so we extended it to five weeks to go to Miami and experience Art Basel for the first time and on the way back, we are driving in our conversion van, my wife and I, and she’s pregnant with #2, and #1 is three years old, he’s in the back, and we basically quiet the whole way because we are driving from, well we had lunch in Miami and there’s green parrots overhead and we are driving to Toledo where it is snowing sideways, and by the time we got to Ohio, I think both of us had mustered up enough gumption to look at each other and be like, “We are out, I want to go back.” She was trying to break it to me and I was trying to break it to her, and we were able to reach an accord, you know what I mean? But it takes some help from people that we had met in a relatively short amount of time in Key West and it was a month residency and we had met people that were solid enough contacts where we had a place to put the studio and a short term low-rent lease on a place to live for long enough to either sink or swim.
MARK: Right, so you had a plan set-up and you’re like, alright we are going to give it a go for this long period of time and if its not going to work out, then it doesn’t work out.
ADAM: Yeah, if it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out but if we won’t forgive ourselves if we don’t try.
MARK: Regret is like the ugliest thing to look at.
ADAM: It is! It is. I haven’t encountered a lot of it in my life but the few run-ins I’ve had it’s like, it hurts. You know what I mean? It hurts in an existential way. For us, it was just worth it, so ten years later, the stars continually align and we are very thankful. We work hard and we are very fortunate at the same time.
MARK: Before I get into today, tell me about when you knew you wanted to get into art and what type of art did you start with?
ADAM: For me, it was just never a question and I never considered anything else.
MARK: As a young kid, you were like…
ADAM: My father is deeply artistic and was a career law enforcement and ended up as a major crimes’ investigator and a brilliant man. He’s still artistic and started a design business and has retired in it, so I know where it comes from. That’s how we would spend time together, but I’ve pretty much never considered anything else. Like a lot of young artists, they start with a pencil, they start with the paper.
MARK: Were you in school doodling in the corners?
ADAM: I was, I wasn’t a terrible student. I went to a decent school and felt like I could get by and not have try super hard which is a shame to say now that I have children and I’m like “Try harder, man.” It’s the lesson, and it’s not about getting good grades. The lesson is, learn how to work hard.
MARK: Yes, it’s the trying hard and the effort that you put in that will catapult you into the future, not the A’s and B’s.
ADAM: Exactly. You know A’s and B’s don’t hinder at all either, but it’s all about learning work that, you know, we are thankful that we come with this good Midwest stock, we all work hard. But working hard as an artist to me, when I was at art school age, meant painting, design, printmaking, I hadn’t experienced a lot of 3-dimensional work and it is a different world. I love painting, I have a degree in painting and printmaking and I still do quite a bit of it, but there’s some fundamental difference. While we are, at least the type of work that I’m in, while we are painting and printmaking, we are essentially creating this illusion. We are creating a portal into the imagination and it’s awesome. With sculptural work, 3-dimensional work, this object actually exists in the real world with 3-dimensions so there’s a lot more to me, to think of and I still want it to be a portal into the imagination.
MARK: Of course.
ADAM: I still want that magic, but there’s a lot more components, you know what I mean? The materials and so on, and so forth, and it was daunting to me, but I think ceramics is a really great way to bridge that transition. Number one, it is a highly traditional, a lot of these formulas have been figured out. This history goes back arguably 20,000 years. At the same time, it remains undiscovered. There’s something really unique when you push the boundaries and there’s people in this field who have never before been seen, that are fantastic. It pushes me to go further, to reach further.
MARK: And where do you see these people? Through social?
ADAM: Social a lot, but just art. The regular art channels. I’m a lover, we collect art, I take it very seriously and it is something that not even in a professional sense it is just something that I enjoy deeply. Both the history of art, but also art contemporaries.
MARK: Well, you are blessed that you can do it.
MARK: To have that thing that you love to do that must happen. Then to actually do it and then not be struggling. That’s a blessing.
ADAM: It is and we don’t take it for granted either. We have put in lots of hard work and we are now to the point where I’m realizing that there’s a transition, especially in this town and at this time. We are afforded the opportunity right now to actually create jobs in the arts on Key West, on Duval Street, on Stock Island out at a studio, we are actually creating positions and livelihoods for makers in this place that is so legendarily hard to live. Housing crisis and all this stuff, but you know what? When you connect with people in a meaningful way, the universe figures the rest out. It’s been my experience and I now that sounds a little “woo woo” but my saying is, “make the world, love the people.”
MARK: How are you doing that with other artists?
ADAM: One of the things that has become essential for us is that we have a volume of work that this originally started with my wife Kelly Lever and I making the work basically in the back of a 1950’s strip mall that was down on Grinnell Street. It has grown now to the point where we are selling and I am guessing honestly, between 5 -7,000 pieces of art per year. It ranges from a coffee mug for $30 to a garden installation which could be $50,000.00. But we run the whole gamut and, to do that at this point, we just need top help so we are working with other artists to help us create this work. So, the phenomena that has happened is that Key West Pottery itself has become a living, breathing thing. We have studio work that is signed Key West Pottery, ultimately probably it came from my desk, I designed it, or Kelly designed it, but it is being made by a whole team of us. We also have my work specifically that is somewhat sculptural and fine art work and then we have Kelly’s work that is specific. So, it is kinda like hers, mine and ours. We have been able to do that because the human species especially in Key West are brilliant little critters and the team that we have right now, I am so thankful for because they help us on all aspects. From retail, advertising, actually physically making this huge volume of work.
MARK: That’s incredible, you’ve found a way to be able to scale which is typically the unscalable because if you are the artist, there’s only so many hours in the day and that’s it.
ADAM: It is a real crossroads there for us, they are real crossroads, and we are going to do everything absolutely handmade by Kelly and myself and this is how big it gets, and that is it. But the, and I hate to use the term like marketplace because I’m not a big time business man, but the base of people we have now the marketplace the collectors, and people coming into our location that we lovingly built. We are like, we need more (help) and that gives us a choice of either I farm it out or how do we do this? Or, do we bring people in and create meaningful positions in Key West? Which in some ways seemed like a harder way to do it? But we wanted to. So, we’ve got a team now.
MARK: Well that’s cool because Key West embraced you, right? When you were there trying to build for a gallery and now you are bracing it back.
ADAM: Trying to, yeah! But it is actually a very happy story and a lot of hard work and there’s so many different skillsets that any other business owner on Wall Street can tell you, “Oh I’m a manager, I’m a janitor, I’m an electrician, you know they have to do everything.” But before my idea of an artist wasn’t as comprehensive as what has actually ended up being, but you know what? I have fallen deeply in love with it. It is something that I actually quite enjoy.
MARK: The art of business you are starting to…
ADAM: Yeah and it’s got its own words and sleepless nights.
MARK: Of course, like anything. The people look and they think, “Oh this guy just showed up and drops some clay down and made this beautiful thing and became an overnight success.” But nobody does! It is a marathon out there and if you put in the time… this is the thing, if you love what you do, it’s easy to eat shit for 10 years. Because you love it! But if you hate it, that’s why you like doing other things to fill that void of pain of your 9 to 5’s.
ADAM: I think so. I think that even though that is absolutely 100% true and I totally agree with that, I think there’s another more obscured aspect to me. I get asked this a lot, how does it feel to do what you love? It’s like, “well it feels great.” But there is also an aspect of you have to procure the ability to fall in love with what you have to do as well. There’s certain aspects of what is now I guess “my job” that I did not anticipate, I did not feel good at – at first, and what was very frustrating but if I can make myself fall in love with that part, if I can make myself at least embrace it as this is what normal looks like then it doesn’t feel like a craft. Then I can take on the next job and the next after that one. So, it is not only about doing what you love but it is loving what you do. And as dorky as that sounds, it is so true.
MARK: It is and another layer on top of that is, that I talk to people who especially get bored in the thing that they do. I say, you have to take on a percentage and it is up to you to find out what that percentage is of stuff that you dislike to do for your job. If you are an artist and you love doing it all the time, what happens is that it becomes boring because you are doing the same thing all the time and there’s no “I have to get up or I have to do this” there’s too much ease that comes into it. If you are like, okay look I don’t like doing the books and we need to do them all the time then that’s a good thing. You need to keep that because that keeps you excited for growth and doing more. It’s like going to the gym and working out and not being sore. What’s the purpose of that? You need to have that pain, you need to have that frustration, you need anger, you need to have times – even as an artist in my opinion – where you’re like “I don’t want to do this today.” Not I don’t want to do this anymore, maybe I don’t want to do it today. That is healthy feeling. I feel because then you’re like, cool let me not do it and let me cultivate something else so that I miss that and I am super excited to get back to it.
ADAM: For real. You gotta scare yourself a little bit. I’m so lucky, I can’t sit here and ask, or act like – I know these business principles scare myself and it turns out that I have a partner. I’m in this with my wife.
MARK: And that is a blessing, too.
ADAM: It is, and we get along really well. Both in and out of the studio and I know we are on the right track when we look at each other, overworked or pissed, or smell bad and have been working in the sun or whatever it is, and we both look at each other and we’re like, “are we crazy? What the heck are we doing?” and that’s how I know, okay that friction you are talking about is still there. We are still pushing the rock up the hill. That is the rewarding work to me at least. I didn’t sign up to this to not work, I like to work actually. It’s that friction, you gotta show up and it keeps me sharp as a man, as a father, and I want achievement. This isn’t about TV or something like that.
MARK: It was funny, I was watching last night, Comedians in Cars, that Jerry Seinfeld.
ADAM: Oh yeah, on Netflix.
MARK: And he had Jamie Foxx on there and Jamie said “you know I was getting real soft because I was in all these movies and getting the Academy Award and stuff like that and I’m still doing stand-up. So I go do this stand-up and I’m about how about those Range Rovers, ya’ know, ah man it’s real hard when and like I’ve rented this house and we only had 5,000 square feet and it felt cramped in there. And like 2 people are clapping slowly, and he thinks he kills it and then goes outside and opens the door and hears everybody screaming and Chris Rock was comin’ in and then he’s like outside in the café and the girls come over and “I have to ask you something” and he’s like, “Yeah, I’m Jamie Foxx,” and they said, “Do you know Chris Rock?” And he needs to step my game up and I can’t get too soft doing this.” And it was funny because the funniest part was like when I won the Oscar they gave it to me and I gave it right to my manager because I feel like if I hold this thing long enough I’m going to start to have this English accent and I just needed to raw and dirty still and do these things that I love when I’m getting too high on my own air supply.
ADAM: It’s true, I actually heard him tell a similar story on Tim Ferriss podcast and I felt like he was such a class act, in the sense that obviously he is a man of some achievement, a polymath when it comes to anything interesting and he just gets it. I totally agree – if it gets too easy it starts to seem – boring to other people too – not just yourself.
MARK: Yeah, work looks boring, right?
ADAM: Its gotta be fresh. I think that there’s some trap for success in there, I don’t even know how to measure success, really? But its like to me, I feel successful when I’m making stuff that is hard to make. When I can look at something and be like Okay, there’s only a couple of people maybe in the state, or in the country, or whatever, there’s only a couple of people that could even make this, but I feel confident in my resolve and this is my original idea that I came up with! And that is not the eureka moment. It is an ongoing process of putting layer on top of layer on top of layer and then on top of layer and practice. That to me is successful. Especially when our basic creature comforts are met for myself, my wife, and my family. So that is the thing but without that little spark, without heat, without the moments of being a pissy artist and you gotta sit down and pout for a little bit? Kinda work through something. After that, I’m not in this for the retail aspect but we are trying to push something real here. I’m not saying it is the most important thing in the world, but I think that people connect on that level and I think that.
MARK: Yeah. It’s nice to know, I can imagine that somebody – somewhere – is looking at your piece and they are loving it. They are feeling something and it is evoking some emotion. You know? That’s what is different about this kind of work than painting and stuff like that, it’s not just hanging on a wall somewhere, it’s incorporated in and part of the house. Or outside, or just the everyday part of the life, like landscaping.
ADAM: I love that. I love how we are really on this fine line between fun art, which I love, and there’s this stigma and it is so fine art is upper crusty and all conceptual and you know these people are snobs and some of that is true. It is. But if you can read that language and get into it, this meta cognizing on human existence, I dig it. It’s not for everyone, but then on the other scale it’s craft. And craft has a place in our life. I used to make these paintings and put a show up and I was fortunate to have a couple of shows and that was really exciting about and I mean they’re not at The Met. But as a young man, I was really hustling on the painting and I would put them up and more times than not, people were so kind. They would look and they loved the work, the colors, your designs, but I don’t get it. No one has ever told me that with the ceramics. Because it’s already integrated into their life, they already get it and that is the thing about craft is that it is colloquial to the region of the country you’re in and the region of the world, but the meaning is the same. You know? And it’s a nice bridge to a huge population of people that of course want beautiful accouterment in their life. But you don’t have to deal with all the pomp and circumstance that makes it artsy.
MARK: I think fine art people and I think it’s the specific people that can make it snobby, not the artist who made it because they were the furthest thing from wealthy or snobby when they were creating it.
ADAM: The world is full of people. There are people in the craft community who are a bit off-putting too.
MARK: Of course.
ADAM: The only thing I mean by that is that I can see how people would feel intimidated by the art world if they are not educated. And educated in arts specifically. Since this whole pecking order, like anything else, but I love that ceramics invites people in. It says – you get this – you get this and this is for you. This is for us. This is about ideas, just a little bit more casual, natural or at least that is the way that I perceive it and that’s what we have embraced and it works.
MARK: How did you get into it?
ADAM: My wife. At the same time, I was working with the Arts Commission, my wife was helping to manage a non-profit pottery studio in Ohio and she had already been working in the field and making pots ever since she was little kid. When we were in arts school together, which is where we met, we were both studying painting but even during that time she was giving pottery classes at this non-profit in Ohio and she was in this picturesque, a beautiful studio and it was always there for us in that sense. We bought a used kiln and some used equipment mostly for her and had it in our basement and it was just this cute casual thing while we were pursuing this painting career.
MARK: And she wanted to pursue that as well?
MARK: So, this was the hobby.
ADAM: It kind of, well it seems like it was weirdly unconnected? I don’t know why? Then Kelly, and she’s a great artist and a great craftsperson really, and she started to get pretty serious about it and was doing some street fairs, and this and that trying to make a larger volume of work in a home studio. She brought home one day a box of colors and these things are called ____, and I’d never seen them before because I wasn’t making pots. This is many years ago. And I was like, what are these paints? Or what? And she said its actually liquid clay, a slip we call it, with pigment added in, so its like paint but its not paint, you actually have to fire it off. But you paint it onto the wet pots. And I was like, I want to paint on some pots, I’m bigger and so I started to paint on her pots and realized that there’s this really magical thing going on. So, you have this painterly 3-dimensional pot and they ended up selling better than both of my paintings and her pots. So, we were running down that road for a little bit and then she eventually got to where she’s like, you know man you gotta make your own pots.
MARK: Yeah, stop screwing up my pots.
ADAM: These are mine and you have yours and that’s ….
MARK: And she taught you?
ADAM: She had a lot to do with it you know? We are in this generation now where its like, I’m a YouTube fan. I was going on and trying to figure out the mechanics of how to do this because, and there’s probably some listeners out there who have tried pottery, and it’s pretty daunting and pretty tough. But for one reason or another, I was afforded the time, the space, the equipment, to just keep on trying and I saw its potential and its commercial potential even. I could see that and I said, I have to get this. Eventually it started clicking. The thing is, with anyone taking classes, if you are struggling out there right now, you make progress rapidly, and its cumulative. So again, you are building these layers and they build up a lot quicker than you realize. It’s also a plateau learning system where you stay at the same spot for a long time and then all of a sudden you just rocket forward.
MARK: It’s like anything physical, its weird how that happens. Its like Tony Robbins talks about this with tennis as an example. You first start and you buy the racket, the gear, you get out there and you start practicing and of course, your volume of growth is super-fast and then all of a sudden, you hit a plateau, and most people quit at that time and then they pick up golf and they do the same thing all over again. Whereas what happens is, you hit that plateau and you find somebody – a teacher – and they go “oh look you gotta just turn the racket like a quarter inch this way.” And then what happens is that you get worse, not better, because you are used to doing it one way, and it’s in the net, in the net and then all of a sudden you swing and it’s like Vavoom! And it goes over like a rocketship and then you go to that next level.
ADAM: It’s the same way, I think probably any acquired skill but pottery especially. People now check me on Instagram or something and I like to make really big stuff cause it just works with my body shape, my ergonomics and I just enjoy making it. I don’t think that it makes me a better potter than anyone else, I just like to make it a bit bigger. And people write and they’re like, “what’s your secret?” and I hate that word. Oh boy, I wish it was that easy. It is exactly what you think and that’s what the answer is. You have to make such a ridiculous amount of work that fails. It is a disappointment and makes you want to scream.
MARK: Because it’s bigger?
ADAM: Or just any mistake. Especially in the big work in my experience.
MARK: But it just costs more that you fail with.
ADAM: And you just have to ruin so much stuff and learn about the myriad of different ways that things get ruined.
MARK: But you can reuse it right?
MARK: Like you are making it and I’m sure you can add water or whatever you add to it and smoosh it back.
ADAM: To a certain phase and that’s what is so amazing about this material. We are the ones adding the value. It is a natural material and at this point the clay is mixed by a chemist and that guarantees that safe for the consumer, guarantees the temperature within a couple of degrees of accuracy. So, what we are actually doing here is creating a chemical reaction with clay called vitrification. At first, when we make the pot its this clay that we have, like a mug and we let that dry out, and while its drying out if it were to rain in here or whatever, then that would turn back to clay, nothing has really changed, it has just become dry. But we put it in the kiln for the initial firing and we go to about 1,800-1,900 degrees and just as a point of reference that’s the temperature at which a bronze statute would melt totally. So, this initial firings the cooler one is quite hot and that initializes this vitrification process. When the pots come out you can never turn them back into clay, there’s no recycling in that way they are rigid and we glaze them. And then we glaze them. Have you ever heard the term glaze in architecture and its absolutely glass it’s a synonym, so what we are doing is applying all the constituents for glass in a powder on the outside of the pot and we fire the glass on and that firing ranges but we do about 2,300 degrees or so.
MARK: So, it’s the same place that you put it but you turn the dial to the different degree.
ADAM: We just go a lot hotter. So, this natural material, even the glass, now we are so sophisticated in this day and age, in terms of being a potter and its so easy. An ancient potter, you know you can’t fire glass onto the outside of the pot they are unlike materials and expand and contrast at different rates and this kind of chemistry is so advanced that it does not happen by accident. For them to be able to pull shards of glazed pottery, not just regular pottery, glazed pottery sealed pottery, 15-20,000 years old can be radio carbon dated and actually a great candidate for that. So, it is super accurate. That doesn’t happen by accident. It shows you how clever the human species have been and I really love that.
MARK: How did they even get it that hot? That’s question one.
ADAM: They were building kilns up hills and putting the fire up because already aware that heat rises. If you took one of these ancient potters or ancient craftsman and brought them here together right now in street clothes, they were completely modern homo sapiens and completely modern people its just like that they lived with deep antiquity and were doing super advanced things based on all the basic principles that we still know. They were also refining the clay, digging it up and all this kind of stuff that we don’t have to do now.
MARK: When you mentioned working with the chemist is that so that there’s no lead or? They may have had that, and not even known and that may have gave them some edge but not healthy interests.
ADAM: That’s one of the things that I think is always relevant conversation is that we continue to evolve as a culture, as a species, as organisms and I hope this happens, we are getting closer to optimizing our life on earth. Right? So of course, lead, barium, arsenic, all of these great colorants in paint or in glaze or glass or whatever were not so good for your brain and your organs. But now what we are discovering and I saw a potter online and I cannot remember the name, he had a t-shirt that said pottery not plastic because that’s the thing now. This plastic thing is out of control.
MARK: It’s everywhere.
ADAM: We are already more sophisticated than eating plastic and drinking plastic and poisoning our food and we were already more sophisticated back then.
MARK: Yes, I know.
ADAM: What we are trying to do now is just use our art, use our science, use cross disciplines and the knowledge we have today, that we have to optimize. If we are optimizing and its beautiful and that’s kind of where we come from. When we started to make the pots professionally, really out – no safety net – like this is what we do for a living – here we go… the most comfort that I had in that moment which would be otherwise pretty scary, is that this is not really about doing something new. This is not about doing something new. Where as a young artist, maybe ignorantly back in the days when I was painting, I was trying to search my psyche, search my mind, search everything for this new idea and I regret to tell you that I have not thought of it yet! But what we do now, and this is an ancient continuity, this is where we came from, this is the storyteller on the side of the pot. You are an ancient farmer and have this warm, basically a sacred pot in your home to hold whatever – 6 months of rice, that pot is so important and your job is so dangerous that when you leave and your children know where the food is, when you leave everyday to go do something dangerous you write your history there. The history of the people there and you write it on the pot because the kids have to encounter it there. It’s the same reason why my little boy gets an A in English class and where does it go, right on the refrigerator. Everyone has to encounter it there. Its where we celebrate and keep our history and that’s what the to-do list is. That was the ancient story. When we are throwing these pots, that’s how I think of it. Not that its an original idea, in fact it is the opposite of that, we are just carrying this on. This is the way its always been.
MARK: And you can tell that it comes out in the art that you do.
ADAM: I hope so. We have wins and losses too. There is always a design aesthetic that is hot, like people are really looking for this one color or whatever, and it’s like, ____ but at its purest what I’m really trying to do is trying to keep this ancient craftsman continuity going in this place, at this time, because there’s a lot of schlock in tourist towns. To really be representing, in good company with other great artists, in Key West.
MARK: It’s nice to not be adding things for the commercial bang. Yeah, these are CBD infused right here. I make these in the back, come on!
ADAM: We are trying to make an actual expression in this place and an expression that will fit into your life wherever you take it back to. We don’t paint fish because they really sell in some tropical Florida place, it’s because this is where I live. This is what my surroundings look like.
MARK: Right, fish is everywhere.
ADAM: I am deeply inspired and when you come off the reef especially being a person that is not deeply steeped in marine biology, when I go down on the reef and look, I see stripes and polka dots and bright _____ and that’s what it looks like.
MARK: Right, nature is inspiring you.
ADAM: I want to bring that back onto the land and try and make it honest, dare I say childlike expression of it. That’s where the joy is and people connect with it. I’m into it without stopping. We are going to keep it going.
MARK: Tell me your first big piece, not in size, but where you looked at your wife and you’re like; they said how much for this? And you just threw a number out there and you’re like, I cannot believe we got that!
ADAM: You know what? I’ve had a number of them, and I’m fortunate, but I’ve had a number of moments like that, but I’ll twist it just a little bit. One of the things I will never forget is that one of our mentors and his name is Aaron Shipley and obviously he was a longtime Key West’er and he has since moved away, but he owned Island Bicycles for a long time. When I moved to the island I actually moved here partially for the art, the inspiration, and so on, but I’m also a reggae musician.
MARK: Oh nice.
ADAM: And at that time, I had (dread)locks that I could put in my back pocket and Aaron was an awesome man and owned a red bicycle, hence the red golden and green, the whole deal and anyone who remembers it back in the day is like, when you walked into this bike shop you basically couldn’t hear anything going on because the reggae was pounding, it was great, an awesome environment and he was very kind. But he also helped mentor me in a very fiery way. I won’t forget the time he came in and I was singing the blues a little bit, and I was like, it was tough man to figure out business. I had worked in non-profit, I had been to school, I had never worked in retail and never really run my own business, especially with a brick and mortar overhead. He came into the shop one time and I was hard up on money,
MARK: In this shop here?
ADAM: No, not on Duval, back on Truman, it was probably the first six months. I was hard up and feeling a little blue. And he said, “Now listen man, what’s the most expensive thing in here?” And when he asked me that, I realized all of a sudden, I didn’t know. I was just making to make. And then I realized and it just hit me like a gong. He was being serious and he was like listen, I want to help you with your pricing, let’s talk about this. And I didn’t have an adequate response. He’s like, look this is why you struggle. You have got to figure this stuff out and make a system. And then once we did which took a while, it took weeks of hard work really structuring things to make sure to make sure that A + B = C, and C is your ______. After we got that, that was the moment for me. We sold plenty of expensive works since then, plenty of volume, and all this good stuff, but that was the critical moment you’re getting at.
MARK: Because that is an important lesson for anybody listening in whatever you’re doing is that, you have to understand your worth and price things out and how to plan.
ADAM: And it’s the hardest part. But it is so essential especially if you want to make a living, “a living” you want to make money off of your passion. That ultimately was a moment that I had to admit to myself that this is a commercial venture. I can be altruistic as I want about the passion parts and the fire burning in my soul on everything, but ultimately and actually trying to make a living with this as well. That’s far more pragmatic than this emotional stuff.
MARK: And we don’t have to fool anybody either, there’s a huge layer of talent that comes into this, too. The first and foremost is you gotta go for it because you don’t want to have regret and then if you’re not getting a response 1, 2, 3, 4 years in then could start making it a decision on staying in the art world if you love it, or maybe doing something else you know? Or, how many of those stories where they quit but if they stayed work a week later then they would have had their big break, so you just don’t know. You never know.
ADAM: And that’s my thing, you mentioned something earlier and I will always have a super steady diet of people who have taught me good self-talk. I am really fortunate that my mother is the absolute eternal optimist regardless of dire situation we may find ourselves in, it’s like, would you weigh it out? Which way is better? It’s not just about the escape, it’s about getting it. But you have to be bright upstairs.
MARK: Yeah, for sure.
ADAM: And you have to be right in the heart and if you’ve got those things down, then the rest of it kinda falls into place, but it is a lot of hard work.
MARK: One of the things that I heard you say earlier, which makes a lot of sense, is that you have to have a healthy combination of ego and empathy.
MARK: Because you have to know, wow, I made this or I created this or I work on this and it is awesome.
MARK: And then you have to have the empathy so that you’re not getting too high on your ________ supply, for sure. Having that combination of both, like I’m in sales and the best salesman are like that. The best salesman are the ones where, you are trying to be a consultant and you give them this big spiel and they are like, what I’m hearing, doesn’t sound like you’re right for this. And then you’re like, maybe you need to listen better, because I’m perfect for this, right? So that’s the ego part, but then being empathetic to the person that you’re trying to sell or work with and those are the important things to know that this isn’t a fit. Even though I can make money, this isn’t a fit and knowing that is like part of the sauce.
ADAM: And it’s an art. I think it is an art and not a science. You know what I mean? Otherwise we would have all these successful artists around and being an artist can be a struggle, you know what I mean? But it’s like you have to meet people half way and I heard another person, and sorry to keep recycling all these anecdotes but it’s like they stick with me, right? It’s gonna maximize. As an artist, you have to be both unrealistically optimistic and you know, completely negative, too. You have to continue to get better. You see the worst side of something and it could have been better, oh it could have been…
MARK: We don’t have time machines, so when people are like, what should I do, this or that? It’s like pick one and don’t look back because you’ll never know. And you may have done this other thing, became successful, get on a plane and then crashed in a car and be dead. You just don’t know, you just gotta pick it and you gotta go for it.
ADAM: And be objective.
MARK: Listen, we have drinking water, we have toilets, so like we can look at those things too. People that have it a lot worse, than we do. Let’s switch gears and talk about social media. When did you get into, I mean obviously because this is what I do for a living, too. This is the easiest way to get to the most amount of people, especially if it is beautiful work or artistic stuff and a video is good, so everything you’re doing is the perfect recipe, but when did you first start that?
ADAM: You know, well I’m trying to think, I was a My Space guy, back in the day.
MARK: Yeah, top five friends and you don’t want to lose that position.
ADAM: Right, you go back and check, and oh I see what it is.
MARK: I’m friends with Tia tequila, or whatever.
ADAM: I think that it is so brilliant the way, especially in the art world, only because that’s the only thing I’m looking at. In the art world it’s like exposure really matters. Even though 98% of the people who admire Kelly and I’s work, and comment and support us, probably will never be an owner of the work, but their influence and their word of mouth, even just their good energy it’s like… that’s what is really makes our business run.
MARK: And that’s how it was 200 years ago. Right?
ADAM: Yeah, oh totally.
MARK: You have a butcher shop and you’re at a party and you’re telling this friend and all these people and none of them come into there, but they will refer if somebody is sitting and say, “Hey I need a good piece of meat. Oh, talk to John the butcher.”
ADAM: It even comes down to having a good time. Having a good location. This is what business is, especially in the arts. If you are well regarded amongst the people who others for some reason think are in the know, then it’s like the value of your work is greatly brought up. But in social media it is democratized in a way, and of course there’s a conventional aspect to this too, but in the day, people could really monetize not the art work itself but just the exposure of the artwork.
MARK: Yes, of course.
ADAM: Then it became the middle man. And with social media it’s, I don’t know in some ways there’s still some of that that goes on, but it’s like the people have spoken. When people are subscribing and they are actively making the choice to be a part of this thing, it’s great.
MARK: Do you sell more to people outside of the Keys because of that?
ADAM: Yeah, without a doubt. And I’m really thankful for it and if I am honest, we have just gotten really lucky with the tube. I think that the basic tenet of social media that is optimist but I think people overlook too much is all of the content.
MARK: Of course, absolutely.
ADAM: Anyone who, especially an artist, but if you are promoting anything, you gotta learn how to take a decent photograph. It is not rocket science, you don’t have to be a professional, better if you are, but if you can learn how even just the basics of composition, color, photo touching, so and so forth, basically how a camera works. If think that if you figure out how a camera works it will unlock so much.
MARK: And it can be on your iPhone, too. And how that works.
ADAM: Without a doubt, and there ya’ go. When you take a photograph, it becomes an average of you are actually seeing. The camera will grey out to kinda of a lowest common denominator and it’s like, I was fortunate to go to art school and we were taught that, but I now can see when a photograph needs to be lightened or darkened or tweaked just a little bit to be able to get the right contrast that illustrates what you are trying to illustrate.
MARK: Do you, I didn’t mean to interrupt, do you find yourself, well you do a video and you a number of different videos and then you see that okay this one is getting more engagement than this one, do you then go, okay I’m going to shoot them like this? Or are you more, I don’t care I’m doing it this way no matter what?
ADAM: You know what? Maybe a little bit of both because there’s nothing like looking for a patten where there may or may not be a pattern. It’s like the social media thing it is a moving target. It’s changed a lot and we joined Instagram only a few years ago and it was at the behest of a collector who and I don’t remember this person’s name, very fun name, but he’s like you gotta get on Instagram! It’s a visual platform. Then I came up with every excuse, like I’m so analog and I work in mud all day. So we started one and at first it was like…
MARK: Pictures of the art.
ADAM: Yeah, pictures of the art and it was very exactly what you would expect. There’s a picture of this.
MARK: Like a scrapbook, whatever, or a catalogue.
ADAM: Exactly, which is only going to get you so far. But once I started to include people in the creative process then it was just like, okay if I show myself making the work which feels a little self-conscious about that sometimes, I’m making the work and I’m not thinking about what the expression my face is, you know what I mean?
MARK: But you do that cool dropping the ball thing.
ADAM: And that’s the thing, I couldn’t just make a boring a video out of this. It was a bit of showbiz.
MARK: I like that, all right we are ready!
ADAM: It is and it gets me psyched and it just binds the whole system. So inviting people into that process is where, I think it’s part of our spirit or mind, our brain, or I don’t know what it is, but there’s a part of us as human beings that wants to be creative. I think that on a deep level, and I hope everyone realizes we are supposed to be creative. We are just supposed to be.
MARK: to me it looks so primal because it is so ancient. If I saw you doing that with a paint brush I would not feel as connected to it.
ADAM: Well, I think it probably depends on how it is presented. You know what I mean? I’ve watched some pretty great painting videos as well, but what I loved about the Instagram platform originally and it’s changed over time, is that you have the square format and it can only be one minute long otherwise it is just cut off. Which is really challenging because some of these pots can take me 45 minutes to make.
MARK: Right, but now you are doing Instagram, the TV.
ADAM: Yeah, the TV. Which is longer.
MARK: And those are great because you can still put it as a regular video and if someone wants to watch more, then they can.
ADAM: But what it forced me to do was to cut the crap. You know what I mean? You don’t have to watch me put my hands in a bucket of water 40 times because you know it must be happening. But what I want to do is show the sequence of actions so we can actually see this art work come to life in shorter amount of time than it actually would have taken in real life and it’s so comprehensive to do into the creation of this work and people just went nuts over it. I’m so thankful for that.
MARK: Actually, posting the first video of you doing it and then it was like a ba-boom?
ADAM: Well, it wasn’t ba-boom right away but it definitely got a good reaction and the first video I took was like my camera leaned up against some soda cans in my dirty studio. It wasn’t much to look at. I’m sure I actually took it down at some point. I should repost it just because I got into it. I have this type-A personality and if I’m going to do something, I want to be best!
MARK: It should be a throwback Thursday video.
ADAM: Yeah, for real. It’s funny because I remember it was like Christmas Eve or something and I was talking about the demand at the time, which is hilarious compared to where we are now. But this was a couple of years ago and what happens is that these things travel. They travel in both good and bad ways. There was a time last year where a lot of my content had been co-opted by some kind of mysterious Chinese company that was selling cheap t-shirts and I discovered more than 50 accounts that had exclusively my content on it, as though I was the one peddling cheap t-shirts with terrible misspellings on them. And it was like pictures of my kids and stuff, too. It was really one of my first wake-up calls and like, oh man once you put this out there, you can’t get it back. I went to Instagram and this and that and I think we’ve got it resolved for the moment, but it’s like on the flip side and on the positive side, we were picked up by “People are Awesome” it’s a great website or YouTube and go check out “People are Awesome” we got picked up by various media sites.
MARK: And you mentioned HGTV.
ADAM: Yeah, HGTV has been in the gallery. But local media has been great to us. And we love to be involved with local media because once, well you know a raising tide raises all boats, or however you say that, it’s like let’s all come up together and it is a great place to live and work. But Design Milk put us on at one point with the videos and that really, for some reason, the first 2,000 followers on Instagram took me forever to get. I was scrimping and trying to get there. But we went from 30-60 in three weeks. It’s just crazy the way the growth is exponential.
MARK: Yeah it is. Its just percentages, so if you grow 10% for a time and you’re bigger, growth is quicker.
ADAM: Around that time, I started to really feel conflicted because I just feel like I don’t want to be utterly commercial about this. I do this as a privilege and I really think it’s about art. It’s about making art, inviting people into the creative process without being didactically instructional.
ADAM: And not instructional videos.
ADAM: They are not instructional photographs, this is about art, and it’s about why I love it. I think that a lot of people can just resonate with me on that. So, I tried to get creative with some of the writing I do, I try to not be commercial. And you know, people get it. The stuff is for Adam, its what I do for therapy. But that has given us kind of an angle. I follow some other cats that are doing impressive work but after the fifth and sixth commercial appeal, I’m like, Oh dude! You know what I mean? Just make it about the work. It’s so exhausting. And that’s easy for me to say.
MARK: It’s the long-run and you’re doing things, not for the quick sale and that is the problem that other people have. All right there’s a timer on what I’m doing and if it doesn’t succeed with this particular thing then I’m changing it. Do you do any paid advertising at all with Instagram?
ADAM: I have before, only because…
MARK: Well, you should because with those numbers…
ADAM: Nah, we, well to build up on what we have now is more of an organic thing.
MARK: No, I didn’t mean buying it, I meant advertising it and marketing to other people around the world who love pottery, right? Because it is easier to pick that demographic and then show these videos to them and now would be like…
ADAM: Yeah, I have done some of that but it’s been if I’m honest, it’s been less results-oriented than what I kinda had thought. You know what I mean?
MARK: And that’s an art, too. That’s my art.
ADAM: It’s like, I didn’t use it to its full potential.
MARK: Well for the people at home for when it comes to marketing and doing stuff on Instagram or Facebook, because Facebook owns them, it’s primarily like you split it into two camps. You do your marketing to get a return on your investment by spending $100 and I want to make $200, or $101. And then the other is a percentage goes to straight brand. There’s a reason why you wear Nike’s. Right? It’s not like the shoes fit that well, sorry, but it’s because of brand. And when we are getting more into a voice atmosphere and in the next ten years and our kids, we like and there are two things that are most important as humans at this point and time; it’s our health and it’s time. And that’s it. And that’s the reason why video blogs, like if you had a 45-minute thing, I don’t think it would do as well. But this quick thing is perfect because time is important. You don’t need to stop your car; you can just watch this quickly and be done with it. This is the reason why podcasting and audio is so much bigger now than video. Video blogging was immense and now it’s audio because net time, no extra time, you can be driving, walking, or on the toilet and you can be working.
ADAM: I listen to podcasts while I’m throwing pots. I can’t type, I can’t read during that time, I’m focused on what I’m doing but it’s like you can only listen to so much music and I’m a non-fiction guy and I love to get this information.
MARK: I listen to them all the time. Me too. Audiobooks, all of it. So, making sure that the work you are doing and the stuff you are putting out is tailored toward some of the new techniques and stuff like that. You’re doing these things naturally which is good. Long-form on Instagram, the actual writing is great. A lot of people don’t do that anymore. So having tons of text in there and people read that and people if they are looking at the 1,000th pot you are doing it’s like, okay, but when you are also writing stuff to it, it’s like wow. That adds an extra element of what’s going into this whole thing. What’s he thinking when he’s making this? What’s the inspiration? People like, I want to tap into my art. Or, wow this is primal and getting dirty and getting in there and all these other things that make it appealing to humans. So, it’s like taking the time to learn the platforms if you’re just not naturally good at it and take advantage of the fact that the platforms are free and the fact that you can market for such underpriced amounts right now that people are building multi-million businesses on social alone. There’s an App called Wish, which is the #1 competitor right now of Amazon. It’s like a $5 billion business and they’ve only done advertising and marketing on Instagram and Facebook. And that’s it.
MARK: And, here’s a funny fact is that Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, when Google Ad Words were out, the #1 spender on Google Ad Words was Amazon at the time. Because it was underpriced. He went all in on all this money on something where he could get the biggest bang for his buck and look what happened.
ADAM: Right, it’s basically other than buying Google stock or whatever…
MARK: Yeah and now he’s buying Whole Foods.
ADAM: It’s crazy and the whole world of business thing is, that it really has become very fascinating to me because inevitably you start to learn about it just by wanting to throw your hat in the ring and talk about Jeff Bezos and then Key West Pottery in the next breath is hilarious. But what’s funny is that I feel a part of this business community. We have a really have a wonderful thing going on and it’s like why was this a brick and mortar? We do business from this place that we are in right now and if I’m honest then that’s enough for us. We do all right. But to be online and to be connecting with people, and what I’m loving about that, is that we are making friends all over the world based on common interests, based on things that we can show each other. So, Kelly and I are teaching a workshop in San Francisco next month and that was all social media connections. For a long time I felt a little sheepish, like I felt like some kind of dorky millennial talking about social media all the time, but I’m telling you that if we can take a couple of good photographs and put it out and a couple of hours later, there may be 100,000 people saw it and it’s a major part of what we are doing. We are trying to take it seriously and give it the due respect.
MARK: That’s what I love about the videos too. Because of the fact that it’s not as much vanity metrics as the likes. It’s just views and you know the likes, but nobody else knows behind the scenes and that’s great about that because you put I out there and you have to worry less about, oh hey this didn’t get a lot of likes. But you are putting it out there.
ADAM: It is easy to get caught up in that, too. You know what I mean? I’ve gotten caught up before and I’m like, what happened? People stopped liking it. And then it’s like, wait a minute, let me just do my work.
MARK: You want to put out stuff that people like for sure, but you don’t want to get caught up in it because you have to be true to you and you have to put out material. You never know what material you are going to put out that can change the course of your life. It could be something that was liked the least. The one person liked it and that’s all that matters.
ADAM: If you are putting things out that are going to change the course of your life, then you better be sure that you are putting things out that will change the course of your life in the way you want it to be. Of course, your life could be a drag. But I don’t want to put out this fake design junk that I know is hot right now because in two years it will be something different. I’m putting out what is honest for me. And it’s tactic. I know what the colors of the season are, I have to say what is right for me because now that we have run into a decent amount of exposure, we have to realize how powerful that is. And I don’t want to get pigeon-holed and everyone thinks, “Oh you go there and they’ve got the color of the season.” This is an expression that, and I don’t want to say any better than that, but our thing is different and that is based on qualities of life that we want. So, this thing is driving our lives forward but we are still trying to steer it.
MARK: My advice would be, because we know you are working this account, so for me it’s like, this is both of your personalities, it’s not the business.
MARK: It’s you as human beings. When you get into some other art as well, please put it here and it may not get the most likes because you just may have pottery fans but it doesn’t matter because this is you as the artist.
ADAM: That’s great advice.
MARK: And put all that out there because it shows more of the humanity. Think of it like when we talked about the tennis analogy, you may get worse at first but then they explode. You make take one step back but four forward because you are showing you the artist. So keep that.
ADAM: I think that is #1 great advice and it sounds really fun but also, social media, yeah, I can use it pretty selfishly and put myself out there and oh it’s gotten out there and whatever, and that’s good. But the other thing that I’ve loved about it is that it has taught me to look at artwork in a totally different way. It may be that I’m getting older and maturing at the same time, I hope, but I feel like it’s only recently that I’ve been able to greatly expand the way I look at work as simply appreciating it as someone else’s work. As a craftsman, I’m always deconstructing how was it done? I’m always and that’s always the way that I’ve been. But now that I have a massive amount of work that I’m attracted to out there, I guess I basically don’t have the time to anymore. It’s like I’m looking at this work and I just admire it and realize it is utterly different than mine, I’m not going to make something like it, or imitate it or whatever, that’s not the point. The point is to enjoy it. I’ve gotten better at that and I have really truly think that social media has been great in that regard and there are so many great artists out there right now that I’m looking at and I’m deeply inspiring and I don’t need that from a technical perspective of, “oh he does this one thing so well.” I just mean the art is moving.
ADAM: I think that would be a great idea to share that out there. It’s like influence, although not in some direct aesthetic way, but I’m looking at this dude and he’s off the hook. This woman is making this work that is touching and look at this guy.
MARK: It’s starting and you just never know the stuff that you put out how it can move people and that’s what this is about. That’s from going full circle what we started with and that’s why you’re doing this.
ADAM: Yeah! It’s the continuity and I think it’s worth it and I think that in time when we have all the bad things in the world that we all know about, and have to repeat endlessly, there are a lot of really wonderful things going on and it’s not on the news for some reason.
MARK: Yeah, I know.
ADAM: But there are places where it does exist and we’ve got to make that as visible as possible. Yeah, I want to make a living. I want to raise our kids and I want them to be safe, I want to be aware of the threats in my environment, of course. That’s just being a responsible person, but after that, it’s like man there’s just so much good stuff happenin’ out there.
MARK: People generally love people; it’s just how it is. You know why we know that? Because we can kill each other so easily. It’s real easy to bring some bomb into Times Square and blow it up, all the time, it’s just not happening because we generally love people and you can see it when there’s, and you see videos of accidents on the road and someone’s arm gets caught in a train, and everybody bands together, there’s this humane thing that we have about that and yes, there’s a few seeds that are just messed up maybe, but as a species, it is really easy for us to do away with each other. We are making some bad mistakes here and there with certain things but in the end, I think we are going to work itself out.
ADAM: I don’t know, I feel like in a time and especially from an environmental perspective or something like that, there are some really crazy things, but to get the good news out there and I mean the good news that people are creative, highly intelligent and more sophisticated than ever in many regards, and if we could just bring that back to the ancient philosophy of looking out for each other because ultimately you’re looking for yourself that way, you know what I mean?
MARK: To shine the light on that a little bit more.
ADAM: Exactly. That’s, yeah, it’s that time now. But that is actually what you see. That’s why there’s some kind of, and I don’t want social media to change too much as we go along in terms of monetizing, I know they are running a business but I love free exchange of ideas and of course, there’s people subverting it and whatever.
MARK: Of course, but they would be doing that at a party, it bleaches.
ADAM: That’s what information really is.
MARK: Social media just exposes who you really are quicker. That’s all it is.
ADAM: But a lot of good things are coming through it right now. A lot of things I’m paying attention to that, for no other reason than, you know what? They teach me how to raise my teenager better. They teach me how to whatever, how to put things into context. How to see my own existence from a 10,000-foot perspective. Highly important. You can’t operate in a vacuum, and as we know, being on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean sometimes, I joke a lot with people that you now, we moved to Key West to get away from it all. Boy oh boy, did it work.
MARK: Yeah, right?
ADAM: Now sometimes I want a flight back and see what’s happening in larger art world and everything. But luckily, you know, we are able to do that virtually many times and it helps us decide where we go physically and what we check out when we are there. Is that some big surprise that I don’t have to go off the tourist pamphlet. I have already contacted these people and we’re going. Which I love.
MARK: Yeah, that’s awesome.
ADAM: I’m always stoked when people come in and sought us out beforehand and I always try to take good care of those people and in the gallery too. Yeah, man I’m stoked. We are just very lucky, and I’m very lucky that the quality content got seen by the right people and it got bigger than what I had thought, and I hope it continues in that direction and if not, then I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in that platform as it is.
MARK: You are doing a great job, so keep that up for sure. Well, let’s go to a couple of parting questions, which are the personal questions here. Your favorite event to attend in Key West?
ADAM: My favorite event to attend in Key West and this is me racing through my brain and try not to say what everyone else says.
MARK: Everyone else is like, the local parade.
ADAM: Oh, I do love the local parade actually. You know what? I have done a lot of non-profit work since I’ve been in Key West and just mostly arts advocacy. And I really love children. I love kids. I think they are such a worldly investment and whether it’s sports, arts, anything, so if we do some galas and some things like that, I always love to see people gathered around for one unobstructed purpose. Whether it’s Studios of Key West, or Key West Art & Historical Society and things like that, and I think they are meaningful and fun.
MARK: Yes, of course.
ADAM: And there’s champagne and all that but generally it is going to something meaningful. We supported the Montessori school for many, many years in that regard so we really like those, and if I can tell you the truth, I talk with so many people just in the shop on Duval Street and I am not on the hard sell. We are just BS’ing with good people about the world in this shop and then at the end of the day, I want to go home and be quiet.
MARK: Your day-to-day is your event.
ADAM: I’m happily married and I’m not the social creature that so many people know Key West for, but I still love it just the same.
MARK: What about for music if you and your wife want to go out and listen to some music, where do you go?
ADAM: Music, I have a great love for, the Green Parrot.
MARK: Yeah, that is the go-to for everybody. And it’s great, the music is awesome there.
ADAM: You know raising, my kids are getting to the age now where we are arranging less babysitters, but for a long time we had little kids so for us to go out is not super common unless we go out for specific purpose and I love the bands that John (Vagnoni) brings in and, if you know about them far enough in advance, then you know Suenalo is gonna be there.
MARK: I get that email that says “X is gonna be there.” And you’re like, perfect.
ADAM: I think there’s a good variety there. I am like so many others, I think one of my favorite spots is Point Five. And I know it’s not this live music mecca, but when the DJ is up there and just getting’ down on the vinyl, it’s like a little funk soul and it reminds me of where I came from and I appreciate it so much. It’s an actual record playing and the DJ booth is like ridiculously small but this huge sound comes out and I just love it. That’s the whole cocktail bar kind of event which I love.
MARK: What about favorite thing to do with the kids?
ADAM: My favorite thing to do with the kids and my oldest boy has rapidly become an accomplished young sailor. So we go over to the Key West Sailing Club which is down in the Bight and its super crazy affordable for family membership for a year. And I don’t want to misquote it, but it is something ridiculously affordable and you can basically go there and rent a boat and it’s like …
MARK: Like a catamaran?
ADAM: You can do a Hobie Cat. But there’s a youth racing team that just starting and my soon-to-be 13-year-old is solo navigating these boats across the harbor! I don’t even know how to do that yet! It’s really cool and it’s got you outside and it’s invigorating and it’s got that little taste of danger of some kind.
MARK: Which is good for the kids to have that because you’re like, you are on your own kind of a thing. A problem comes and you must navigate it and there’s no Dad to help you out.
ADAM: So, I love that with the kids. There’s a lot of great things and we really live that kinda cool neighborhood life. Our neighborhood has a couple of kids from the boys at school within bike proximity and we live in a closer neighborhood that a lot of people don’t know about and it’
s right on the islands and we were super fortunate to buy an old beater house that was in foreclosure and we put all our love, sweat and tears into it and it is our little joint. So the boys are rockin’ the longboard up and down and there’s a skate park and I love how you can still have that old school life.
MARK: I love that about neighborhoods that strive here and I love that.
ADAM: It’s amazing. It’s like how I grew up and even though to me that doesn’t seem like a long time ago, the world is a much different place.
MARK: Well it’s nostalgic for us because we had two dead-end streets and driving my bike to school, climbing trees, my parents and think about it now, right? It’s like my parents would be like, it’s Saturday and it’s 10 o’clock – go and come back when it’s dark. And there’s no phone, there’s nothing.
ADAM: Yeah, right. You called your friend and they weren’t home, and you just had to call over there.
MARK: Imagine if you’re like, meet me at the fountain at 2. And you show up and they’re not there because they like, their mom is running late. What do you do? You leave.
MARK: I couldn’t imagine my kid at 11 years old leaving and coming home and there’s no way they can get in touch with you. I would be like, uggh! I was climbing trees and my parents are watching me climb these trees that are like 50 feet high and if I fall I’d be dead. And they are just waiving at me. I’d be like Holy Shit!
ADAM: Pop, I’m actually scared.
MARK: This is just wild now.
ADAM: But you know what? We have a good team so the kids and I think that the kids have a great life down here. You know, everything is a little islandy’s and it’s a little bit rickety and it’s a little bit you know? And I always feel like you know.
MARK: We look out for each other here.
ADAM: For sure.
MARK: That’s what’s important.
ADAM: People see the kids and they are like, “You’re Adam and Kelly’s boy,” and I appreciate that because I feel like that about others. We have had a good run of it in Key West.
MARK: That is awesome. Where can people find you on social media? And I’ll put it in all the show notes.
ADAM: We are: @KeyWestPottery on Facebook, Instagram, maybe a couple of other stray ones out there. The best way is Instagram, that one is the easiest for me. I don’t want my job to become about constantly searching for visibility. I want my job to be making the work. Sometimes I make things and people were discussing earlier, don’t resonate on it until later on. But Instagram, I literally am running that my personal self and my personal stamp on it.
MARK: You responded to me, so you are very responsive on there.
ADAM: I try to be as responsive as I can. We get a lot of messages on there and I really respect people and sometimes it takes me a second to get back and I feel bad. So people have gotten pissed off about it and it’s just like, it’s not our full-time job to be on Instagram, but I do try to represent it very honestly.
MARK: Well, there’s always toilet time. That’s the best time for a response.
ADAM: Some infographic about that the other day. Do not borrow someone’s phone. But we are at www.KeyWestPottery.com is a very basic website and shows some of our work and gives you links to the online store which we have done well with and just try to keep it clean and functional. It’s impossible to represent the entire breadth of work that we have in the gallery on the online store because we have such a quick turnover. If anyone is out there listening, one of the best ways to get a hold of us is just to call the gallery and say, “Hey, which fish do you have right now?” And we can take a picture and send it to you on the phone. Because otherwise…
MARK: I’m sorry, that fish came and went!
ADAM: Yeah, otherwise it’s too hard. We just can’t.
MARK: You have a full-time job uploading your pictures to eCommerce.
ADAM: And maybe one day we’ll get there.
MARK: I don’t see you mass producing 100 fish in the back the same exact way.
ADAM: These are one-of-a-kinds and we have some things that we can never, and we make this bird that’s become very popular and we can just never run out of them. But the work is not formulaic in that way and you come in this year and then next year it might look totally different. I don’t know either.
MARK: Well, come in, that was my last comment is: 1201 Duval Street on the quieter end. If you are here, please come by, stop in and say hi, you are easily approachable and look at the art.
ADAM: That’s the thing, this stuff is meant to be in your hands and you have to pick it up and feel it and that’s how you really feel the maker on these objects and what’s cool to think about and maybe it’s self-indulgent as it is, but you can feel the hand of the person who made it. As long as it’s not destroyed or doesn’t hit the floor by accident, that lives up for as long as the pot is there. So even after I’m long gone, this hand and the sensitivity with which we are trying to make this work at least, I think is detectable. It’s there and it’s meant to be in people’s lives. I encourage you to stop by!
MARK: Yes, for sure. And the last question, I always like to end with is: Give us a tip of the day and it could be a new gadget, a new website, a book you are reading, anything.
ADAM: I’ve been really into this author for a long time, his name is Graham Hancock. He just came out with a new book called America Before and his read on history and he’s not a researcher, but he’s more of a reporter and like he synthesizes with leading experts in a variety of different subjects, but basically getting to the point of giving us some context for the human species on this earth right now. His claim to fame is that he has coined the term that we are a species with amnesia. He’s a very compelling author and the only reason that I even mentioned it here is because when you said books you are reading and I think that what I love about his work the most is not that you can take it hook-line-and sinker, but that it compels you to look more objectively into the past. I think that that gives us so much context for what we are doing now. Some of the things are so obviously giant mistakes that are happening right now with a historical perspective, we can correct course, we don’t have to even be fans of the same politician to correct course.
MARK: Of course.
ADAM: It’s really so much about personal responsibility and I think that history, if you can fall in love with it, if it’s not boring to you, can really give you perspective. So, I have been on and off with deep history studies for a long time, but I’m back on it right now.
MARK: Nice. So, we are back on it, get your history and your History Channel and you can do, How the Men have Made America, that’s a pretty good special on the History Chanel. Well, Adam it was really great talking to you and I know you have to get back to the beauty that you have here at Key West Pottery and I really appreciate you and your time.
ADAM: Most honored.