Student Spotlight: Ceramics and sculpture artist David Wu ’16

by Madeline Killen | 2/28/16 6:01pm

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David Wu ’16’s most recent sculpture consists of frozen ice with dye.
Source: Courtesy of David Wu

Student artist and computer science major David Wu ’16 says he could not imagine his life without a creative outlet. Wu works at the Davidson Ceramics Studio and has taken six visual arts classes during his time at Dartmouth, facts that might surprise some considering his scientific area of study. Before Dartmouth, he was not a visual artist.

But Wu had other artistic inclinations starting from childhood. He took 13 years of classical piano lessons and was an all-state pianist for New York. It was not until his freshman year of college that he came in contact with ceramics, and found a new passion.

“It’s a way to channel my energy,” Wu said of visual art.

Ben Geithner ’16, Wu’s freshman year roommate, remembers Wu’s initial encounter with ceramics and credits their continuing friendship to their common interest in visual art.

“He went to ceramics, and I went to the woodshop,” Geithner recalled. “We kept in good touch — mainly linked through art.”

Geithner was immediately impressed by Wu’s art their freshman spring, when the roommates took “Drawing I” together. Wu’s work for the class was always impressive, Geithner said, and displayed a unique approach to art.

“He came at art in a different way than I do, and he had a good amount of meaning and purpose behind his projects,” Geithner said. “They were always outside the box, and I was always jealous of his ideas because they were pretty strong and definitely original.”

Both Wu’s talent as well as his passion for art impress his freshman floormate Sofia Karabasevic ’16. She says that Wu became highly invested after starting to visit the ceramics studio, and by the end of each term would have “a cardboard box just filled to the brim” with his pieces.

“He’s just really enthusiastic about it, he has a passion for it,” Karabasevic said. “And he’s really talented, too.”

Wu says that he likes ceramics and sculpture specifically because he enjoys the rewarding feeling of “creating a physical object” that he can hold and potentially use. His favorite piece that he has created is a large fruit bowl. Wu creates his pieces on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays, but on his off days, he gets ideas for his art from his surroundings.

“If I’m taking a studio art class, I’ll always be looking for inspiration outside of class,” Wu said. “If I see interesting objects or interesting textures or scenes — if I’m taking a class, it’ll definitely register in my mind as ‘Is this something I could potentially draw, is this something I could potentially make?’”

Initially, Wu, who has worked at the studio two days a week for almost two years, was intimidated by the studio regulars who had been working with ceramics since middle or high school. He said that the studio’s knowledgeable instructors helped him feel comfortable. Jenny Swanson, director of the Davidson Ceramics Studio, said that Wu was a “rank beginner” when he first started going to the studio, a rarity among the student employees.

“They were really good teachers, and they really helped me kind of get to a point where I could feel like I wasn’t learning all the time,” Wu said. “More, like, making things.”

Wu’s skills as a teacher impress Swanson, who said that he is “very patient” and “caring” when teaching beginners how to throw on the potter’s wheel.

Geithner described Wu as “incredibly calm, thoughtful, easy to talk to and really encouraging,” adding that “His lack of experience won’t limit him” in anything that he undertakes.

“He’ll just be able to give his beginner’s attempt at it and pull it off,” Geithner said. “His first effort attempt is often way beyond what you’d expect.”

Swanson credits Wu’s persistence and hard work for his quick mastery of the potter’s wheel, which she said “takes years” to master.

After graduation, Wu wants to continue pursuing ceramics and sculpture, and said that “it will always be a part of [his] life.” He hopes to be able to combine his two loves of computer science and art into a potential career and lists website design and visual design as paths he may be interested in exploring in the future.

Whatever he chooses to do, Karabasevic and Geithner are confident in Wu’s ability to do it well.

“He’s good at all types of art,” Karabasevic said.

“He’s pretty awesome,” Geithner added.