21Country: From potter to painter, Joe Pelka’s an artist always exploring

The ceramicist is trying something new, after four decades of perfecting his craft
Updated: Sep. 22, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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HUNTERTOWN, Ind. (WPTA21) - “I’ve been painting for about 10 years, but never have had the time to study painting and develop a style,” Joe Pelka shared. That’s because he’s professionally worked with clay for over four decades. “I feel very lucky to be making a living doing something I love to do,” he told ABC21 last year. “I hear of people retiring and that doesn’t sound appealing to me. I want to work forever.”

And after a trip around the sun, that hasn’t changed — but his medium has. Pelka has been immersed in creating abstract art. His studio and gallery in Huntertown, Pelka Ceramics, is equally decorated with both his pots and paintings. “I love the fact that I’m 60 years old now,” he said, as we caught up with him earlier this week, “and I finally have the time to paint now, seriously.”

RELATED: Joe Pelka Ceramics, a lifetime at the potter’s wheel

“I’m having this wonderful creative burst in the latter part of my life with the painting,” he added. But Pelka says he didn’t approach his abstract work haphazardly. He studied the craft, and developed his own style — one he says compliments the Asian/Native American influence from his days growing up in California.

What’s unique about his process, is the canvases and tools he uses. Pelka builds most of his tools, and repurposes old plastic containers for his paints. You’ll see plenty of brushes on his tables, but they aren’t often used. “The way I choose to paint — I use brushes, but not nearly as much as scrapers,” he described, “and sanders and putty knives and that sort of thing. I apply paint very thick, and tools for texture that I might have used in clay.”

It can take several days to finish one piece — but Pelka works with 4-5 at a time. Each require several layers of paint and work with his tools. “It brings continuity to a lot of the work,” he explained as he finished a painting with varnish. “There’s similarities, I get really comfortable with the color palette. I just change up texture and movement.”

And when it comes to spontaneity, painting offers significantly more than his other craft. Through experience, Pelka can do plenty to change his ceramics, but those options dwindle the farther he gets into the process — especially after the firing. “The beauty behind it, where clay doesn’t give you this opportunity,” he told us,” in the middle of a painting, I can change gears when I see something wonderful that’s happening. I can change gears and go in that direction.”

“I’ve had paintings that was almost 100% completed, and I changed it drastically,” he continued. “Not necessarily the entire canvas, but a large part of the painting was changed.”

Impressively, his enthusiasm with the canvas, is starting to translate into sales. It is after all, what puts food on the table. “I think people want to know that I’m serious about painting, and it’s not just a hobby on the side that I’m doing,” Pelka said. “I think that they’re starting to catch on with the size of the paintings I’m doing, and the number I’m doing, and balancing with the pottery, especially at my outdoor shows — I personally think they look fabulous together.”

“I’m really excited that other people are enjoying it enough to purchase my work,” he concluded. “It’s been a wonderful surprise.

You can view or purchase Joe Pelka’s art at his studio Pelka Ceramics here: 14529 Lima Rd, Fort Wayne, IN 46818. You can also get the rare opportunity to see him demonstrate both pottery and painting during the 2022 Falling for Art, Artists’ Tour October 15 (10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) and October 16 (Noon to 5 p.m.)