Jeff Suina's principal artistic medium is clay, but the true building blocks for his futuristic forms are pixels and vectors. As a veteran web developer, programmer and animator, the Cochiti Pueblo artist uses the compositional skills he honed in the digital world to sculpt mind-bending physical objects. The inspiration flows both ways: Suina recently crafted a digital ceramic piece that's available as an NFT.
Read our interview with Suina below, and explore our special release of his recent (physical and virtual) work.
Your first show with us was We Are The Seeds, a group display of artists who’ve helped establish a Native arts festival here in Santa Fe. What have you learned about the importance of Native community and celebration in your work with the Seeds festival, and in your years as a tribal officer for Cochiti Pueblo?
I’ve learned that, especially over the last two years, that Native art and creativity serves a crucial function. It is an expression of ideas, a documentation of what is happening at the time, and also a symbol that can bind people together.
In your artwork, you use time-honored Cochiti pottery techniques to create unconventional, futuristic forms. How did you originally develop this approach, and do your skills as an animator and graphic designer bolster your ceramics process?
As someone who works in 3D design and animation, the foundation of creating models and elements is from primitive polygonal shapes and refining it into the form you envisioned. It’s much like working in clay.
A while ago when I started working with clay again, I started to see other artists’ finished pieces in their digital elements: how they would look as polygons and spheres. Soon it carried over into my geometric and unconventional clay pieces. I also started to study gems and mineral formations as they hold many of the same visual characteristics.
You're the creative director of Bohannan Huston, where you do everything from creating 3D visualizations to piloting drones. As someone who often inhabits the digital world, is there something refreshing or invigorating about the tactile process of making ceramics?
There is nothing in the world to me that is more grounding than working with clay and feeling the physical sensation of the wet clay, the grit of the sand, or the temperature of the water. It feels like I am reconnecting to something my grandmothers and grandfathers did. It’s very humbling and exciting.
Conversely, you’ve transformed one of your ceramics into digital art through the production of an NFT, which is available in this studio release. What is the process of creating an NFT, and do you think NFTs are here to stay in the art world?
I’ve always been a technology advocate and an early adopter. I do hold some cryptocurrency and in my experiences with it I became aware of NFTs. Once you get past the learning curve it is straightforward to mint an NFT.
The biggest challenge I have with them is that they aren’t really a physical product. It’s basically a long blockchain that makes it unique. I do think it’s early but eventually it will become a permanent fixture in the art world.
You’re a Star Trek fan, which means you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future. In these increasingly dark times, is there hope to be drawn from science fiction storytelling?
I’m optimistic by nature and have always thought I belonged in the stars. I do think a lot about humans as a whole and what we are capable of, good and bad. There is always hope that our better selves will make the right decisions. Star Trek, because it is set in the future, shows me that we did alright after all. Isn’t that something to be hopeful for?
Discover Suina's recent artwork in our special studio release.