Artist Spotlight: Trent Berning April 25 2020


When did you first realize you had an interest in ceramics/sculpture?

I developed an interest in ceramics in high school around age sixteen. I had a wonderful high school art teacher who allowed me to throw pots on the weekends while he graded papers. In my senior year, I won the league art show where I was awarded a scholarship to the local community college. At that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to study but I knew I wanted to go to college, so I used the scholarship to get my general education requirements out of the way.

From there, I received an art scholarship to Fort Hays University in Kansas where I developed an even deeper love for ceramics. While there, I decided to double major with a Bachelor of Fine Art and Education degrees. Then I received a full-ride scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee for my Master of Fine Arts Degree. This is where I met my wife and together, we built a life in the ceramic/art world as artists and educators. Overall, ceramics has opened many doors and opportunities for me that I otherwise would never have had. 
How has your art practice and/or subject matter changed over time?

My initial training was highly technical. As an undergraduate, I worked in production pottery, throwing forms that were designed by another ceramicist. This was a great experience as it allowed me to fine-tune my technical skills while learning about the business side of ceramics. Once I became comfortable with my throwing ability, I began experimenting with more sculptural forms in my own style. This shift allowed for greater personal growth and expression in my work. 

Can you provide some background information about your process?  Do you work with any unconventional materials?

My process involves a combination of hand-building and wheel-throwing techniques. The materials I use depend on how I choose to express a concept I am working through. My work tends to be more traditional in that I primarily work with clay, but I do periodically incorporate other materials such as metals, nails and even woodworking to add finishing touches to my art. 

Image Above: Large Handled Ash Bowl, cone 10 ceramic, 7 x 13 x 17 inches

Who are some artists that have had a strong influence on your style or art practice and why?

There have been so many over the years that it’s hard to know where to start. I have discovered the importance of staying open-minded and I try to learn from anybody and everybody I can. As I pick-up tricks, skills, and/or techniques to add to my repertoire, more options for expression become available.

If I had to name a few, I would like to recognize my past instructors, Linda Ganstrom, Frank Martin, and Sandy Blain and my brother, Travis Berning, who is also a professional potter. One of my biggest influences is my wife and studio partner, Kelly Berning. We spend a lot of time in the studio together and we are always bouncing ideas back and forth. Even though our work is very different, she has a big impact on the work I create.
Many of your creations depict boats and vessels, as can be seen in a piece currently on display at Arts on Douglas titled Relic Vessel (pictured below). Can you provide a little more insight into this recurring theme in your work, with emphasis on this piece as an example?

I am interested in the concept of transitions, such as where we come from, who we are now, and where we are going. As the saying goes, “change is the only constant in life.” The boat is a common symbol of a journey or passage and is regularly incorporated into my work. The heavy texture in these pieces suggest layers of history and erosion over time, while the boat form references movement, change, and growth, allowing these works to simultaneously represent the past and potential futures.

Image Above: Relic Vessel, ceramic, 38 x 16 x 6 inches

How do you find inspiration when you begin a new piece?

I always have a sketchbook nearby where I keep track of ideas, forms, or concepts I want to explore. I never know where an idea will come from. It may be something my kids say, a piece of bark, a memory, and so on. My studio time is balanced with my family, teaching, and administrative duties. This means that when I do have a block of time in the studio, I need to be able to walk in and get to work. Preparation, research, sketches, and production game plans are worked out before I even step foot in the studio. 

With that being said, I also find that being open to chance can influence new work. As an example, I started using clay scraps and recycled materials to make a couple of planters simply to limit my waste. I totally fell in love with the texture and organic qualities and as a result, this little experiment started a whole new body of work for me (The Relic Series).

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Follow your passion, work hard, and put in the time. There is this misconception that artistic expression is something you’re born with, but art is hard work and takes both discipline and dedication.  You have to put in the time to learn your medium and master your technique while continuously exploring themes and new concepts that you want to express. A great concept can be killed by bad craftsmanship while a technically flawless creation may come out lackluster if an artist has nothing to say. The balance between technique and content is of vital importance.


 Image Above: Egret Wave, ceramic,18 x 16 x 12 inches

What are you working on now?

I am continuing to investigate the concepts of transition and change. I have recently started creating ceramic tricycle sculptures. While I enjoy the technical challenge of building a tricycle out of clay, I am also interested in exploring the juxtaposition of an object that is associated with youth as a relic-like form that appears aged and decayed by the effects of time. While these tricycles are not functional, the wheels imply movement and change. It is my hope that these sculptures provide viewers with clues to explore their own experiences and observations about the passage of time, as part of a greater narrative. 


To browse available artwork from Arts on Douglas, CLICK HERE