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.
“Awkward primitive animal instincts lie unconsciously in our genetic make-up. Dominance, survival, reproduction, and group instinct feed our propensity to digress into our egos; cruelty, alpha status, fight or flight, sexual exploits, and pack mentality. In my body of work I create imagery that embodies tension and anxiety, while also reflecting animalistic traits and certain elements of human ritualistic thought and control that intrigue me. Using clay as my primary sculptural material allows me to explore these thoughts and questions using techniques that actually originated in human ritualistic practices. Figures, deities, and fetishes were modeled into both animal and human form for magical or religious practices long before clay was used for utilitarian ware. This harnessing of imagery deemed as powerful has survived for centuries, allowing humans to access manifestations of supernatural forces believed to improve their daily struggles in life.
Personally and intuitively driven, my work with imagery of animals is grounded in the exploration of the universal human condition, focusing on aspects of the ceremonial; serving as embodiments for the physical, spiritual, and psychological being. My preoccupation with human existence, alienation, fear and apathy, is what motivates me to express elements of autobiography, ritual, and the significance of life’s struggles. Working between narrative and abstract, revealing both the perception of power and powerlessness, the figures and symbols that I create are often purposely rendered disfigured and dysfunctional.” Kimberly Cook
Art should come from the heart of the artist, it should engage the audience, it should connect with the community, it should start a dialog, a debate. It should get people to look at things in a way they have not thought of, or to see what they have looked at but not really seen. Art has to come deeply from the artist, there has to be raw emotion and honesty in the work if it is to connect with people. An Artist paints and sculpts what they know. These are all the reasons I wanted to do a show about Alzheimer’s disease. To start a dialog, to connect, to get people to understand what it is like to have the disease, it is a part of my life, so it is what I know, what I am around. I took those thoughts and feelings and transformed them into visuals to engage my audience. I speak through paint and clay. Art is a look inside the artist, what I am feeling is transferred into the clay while I am sculpting, Those feelings have to go somewhere. I wanted to tell a story, I wanted you to feel how it is, the frustrations, humor, the compassion and the heartache of having Alzheimer’s disease and for the ones caring for one with this disease.
William Faulkner said it best ~ The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it it moves again since it is life.
Ceramics Now Magazine: The theme of your works is very dramatic and sometimes macabre. Why did you take this challenge of confronting with your subconscious?
Roxanne Jackson: I want to make work about whatever comes natural to me. Instead of, for instance, sitting down to brainstorm different ideas to see what comes up, and then pick the ‘best one’ to use, I would rather see what surfaces naturally— when it is uncensored. Of course I am making decisions but, I allow room for intuition—rather than forcing the work to go in a particular direction. Art certainly has many roles—one is to depict and create beautiful objects. But, that is not the only way art can serve us.
We all know that the human nature has a dark side. You explore and question this side with your works and with what they express. Do you find exploring this side of human nature to be hard?
Not at all. I find the work honest and refreshing. I am currently building a two-part piece to be installed at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens (Long Island City), New York this fall. Socrates is a contemporary sculpture park which support truly innovative outdoor sculpture. I am creating two dead animals—one will be a white unicorn (with a crystal formation for the horn)—made from fired ceramic. The other form will be a life-sized adobe (and cement) buffalo, also dead. I am creating this work to comment on traditional outdoor sculpture that commonly depicts animals—usually, the powerful, regal stag in its prime-is represented (and cast in bronze). I have often wanted to see a nature sculpture that depicts an animal that is aging, for instance. Because, then the work would raise a different type of emotion and/or empathy within the viewer. In the same way the viewer can identify with beauty, she or he can also identify with pain, aging and all sorts of other complicated emotions. So, since I have never seen any outdoor sculpture like this, I decided to just make it myself.