The Urban Potter
Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine

Profile: Adam Silverman shifts his focus from dressing cool kids to crafting clay with an eastside edge.

By Jeremy Rosenberg, Special to The Times

Adam Silverman sits behind his pottery wheel, legs splayed and bent at the knee, right foot pressing the velocity pedal.

His hair is wild, a thundercloud with thickly woven cyclones above skin the color of light desert sand. His arms are tattooed—here an anchor, there a peace sign, here a spider web—and with one hand he grabs a triangular-topped trimming tool and holds it against a damp brown pot.

The friction causes a screech, and trimmings whipsaw off the clay like lamb off a shwarmaspit, crash landing near the slop bucket and making an otherwise neat workplace resemble the floor of a butcher shop.

He blows on the bowl, clearing the dust away. Then he leans back and admires his handiwork before grabbing another piece to prune.

"And there you have it," he says.

Silverman is a 39-year-old Rhode Island School of Design graduate and licensed architect who more famously, co-founded the popular work-wear garment concern X-Large, that perennial arbiter of skateboarder chic that came to prominence by creating clever, pop culture-accessible shirts, as well as pants baggy enough to conceal a spray paint can.

Today, he's taking a more hands-on approach to design with pottery. Just as with his clothes, Silverman's smooth clay creations marry an accessible aesthetic with an Eastside edge. He's part of a new scene of emerging potters who are putting an urban spin on an ancient art form.

An Eastside resident, Silverman first moved to Los Angeles in 1988. He and college roommate Eli Bonerz launched X-Large on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz more than a decade ago.

Putting his architectural skills to use, Silverman designed the shop interior, then collaborated on clothing designs before shifting from the creative side to overseeing business operations.

Launching X-Large qualified Silverman as an American hipster, and brought him a cadre of like-minded colleagues such as Beastie Boy Mike Diamond (also a partner in X-Large), Japanese Superflat artist Yoshitomo Nara and Oscar-nominated actor John C. Reilly. "And we, of course, had to hire only groovy teenagers," Silverman says. "So during the L.A. riots, I get a call at 2 in the morning: 'You have to come bail me out of jail,' and, like, three of our employees were in jail. Somehow, I'm the dad."

Silverman is no longer actively involved in X-Large, maintaining, he says, only a 1% financial interest. Instead, his time is consumed by crafting pottery.

"I absolutely love doing it," Silverman says. "I love the life of it. I love doing it myself. I'm completely over having employees or partners or contractors or anybody else between me and the final product."

So now he puts in long days throwing, trimming, scoring, glazing and firing. On a typical day, he turns out 25 to 35 paper-thin cups and bowls—mottled, pocked and glaze-pooled in original colors such as "volcanic blue," "volcanic yellow" and "oatmeal"—that are somehow more urban than organic.

Working under the studio moniker Atwater Pottery, he operates his business from a storefront just off Glendale Boulevard, sharing space with Poole Cosmetics, an outfit founded by his girlfriend, Louise Bonnet. It's an environment where creative synergy thrives. Artist Geoff McFetridge's Champion Graphics studio also shares a wall with Silverman's studio.

"It's so different," McFetridge says of his neighbor's craft. "In a town of frustrated people, to be a potter . . . it's so primal compared to what is [considered] 'cool'."

Silverman adds that he'd like to see a larger local pottery scene in Los Angeles. "But on the other hand," he says, "it's kind of nice to be one of the few people around to be doing it."

His crafting circle may not include contemporaries, but he knows his history. On a wall a few feet from his wheel, Silverman keeps a photograph of a work by 20th century master Hans Coper. He also raves about recently handling pots thrown and glazed by a couple of his idols, 20th century giants Gertrud and Otto Natzler.

Near the Coper image are photos of and drawings by his two daughters, Beatrice, 4, and Charlotte, 3. The eldest was not named after recently deceased centenarian Ojai-based potter Beatrice Wood.

"With all due respect to her and the whole kind of hippie potter thing, I'm very intentionally an urban person, an urban potter," Silverman says.

"It's worked for me in the past that if you make something that you are happy with, other people will be too," Silverman says. "And if you put it out in the world properly, the response will hopefully be appropriate."