Ceramics Now Magazine: You are presenting yourself as a sculptor even though you have a BFA in Ceramics. What are you currently working on?
Jenni Ward: Although I’ve been educated in all aspects of ceramics; pottery, functional hand-building or sculpture, I’ve chosen to focus on abstract sculptural ceramics. I feel that if I say I’m a ceramicist, people either don’t know what I’m talking about or they assume I throw pots, so I feel that introducing myself as a sculptor who works with clay is a more precise description of the work I create. Right now I’m working with organic forms that have holes cut into them and those forms have other ceramics pieces that are trapped inside. This process of trapping forms has manifested itself into multiple series of work. I’m conceptually playing with the balance between trapping and protecting an object and simultaneously exploring abstract ways to express that in clay.
Nest Series IV, 2010, ceramic & high temperature, wire, 12” x 10” 8” - View her works
What triggered the passion for ceramics in you?
I have always worked with clay, my parents still have the first coil pot I made as a kid and I just never stopped working with clay. I was lucky enough to of had an in depth ceramics program in my high school. That exposure gave me the experience to explore clay and know that it was going to be my focus at the university level. I also really love the process of working with clay; each stage that you go through from a soft malleable material to a fired finished piece offers the chance that everything can go wrong at any step in the process. Having the ability to balance control over the clay and letting what happens happen is always a battle for me that I’m very attracted to. I’m constantly learning new techniques or possibilities with clay whether it’s through taking a workshop or seeing another artist at work. Clay is a very basic, primitive material that can be used in such varied and technological ways; it’s a constant learning process.
Ceramics Now Magazine: The versatility of your work is very inspiring and makes the viewer ask himself whether he should play with your works or just to admire their universe. When did you begin to create such intricate pieces?
Suzanne Stumpf: Thank you for your kind words. I began to create interactive sculptural pieces about 7-8 years ago, after I had been working in clay for about about three years or so. From the outset, drawing the audience in to touch and explore has always been a goal. But also, I have intended for each work to have its own strong essence that invites contemplation/reflection.
Modularity and interactivity are two main characteristics of your work. How much time does it take to complete a new work? Do you make many sketches?
My interactive sculptures generally take many weeks. The germination of an idea and realization of each work can also be a lengthy process, particularly when there are complicated construction or even “engineering” issues involved. I can sometimes spend a couple of months in the “head-scratching” stage and work on other projects while I sort out the steps and best approaches. I do keep a notebook with sketches and notes, but I do not personally find it easy to translate some of these projects onto the page. With a fairly good aptitude for spatial relations, I hold much of the planning in my head initially. Because I build primarily in porcelain, extremely slow drying is key — I cannot emphasize this enough. And, of course, this also adds to an already long creation process.
Spike, 2008, 5.5”h x 8”w x 3” d, wheelthrown and altered porcelain with handbuilt components; black slip and shellac resist; oxidation fired to cone 10 - View her works
Some of your works consist in multi-component pieces that, put together, metamorphose each time in different compositions. Do your Interactive Sculptures illustrate the ludic dimension of art? How important is this element for you?
My answer depends on the tenor of the word “ludic”. Although the mere invitation to rearrange components may seem a playful act and some of my sculptures may even possess qualities of games, the interaction by the audience has never seemed aimless to me. To the contrary, I witness people being extremely thoughtful about what they are creating as they rearrange components. The idea with these works is that there are nearly innumerable permutations that the viewer can create, all of which will reveal different aspects of the sculpture’s essence for contemplation.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You are both a painter and a ceramic artist; is one medium closer to you than another?
Cindy Billingsley: Both mediums have equal places in my heart. It mainly depends on the subject or idea I have, clay is sometimes better at conveying my passion or idea then paint is. There is nothing like the feel of clay in hand. I can say in Ceramics what I can not with paint. Clay is felt with all, the eyes, hands and the heart. No other medium can do this. Clay comes from the earth and has that feeling of being alive if sculptures right. If you look closely at a ceramic sculpture you can see the finger marks, the hand prints — it is made by the hand and touch of the artist.
I love in clay that, as an artist, I can take that lump of clay and make it into something magical, something others can touch and see the passion I had for my idea. This is what drew me to clay as my medium.
Chamber Nautlius, 2005, 15” x 18” x 9”, raku clay, hand built solid, hollowed for firing, low fired, cold finish acrylic and wax - View her works
There is a visible fascination for the world of animals reflected in your work; where does this interest come from? Tell us more about the subjects you explore.
Since childhood I have had and felt a closeness with animals. I have lived in the company of animals more than in the company of people. So naturally, I would follow that path with my art. In Ceramics I could finally convey the gesture and mood of an animal with the strokes of the clay without a lot of detail. I have always been more interested in capturing the spirit of an animal or its essence than making an exact model of an animal. Clay freed me up to be able to do this, with quick clay marks here, and strokes of clay there. Clay has that wonderful freedom to it. And Clay sometimes has it’s own ideas about how a piece will come about, that I might not have thought of until I was in the middle of sculpting it. I am drawn to the less familiar animals in my sculptures, like the blue ring octopus, Okapi or fruit bats. These animals fascinate me. Trying to make clay appear like soft fur is the challenge and the fun, like with my Koala sculpture.
“The environment is in a delicate balance between well-being and decline. For a healthy society, we must be responsive to the fact that all of our activities affect the Earth. My sculptures express the beauty of nature and the tension created by man’s manipulation of our environment. I use the beauty of form to increase the viewer’s emotional connection with nature. This connection to nature can expand one person’s, and ultimately our society’s compassion for the natural world.
Historically we have manipulated plants by gathering seeds, grafting limbs, and controlling pollination of plants with traits we find favorable. These qualities were gradually developed over countless generations. What is different about our more recent modification of plants is the far-reaching selection of traits from organisms that would not be accessible without genetic engineering. For instance, splicing a fish gene with a strawberry to make the strawberry more resistant to cold could not occur if not for techniques developed by scientists. This kind of manipulation is dramatically different from our prior system of plant selection and has potentially profound effects on the Earth.
I use manufactured elements in my work to create a tension meant to bring about a consciousness within the viewer, to open a dialogue about contemporary society’s association with nature. This discussion can raise awareness of the danger that our current situation poses. A lack of responsibility and stewardship for the Earth creates many problems for the planet, among them degradation of our basic life support systems, as reflected in the loss of biodiversity, increased toxicity of our food systems, inefficient use of natural resources and global climate change. I hope that my art will encourage viewers to educate themselves and become increasingly proactive in assuring a sustainable future.” Steve Belz