The word “ceramic” often invokes mental images of stately vases, glazed plates and earthen jugs. However, Justine Ferreri sculpts an entire world all her own, populated with fantasy creatures and capricious figures, created using the same techniques and materials. Every piece is infused with a sense of narrative driven by her distinctly vibrant imagination.
“People say, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’” Ferreri quips. “And I say, ‘Where the hell can you not get ideas? I have a million of them!’” If anything, Ferreri has more ideas than she has time to cast them in clay. Part of her unique approach stems from an unorthodox introduction to sculpture. Having no formal training, she was a restaurant owner instead. Justine’s became a mainstay of 1980s Wilmington art and jazz culture. But it wasn’t strictly business with Ferreri, as she took creative measures in an attempt to liven the ambiance of one of her locations.
“I made papier-mâché people eating in the restaurants,” Ferreri reminisces. “Then a gallery asked me to make some papier-mâché for them. From there I tried to make it in clay and I just fell in love with it. You know how you feel as though you’ve done something before in another life? It just felt so good. It’s soothing. It’s like what I’m supposed to do.” Such off-beat creative marketing sent Ferreri down a different road, which has culminated in a 25-year-long career. She’s now in the studio as a full-time artist. “I went nuts one day and closed [all the restaurants],” she exclaims. “Now I do art for a living!”
Galleries all over North Carolina house her work, as well as others in New York, Philadelphia, Kansas, and Miami. But Wilmington holds a special place in her heart, as the root of her artistic journey, and so she maintains a local presence. “I feel blessed to travel all over the country with my work,” she adds. Despite Ferreri’s independent introduction to the art form, her work is no less professional or thematically apt than a university-trained ceramicist. Any possible drawbacks emerging from her self-tutelage are completely bowled over by her commanding imagination.
“I don’t want to be the sculptor who makes beautiful things,” she proclaims. “I want to be the sculptor that makes interesting things—things that are provocative and make you think.”