PJ Hargraves

Artist Statement

I navigate the uncertain times we live in by creating positive, playful sculptures because focusing on joy is not only possible in times of hardship, I believe it is necessary in order to thrive. I go through life with a watchful reverence, finding beauty and hope in the abundance of life in the natural world. Using this inspiration, I reinvent and intentionally exaggerate landscapes and plant forms in clay with a freeing sense of whimsy. My fantasized pieces are an invitation to extend imagination to the joyous moments in the world around us, and to return to an innocent sense of wonder.

My studio practice is an overtly optimistic alternative to the pessimism that is present in many aspects of our culture, capturing simple joy and delight through the act of making. Using playful form language and intuitive mark making, I invent my own array of stylized plant life in the form of contained environments. The trees I sculpt are methodical and rhythmic, inspired by both wild and manicured plants, but constructed within the limitations of the process of coil building and the tensile strength of clay. I work with an emphasis on experimental spirit in the studio, constantly taking risks with aspects of my making process and the materials I utilize. I find beauty in the immediacy and materiality of clay, working spontaneously and playfully to imbue the pieces with palpable energy. My forms are embedded with awkwardness and honesty through my manipulation of ceramic materials, combining a reverence for craft with an overstated and garish flamboyance.

My high-spirited objects draw inspiration from Pennsylvanian Dutch folk symbols and metaphors of good fortune, perseverance, hopefulness, and strength. The most prevalent representations of these themes emerge in the form of various birds and flowers. Referencing this tradition, I adorn each of my pieces with stylized birds and flowers as a symbolic pattern of abundance and celebration. The foundations of my sculptures also include vessels to suggest generosity and plentiful harvest through pottery’s deeply rooted history as crafted objects intended for containing and offering.

My imagined scenes are a celebration of life’s abundance and a celebration of ceramic processes, offering delight through optimistic symbols and lush ceramic surfaces. I hope this work can be an opportunity to stimulate playful imagination and draw attention to the importance of finding moments of joy in our increasingly complicated daily lives.

-- PJ Hargraves


PJ Hargraves is from Philadelphia Pennsylvania and earned a MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2020. Before moving to Nebraska, he receive a BFA in Ceramics from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in 2017 along with a K-12 Art Education Certificate. During undergraduate school PJ worked for two consecutive summers as a staff member at Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in 2015 and 2016 in Newcastle Maine.PJ has exhibited his work both nationally and internationally and is the recipient of numerous grants and awards. PJ was an invited participant in the first Mid-Atlantic Keramik Exchange in Reykjavik Iceland in 2019. In addition to teaching classes and workshops for kids and adults PJ enjoys the labor of the studio, including building and fixing kilns and helping students troubleshoot problems with materials and firing. This current body of work is stoneware and porcelain, salt fired to cone 6