HUNTERTOWN, Ind. (WPTA21) – “I’ve been painting for about 10 years, but never had time to study painting and develop a style,” says Joe Pelka. That’s because he’s been working clay professionally for over four decades. “I feel very lucky to be making a living doing something I love,” he told ABC21 last year. “I hear about people retiring and I don’t like it. I want to work forever.
And after a trip around the sun, that didn’t change – but his medium did. Pelka was immersed in creating abstract art. His studio and gallery in Huntertown, Pelka Ceramics, are also decorated with his pots and paintings. “I love that I’m 60 now,” he said, as we caught up with him earlier this week, “and I finally have time to paint now, seriously.”
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“I have this wonderful creative burst in the latter part of my life with 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 of his California childhood.
What is unique about his process are the canvases and tools he uses. Pelka builds most of its tools and reuses old plastic containers for its paints. You’ll see a lot of brushes on his tables, but they aren’t used often. “The way I choose to paint – I use brushes, but not as much as scrapers,” he described, “and sanders and putty knives and that sort of thing. I apply very thick paint and tools for texture that I could have used in clay.
It can take several days to complete a piece, but Pelka works with 4-5 at a time. Each requires several coats of paint and works with its tools. “It brings continuity to a lot of the work,” he explained as he finished a painting with varnish. “There are similarities, I get really comfortable with the color palette. I just change the texture and the movement.
And in terms of spontaneity, painting offers much more than his other profession. With experience, Pelka can do a lot to change his ceramics, but those options diminish the further he goes through the process, especially after firing. “The beauty behind, where the clay doesn’t give you that opportunity,” he told us, “in the middle of a painting, I can shift gears when I see something wonderful happening. I can shift gears and go in that direction.
“I had paintings that were almost 100% finished and drastically changed them,” he continued. “Not necessarily the whole canvas, but a lot of the painting has been changed.”
Impressively, his enthusiasm for the canvas is beginning 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 side hobby that I do,” Pelka said. “I think they are starting to understand the size of the paintings I do, and the number I do, and the balance with the pottery, especially in my outdoor exhibitions – I personally think they are fabulous together. ”
“I’m really thrilled that other people are enjoying it enough to buy my work,” he concluded. “It was a wonderful surprise.
You can see or buy Joe Pelka’s art in his studio Pelka ceramics here: 14529 Lima Rd, Fort Wayne, IN 46818. You may also have the rare opportunity to see him demonstrate pottery and painting during the 2022 Falling for Art, Artist Tour October 15 (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and October 16 (12 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
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