I have always dreamed of attending an event that combined all the color and drama of Deliverance (1972) with the sophistication of an artist’s salon. I thought my dream would finally be realized when I arrived at Studio Waza’s Open Studio event. Up until the moment I pulled into the darkened driveway of artist J. Wesley Allen’s home studio, I had expected to spend my evening quietly admiring paintings in an industrial public workspace. Instead, I joined an intimate gathering of local artists and art enthusiasts at a cozy Seminole Heights bungalow. I was surprised by the location and a little nervous to walk into a stranger’s home, but after a modest helping of mulled wine I was ready to tour the transformed shipping container studio that houses Allen’s kiln and genius.
Allen is one half of the joint Japanese and American artistic collaboration that is Studio Waza. He and his partner, Takashi Hirose, specialize in creating mixed media commercial art that combines ceramics and glass work. Allen is a student of traditional Japanese pottery and he draws inspiration from architecture and building materials. With backgrounds in both finance and oil painting, it is not surprising that Allen used both his lobes to develop a “form follows function” approach to his work. In fact, he says that his left-brained past is part of the reason he became interested in creating commercial art that is solid, useful, and beautiful. “I’m all about the process. I like to make something great and then I think about how I can make it a lot more efficiently. I’m trying to refine my process and find a few products that I can make well.”
He is most well known for his home and outdoor decor, particularly his delicate flower oil lamps and footed trays which are all glazed using high glass content glazes. Some of his footed trays and flowers are fired with actual shards of crushed glass pooled in the middle. The effect is gorgeous and hypnotic, yielding a multidimensional, almost textured color that is smooth to the touch. Allen explains that this glazing technique was achieved through “experimentation and a lot of trial and error, taking piles of broken bottles and melting them down into something beautiful.” Allen also creates large-scale wall decorations, comprised of smaller pieces that are arranged to both reflect and change the surrounding space.
Allen has been a full time artist in the Tampa Bay community for almost ten years. His work has been featured at the Tampa Museum of Art and he is a regular vendor at the Saturday Morning Market in St. Pete, the Seminole Heights Sunday Market, and the Hyde Park Village Fresh Market. He is currently designing dinnerware for the Rooster & the Till and is Kahwa Café’s featured artist for the month of December.