Gallery 209, located at 209 E. River St. presents Derek L. Larson and Dale Robinson as July’s featured artists. Each month Gallery 209 spotlights the work of two artists from their gallery roster: one from their 2D program and one from their 3D program. Connect Savannah contributor, DJ Hellerman, spoke with both artists about their work and the ways Savannah inspires their work.
Larson grew up in LaPlata, Maryland. During high school he found his love for sculpture and ceramic. In 2006, Larson moved to Savannah to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design and, in 2010, he earned his Master of Fine Arts in Sequential Art. In 2020, after a decade of creating comics and paintings, Larson reconnected with his first artistic love: ceramics. Larson lives in downtown Savannah where he makes art and enjoys the slow and sauntering southern life. Larson finds inspiration in the architecture, natural beauty, and quirky characters throughout Savannah that bring this city to life.
CS: What inspired your return to working with clay?
I’ve always been creative and would draw a lot. In my sophomore year of high school, I took a ceramics class and I loved it. I’ve always enjoyed comics, but the careers weren’t for me. The character design classes I took at SCAD were very influential to my work. I could use clay and Sculpey [Clay]. I think you can see the references in my work. A friend of mine was taking classes at Savannah Clay Spot and encouraged me to take a class. So, I did. Immediately, I knew this is where I needed to be and what I needed to be doing.
During COVID, I took clay to my house, got some tools, and started making hand-built and slab-built ceramics. I’ve been off to the races ever since.
After 20 years, I remembered this was my calling. It feels like I never left.
Now, it’s my second chance and all of my life experiences are coming together in clay.
CS: How does it feel to have your hands back in the mud?
Yeah! It has been a big thing. I went through some life changes. I was in a tough spot, depressed and just not feeling it. I started working with people who were helping me be present and in the moment, not worrying about the past or the present. Ceramics was my way to practice this and things began to turn around spiritually. It was a way to practice life skills in ceramics. I lose myself. The chatter in your mind quiets. It’s a flow and I get in the zone. I am totally there. I can go for hours. It’s a way to tap into a bigger energy. You never know how something will come out of the kiln and how it will be glazed. Letting go of attachments, having goals but not being attached is the Taoist and Buddhist part of it for me.
CS: Do you have a kiln? Where did you make the work?
Twice a week I do an open studio at Savannah Clay Spot. The rest of the time I am making work at home. Recently, I acquired a small kiln to fire small work. But, a lot of my work is fired at Savannah Clay Spot. Lisa Bradley, the owner of Savannah Clay Spot, is incredible. She has done so much for me and for many people in the community. After taking a few classes with Lisa, I am now mostly self-guided. But Lisa is always there to help. It’s an amazing place and such a great community with a lot of love and a lot of support that fills a psychological need for many people. It’s fun to be there and support everyone on whatever they are working on.
CS: Your work is intentionally whimsical, heartwarming and acknowledges the magic that’s all around us. What is it about Savannah that inspires you?
Wow. It’s everything. It’s about history, mystery and lore. It’s got the supernatural lurking in third-floor windows and basements. Savannah has an energy ... you know. I feel it here. It has always been a town of ideas and the people are passionate about being creative and making stuff. It’s really supportive. And, I know it is not like that everywhere, but it is here.
For information, follow Derek on Instagram: @dereklarsonceramics.
After a 30-year career as a chemist, Robinson decided to pursue his interest in photography as a creative outlet. For almost a year, Robinson spent nearly every day shooting photographs and developed his personal style and a body of work. Robinson enjoys photographing landscapes that utilize fog, mist and shadow to convey the feeling of Savannah and the Low Country. Many of his images are iconic Savannah landmarks captured in his own unique way.
Robinson also photographs coastal birds, especially the egrets and herons found around Savannah.
CS: After a 30-year career as a chemist, what is it about photography that fascinates you?
My interest in photography started back in the 70s and 80s when everything was film, and cameras were pretty much all manual. The technical aspect of using film and setting aperture and shutter speeds by hand appealed to my science side. Now, with digital photography, I just allow myself to experience the landscape and scenery around me.
CS: What was it like shooting photographs almost every day for an entire year?
When I decided to pursue photography as more than a hobby, I needed to develop my skills and my style. I felt that the way to achieve this goal was to get out in the field and take photographs pretty much on a daily basis. In the beginning it was wonderful, but fairly quickly getting up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the best light can begin to feel like a chore. It is also difficult to make yourself get excited about shooting the same subjects over and over. But, I learned that once you find interesting subjects it becomes a matter of finding the correct perspective, lighting or time of year to make a truly unique image.
CS: How did your understanding of Savannah change?
I’ve lived in Savannah for over 40 years, but until I started exploring our city with a camera, I never realized how much history has happened in Savannah in the last 280 years.
CS: What is it about landscapes and birds that continues to capture your imagination?
When I walk around with my camera, things slow down, I become totally immersed in my surroundings. It seems that I can walk through parts of Savannah that I have been to dozens of times and I will still see new things. As for birds, I tend to focus on egrets, they are amazingly beautiful when they are in their mating plumage. I still stop and watch when I see a white egret against a deep blue sky, they just seem to glow.
Robinson’s photography is sold exclusively through Gallery 209. For information on both artists visit gallery209savannah.com.