Of all the men in Judd Apatow’s collection of white men fumbling towards their own personal midlife crises and subsequent reckonings, I’ve always held a soft spot for Seth Rogen. For starters, he’s hot, but in the approachable, kind, and nice way that some famous people are. Also, his body of work stands on its own merit; setting the pickle movie aside, which I will watch one of these days, I’ve enjoyed everything that he’s been in. As Ken Miller in Freaks and Geeks, I found his affable, Canadian-bear shtick charming and also attractive, but my passion for Rogen’s oeuvre blossomed with the 2014 film Neighbors, a movie I watched while home sick from work one day. For me, it is a classic of the grown-up stoner genre, and Rogen portrays a character that I imagine is much like he is in real life: A grown-up dad who still wants to do cool stuff like smoke weed and hang.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Rogen also dabbles in pottery, as an active participant in the “bro-ramics” movement, a phrase coined by Kate White at Artnet in a piece written in February of this miserable year. Rogen joins James Franco, who in 2017 created a series of ceramic sewer-pipe sculptures in collaboration with his brother, Tom. Other male celebrities like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, two men chasing the dragon of their youth, are also participants—in 2019, the British tabloid The Sun reported that Pitt and diCaprio were enjoying boys’ nights at Pitt’s sculpture studio, eating sandwiches and “creating art” long into the night. Pottery, as White points out, has long been the purview of male artists looking to get in touch with their masculinity by digging their big manly paws into hunks of clay and making something beautiful.
Unlike other male celebrities with artistic inclinations, Rogen’s work, which started with little ashtrays in 2019 and has now grown to include beautiful vases and vessels in sinuous, organic shapes, looks like the work of a professional rather than a dilettante. His early work, as seen in the below Instagram post, is a marriage of both form and function: Rogen loves weed and these little ashtrays, which holds the dutchy before you pass it on the left-hand side, are better than anything a regular person without Rogen’s dexterous touch could’ve made.
I am not a potter, but I have watched at least one season of The Great Pottery Throwdown. My past is riddled with memories of pinch pots made in art class in the third grade. To my untrained eye, even Rogen’s earlier works, as seen above, is impressive and were it to be sold in an upscale home goods store near me, I would certainly tut in admiration at the craftsmanship, check the price, and put it back down. This, to me, is the mark of good work. What works for me about Rogen’s pottery is how of the moment it is. Any of the pieces I’ve seen on his Instagram would fit neatly in with an aesthetic that fashion writer Emma Hope Allwood described as ‘”avant basic” in a tweet that hit me square in the stomach and has been with me ever since.
The proliferation of checkerboard patterns, colorful swirls, and the insidious beaded handbags created by designer Susan Alexandra is the natural extension of the slow but steady move away from the millennial pink minimalism. Every influencer I follow for reasons unbeknownst has pivoted away from pampas grass and wall-hung weavings, choosing instead to sprint headfirst towards blobby, soft, squishy shapes, reminiscent of the Memphis Design movement’s affinity for primary colors and easy maximalism. This is appealing only because of repetition; I don’t necessarily want my home to look as expertly curated as the interiors I see on Instagram, but I have now been conditioned to think that this stuff looks cool. Close your eyes for one moment, take a deep breath, and then look at the gifts on offer at Lisa Says Gah, and notice that it is not really a stretch of the imagination to picture some of Rogen’s pottery interspersed amongst the checkerboard throw blankets and daisy-print wine totes.
But aesthetically, to me, the appeal of Rogen’s work has nothing to do with the unintentional affinity for the look of the moment. Rather, it has a faint whiff of outsider art, but is executed at a level that seems almost professional. A Rogen vase looks like the best possible thrift store find, a perfect object that looks more expensive than it actually is, and one that would occupy pride of place in my living room. Also, it is the kind of art I’d expect Rogen, a man that I once described as Fozzie the Pothead, to make. In short, the art is good, but my understanding of what makes ceramics “good” is informed only by my own gut, and the vocabulary I’ve picked up from The Great Pottery Throwdown. Dedicated as I am to exploring in full why something is the way it is, and sussing out why my instincts are or are not correct, I consulted some people who actually do this for a living to see if I was right.
Meegan Barnes, a Los Angeles-based ceramicist who makes these delightful bud vases shaped like butts, told me over email that Rogen’s work is actually quite impressive. “Seth’s got skills for sure,” she wrote. “To get even walls and symmetrical forms requires being seriously centered and focused.” Barnes was also helpful in helping me understand the complexities in his glazing, which to me, was the most impressive bit about his work. “His decorative techniques are super interesting,” she said. “[It] looks like maybe he’s marbling his clay with mason stains. Also, his crackles are big and chunky which I find hard to get.” Big and chunky crackles are exactly what appeal to me, a ceramics rube who is also easily swayed by celebrities succeeding at hobbies.
The shape of Rogen’s works makes me want to reach through my telephone screen and grab them, to feel their heft in my hand, and rub my finger over the bumps and the bubbles. It looks impressive because throwing pots seems like hard work, but imagine my delight when Michaela MacPherson, the woman behind CLAYTITS confirmed to me that the stuff Rogen’s doing is highly advanced. “If you look at his vases, they have those rounded notches and bubbles and globes,” MacPherson said. “Those are so organic, and so precise. That’s really hard to achieve. His stuff is so contemporary, the colors especially. It looks like stoner pottery and I think it would sell in a ceramics market for sure.”
Seeing as I have already ferreted away a small chunk of money just in case Rogen heeds the cry of this change.org petition and sells his work, I am glad to have my instinct confirmed by yet another professional. To complete the trifecta, I spoke to Kyle Scott Lee, the artist in residence at Brooklyn Clay, and the mastermind behind Ceramic Meltdown. His work and aesthetic is in conversation with the work that Rogen makes, with the same sinuous shapes and inventive use of color. Again, knowing very little about pottery and what makes it sellable or artistically good, I asked Lee to critique Rogen’s work.
According to Lee, something to look out for when critiquing student work is transitions. “You don’t make a piece that looks like it’s made of two or three pieces, especially around the neck, where it transitions into the body,” he said. “Although, he doesn’t seem to have that issue per se. He seems to have a good idea of transition, and maybe someone else that he’s worked with has installed that into his mindset.” Rogen isn’t learning how to hone his craft in a bubble; though there is natural talent evident, Lee was also quick to note that Rogen’s status as a famous person has helped him along his path. “His celebrity has allowed him to engage with some celebrity potters,” he said, citing Roberto Lugo and Adam Field, who recently posted a photo of Rogen holding one of Field’s works.
Clearly, Rogen has a leg up in a way that anyone else interested in exploring pottery—and becoming very good at it quickly— does not. Usually, a celebrity’s status allowing them to become good at a craft would irritate me rather than endear, but something about Rogen’s work feels very innocent and pure. Perhaps he’s been bored, just like everyone else, and did what I imagined he might do in my fantasies, which is smoke a joint, drink a green juice, and amble out to the potter’s wheel, to fulfill some sort of need that we all have to make stuff with our hands that feels real.