Doug Humble: Smashing Cups

Photo by Susan Einstein

Douglas Humble
Untitled (Broken Cups and Saucers), n.d.
4 5/8 x 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Marer
Scripps College, Claremont, CA

In a recent interview, Douglas Humble described his artistic processes as freeform and spontaneous: “I like to work with the material and see what happens.” Humble uses the material at hand, and, from no preliminary drawings, creates. Each piece in a series in his body of work increases in intensity, growing in scale and effect. This freeform approach to creation mirrors the trajectory of his artistic career, which is both spontaneous and unconventional.

Immediately following a stint in the military, which included his service in the United States Coast Guard from 1960 to 1964, he volunteered for the Peace Corps from 1964 to 1967. Upon his return home, Humble took a semester of ceramics at Long Beach City College, which would be the extent of his undergraduate art education. Wanting to learn more, he relocated to Seattle where he became closely associated with Pottery Northwest, a Seattle-based organization dedicated to development for the ceramic artist community. Here, Humble refined his craft and established a ceramic career for himself. As a result of the combination of his career, artistic ability, and his friendship with Scripps ceramic instructor and ceramist, Paul Soldner, doors opened for Humble. He was given the opportunity to pursue an MFA from Claremont Graduate University, (then called Claremont Graduate School), without an undergraduate degree: an unusual path.

A leaning toward the alternative also characterizes Douglas Humble’s artistic processes. Throughout his career, Humble’s body of work includes many series of pieces that display a gradual increase in intensity: one idea starts off very simply and then evolves into something much greater. One key instance of this practice is a particular series that led up to a large-scale project he created during graduate school, at that time. Humble often covered items in slip with pieces of burlap. As he continued with this method, the works began to grow in size, until in 1973, he coated his entire house in unfired slip, as well as all of its contents. Upon the debut of this work, Humble drenched himself and his Ford Pickup in slip, and drove to his house to greet his guests. This slip series exemplifies the nature of Humble’s artistic process as both serendipitous and evolutionary.

Both terms also aptly fit his series of cups, one of which includes the piece Untitled (circa 1990). Humble collected cups and saucers from thrift stores, broke them up, and reassembled them in a way that grabs attention, offering jarring and multifaceted vantage points. At first glance, one would think that a terrible accident had occurred, but upon further examination, one notes the forms created by the shadows of the edges of the broken ceramic cups and saucers. Early on, Humble drew inspiration from the cubist practices of Pablo Picasso. He wanted his work to have a multi-dimensional effect, giving his audience a completely different view at every angle. Humble has painted this particular piece black-and-white to highlight the shadowing that occurs through the irregularities of the broken parts. Untitled is a piece that records a moment in this reassembled series of approximately thirty other pieces. This body of work also became increasingly expressive. Humble eventually included a larger number of both saucers and cups, and left the original image or writing on the cup, adding to, as he describes, the “chaos of it all”, and further reveals the improvisational quality of his work.

Hannah Avalos, Getty Multicultural Intern 2018, Fullerton College ’19


Works Cited

Humble, Douglas. Personal Interview. 3 July 2018.



“Douglas Humble.” Douglas Humble,

Humble, Douglas. Personal Interview. 3 July 2018.

Lauria, Jo, et al. Standing Room Only: 2004 Scripps 60th Ceramic Annual, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, January 24-April 4, 2004. Scripps College, 2004.