“I don’t know if I’m really the right person to talk to about those sorts of things,” says Katie Marks, looking directly into the camera transmitting our video chat. The Seattle-raised, Portland-based ceramicist runs Silver Linings, an online shop selling porcelain most notable for its cheering aestheticization of melancholy through pouring gobs of candy-colored glaze over frowning curves.
We’ve been talking about the benefits (and limitations) of community in her practice, especially as it pertains to her recent interstate move, and I’ve just asked whether she consciously thinks about identity when she works (her own identity, her consumers’).
“I've lived a really isolated life,” she admits. “Lonely, didn't really have friends, so I just never have identified as anything. Yeah, I'm femme, I'm Jewish, I'm queer, sure, but I don't care.”
At once assertive and apologetic, she continues, “I just never felt like I fit in anywhere. I'm Jewish, but I'm not Jewish enough. I'm queer, but I'm not queer enough. I'm femme, but I'm not femme enough. So I just don't. I just don’t.”
Yet Katie’s popularity is measurable. She sells out her Etsy shop every time she updates it, which should come as no surprise. People clearly identify with what she does. Katie’s objects, though glistening in iridescent glitter and gloss, project her sense of merry abjection. Everything is traced by “happy loneliness,” as she puts it, juxtaposing an open desire to linger in the cold certainty of ephemerality. This is exemplified by the mug on her homepage. Its sundry colors, bleeding into each other like emotional tie dye, evoke a swirl of unicorn froyo melting because you stepped outside to smoke a cigarette—a slumped over confection letting out a sigh of indiscernible meaning. It’s as good a container for catching breakup tears as it is for delivering your breakfast brew.
Silver Linings’ ambiguity caters to a wide audience. Mugs blanketed by gilded sweeps of clouds keep crying kitty pipes company on her virtual shelves. The combination of effects is striking.
“They're rainbow iridescent, they’re gems, they’re galaxies, they’re fun, right, but the faces are always crying,” she explains. “People ask, ‘Do you make any that aren't sad?’ I'm like, ‘Well they’re not necessarily sad. They just had a rough night, and now they’re going to smoke a bowl and feel better.’”
Describing what she calls a “beautiful gloom,” she says, “Growing up in Seattle, it's always gloomy, overcast, but then you get a rainbow that brings beauty to the gloom. My life has not been easy, and all I’ve ever wanted was just to express the best parts of me. The best feelings that I feel, I want to make that into an object that makes you feel good when you touch it.”
All the various paradoxes in her work point to the importance of the in-between. Even her practice itself is liminal—“I’m somewhere between production and fine art”—and her decision to embrace the complexities that others shy away from is one of her work’s greatest strengths.
She continues, "My work is saccharine. Sweet. It could be misconstrued as shallow, but for me, the biggest fight in this dark world is putting something beautiful and happy into it.”
Whatever other ingredients go into the work, it’s safe to say that her sculptures are forged in a kiln that generates heat from a largely untapped and slow-to-renew resource: the interstice between self-doubt and self-assuredness. Silver Linings is triage in which it’s appropriate, even desirable, to center one’s own position. With other people in mind, of course.