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art interview

Interview with Linda Sormin, exhibiting artist at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition

Interview with Linda Sormin, exhibiting artist at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition, Denver Art Museum, July 2011

The special feature for the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition includes images from the exhibition and interviews with some of the exhibiting artists, plus with the curator. Subscribe.

Ceramics Now Magazine: Tell us about your work exhibited in the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition.

Linda Sormin : This installation, Mine: i hear him unclip me, explores forms and structures of uncertainty height, and depth. I am curious about the sites and processes of mining. Two years ago in my installation “Rift” at the Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art in the UK, I invited the curator, James Beighton, to crawl through a Plexiglas tube high in the air, wearing a mining hat and safety goggles. I asked him to “mine” the tunnels of the work by breaking open my hand-built porcelain pieces with a wooden hammer and chisel. 

For this current installation in Denver, I scavenged and borrowed materials and objects from the Colorado School of Mines and Geological Museum in Golden, CO, and the Edgar Experimental Mines in Idaho Springs, CO. Boulder ReSource and thrift shops in the area were also sources of materials and forms, including a stained glass door picturing a coyote and flowers, and a large brown ear-less plastic bear head.

Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch. Photo by Jeff Wells.

With the extraordinary technical assistance of my partner Seth Hisiger, I worked at my studio in Providence, RI for 4 months to create the ceramic components for the work.  With extruded stoneware tubes and hand-pinched grids of red earthenware clay, we created linear drawings in space with fired and glazed ceramics. Because the installation was sited on a large slanting wall in the museum (it leans 110 degrees away from the viewer), we needed to build a mock wall at this exact angle in my studio. After Seth built this wall and developed a system of steel pipe to be mounted to it, we were able to test the structure by threading sections of the ceramic grids through the pipe. I’ve been interested in “skewering” ceramics (like meat!) in this way for a few years now. Final installation at the Denver Art Museum took 12 days. For the first three days we worked closely with John Lupe’s outstanding installation team of eight, two motorized lifts and (for me at least) high levels of adrenaline. At first, I felt quite daunted by the large number of heavy, super-fragile objects we needed to mount to and balance on that wall – and I’m a little scared of heights. Maybe more than a little.  While hand-pinching raw clay into the piece at 25 feet up, my knees went weak and I had to sit down. So I worked that way in the gallery space – harnessed and clipped into a metal basket, legs dangling down.

Ceramics Now Magazine: Do you find it challenging to construct your works with objects from different places? You can also tell us what it’s like to work with recycled materials.

Linda Sormin : I am always grateful for the opportunity to work with objects from different places, with different histories of function and use in specific cultures. It’s a challenge that whets my appetite for making. I hope to tell stories with these things, to weave together abstract real-time narratives that invent or re-establish connections between objects, situations, people and places. Recycled objects are used objects with a past life. Their lack of innocence prevents them from being predictable to me, and their idiosyncrasies help to shape my installations. Their flaws resonate in the work, and in my imagination.

Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch. Photo by Jeff Wells.


Ceramics Now Magazine: People described you as being extreme. How far do you agree with this?

Linda Sormin : In some ways, I think this could be true. On the other hand, I question if we can consider anyone working in a craft-based art profession to be extreme. In comparison to what? is what I’d ask.

I imagine that being balanced and moderate would lead to a steadier, more peaceful way of life.  I do often feel compelled to explore the edges of experiences, and feel that it is necessary to push boundaries and takes risks in order to comprehend the situations and behaviors of materials, things and people.  This is the normal task of the artist, however – so it’s not extreme, just a choice – a research methodology perhaps. If I were less “extreme” I might not get into the messes that I often find myself in.  And then where would I be?  These messes keep me alert and attentive to the work.


Ceramics Now Magazine: Where do you get inspiration for your works, do you have any hobbies?

Linda Sormin: I enjoy learning about objects and how they seem to behave in the world.  From tools to clothing, domestic interiors to trash, digital technology to hands-on processes, I draw ideas and narratives from how people interact with things. Recently, I’ve been interested in the powerful machinery and risky methods used by people in so-called “manly” professions such as mining and marine work.  When I visited the Edgar Experimental Mines in Idaho Springs, CO this past spring, I met miners who were studying outer space mining, as well as working with the military to develop approaches for underground operations. I’ve often used “mining” and un-grounding” as metaphors in writing and making – so it was humbling and enlightening to witness the real thing, and get to know the people actually working in these fields.


Ceramics Now Magazine: You tend to take adventurous tasks and use all kinds of materials. Do you think that one day you will be able to interfere with fashion to create pret-a-porter clothing from recycled materials?

Linda Sormin: There seems to be a growing number of people practicing apparel design in this way. I absolutely love clothes and am always excited by garments that offer material or social meaning from unexpected places. I would be thrilled to collaborate with a fashion designer or textile artist someday. Do you know anyone who’d be interested in working with someone like me who can’t sew a straight line?


Ceramics Now Magazine: Where can we find you and your works in the next future?

Linda Sormin : From August 4 - September 17 of this year, I will be in Norway making new work in the studios of the National Fine Art Academy in Bergen. My partner Seth Hisiger and I will be installing the work in the context of the China Collection at the West Norway Museum of Decorative Arts. From October 7-10 I’ll be giving a workshop at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft on Deer Isle, Maine. From October 27-29, I’ll be back in Bergen to speak at the Thing Tang Trash: Upcycling in Contemporary Ceramic Art Symposium.

Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch; and studio remnants from Tim Berg, Gerit Grimm, Nathan Craven, Robyn Gray, and Ted Yoon. Photo by Jeff Wells.

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The site looms above and veers past, willing me to compromise, to give ground. I roll and pinch the thing into place, I collect and lay offerings at its feet. This architecture melts and leans, hoarding objects in its folds. It lurches and dares you to approach, it tears cloth and flesh, it collapses with the brush of a hand.

Nothing is thrown away. This immigrant lives in fear of waste. Old yogurt is used to jumpstart the new batch. What is worth risking for things to get juicy, rare, ripe? What might be discovered on the verge of things going bad?

Linda Sormin is a Canadian sculptor based in Providence, Rhode Island. Through objects and site-specific installations, Sormin’s work explores issues of fragility and aggression, mobility and survival. Born in Bangkok, Sormin has a BA in English Literature and worked in community development for four years in Thailand and Lao PDR. She studied ceramics at Andrews University, Sheridan School of Crafts & Design (Grad 2001) and Alfred University (MFA 2003).

Sormin’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently at the Denver Art Museum (Denver, USA), gl Holtegaard (Denmark), Vallauris (France), Middlesbrough (UK), Providence, Philadelphia and New Orleans. From 2003-06, Sormin taught ceramics at Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, BC. For 5 years, she taught at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI, first as Assistant Professor (2006-09) then as Associate Professor (2009-11) and Head of Ceramics (2010-11).

Visit Linda Sormin’s website.

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→ Read more interviews with ceramic artists and search through our featured artists.

Interview by Iunia Ratiu with help from Vasi Hirdo - Editor of Ceramics Now Magazine.

  • Interview with Katie Caron and Martha Russo, exhibiting artists at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition

    Interview with Katie Caron and Martha Russo, exhibiting artists at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition, Denver Art Museum, July 2011

    The special feature for the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition includes images from the exhibition and interviews with some of the exhibiting artists, plus with the curator. Subscribe.

    Katie Caron:

    Ceramics Now Magazine: Your collaboration transformed into an outstanding piece of contemporary art, Apoptosis. What can you tell us about this collaborative work?

    Working in collaboration with Martha Russo was such a positive and inspiring experience.  We have known each other’s work for years, and always seem to be following similar paths and forms.  It was exciting to work with someone who is so on the same page as you.  For example, the day I did my preliminary sketch of the work on an airplane ride to Detroit, Martha created a small model of the work.  We were shocked to discover, that separate from each other, we both sketched pretty much the same piece.  It was quite eerie! 

    Artist Statement for Apoptosis:
    The site-specific installation connects the museum’s own architecture to a floating swirl of motivated chaos made from a host of ceramic and mixed media materials.  Apoptosis references the genetically directed process of cell self-destruction that makes way for new growth to occur.

    Evoking growth and development, lightness and weight, the work suggests both biological membranes and intertwining industrial lines, conjuring up a tangle of beauty, grotesquerie, buoyancy, and energy.

    The suspended composition has a brace of vantages: the first, a treasure-mesh conceals from the viewer the cryptic viscera of this complex organism, while the second vantage unfolds and unfurls, being pulled by gravity and holding the viewer in a state of suspended wonder.

    Ceramics Now Magazine: Apoptosis looks powerful, twisted, and somehow embrace you to look further. Maybe it’s because of Katie’s previous works that experience illusions, or because of Martha’s work with the physical nature of sculpture?

    Katie Caron : Both of our goals were to engage the viewer to look further, but in different ways. My previous work, as you mentioned, involves the creation of illusions where the viewer is asked to question: what’s real and what’s fabrication?  I am fascinated with our cultures need for escapism, and how we have become addicted to the virtual windows of social media and entertainment.  I hope to tap into this obsession, using theatrical effects to create objects and environments that entice the viewer to look closer and longer.  Asking how virtual objects may compete with virtual media?

    Martha Russo and Katie Caron, Apoptosis (detail), 2010–11. Photo by Jeff Wells.

    Ceramics Now Magazine: Is this a site-project? Did you experience any challenges? (here you can tell us when did you start working on it, or how was the process, if you had any difficulties with the space, etc.)

    Katie Caron : Selection of the space came first, and then the concepts for the work.  We were interested in using a space that had never been used to show work, a space that was unusual.  The architecture of the Denver Art Museum is so powerfully unique, and so we chose a 30 foot slanted wall as our catalyst.

    I began drawing concept sketches for forms, materials, and use of the space.  I wanted to create an installation that looked like it was co-dependant, both foreign to the space, but dependent on the space for survival.  I compare it to animal architecture; the way some insects parasitically transform man-made spaces to suit their needs. 

    The Denver Art Museum was a huge technical support to our installation.  They provided us with the necessary lifts, equipment, and assistance to stage such a complex work.  Mounting the utility poles took some serious preparation and support.  There are over 200 lit porcelain and paper forms, plus another 3,000 other components mounted to the 30 foot slanted wall with steel rods.  The installation was quite labor intensive to say the least.

    Ceramics Now Magazine: What do you think about the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition?

    Katie Caron: It has been an honor to exhibit with such a prominent group of artists.  Gwen Chanzit, curator for Overthrown: Clay Without Limits, has done an admirable job of selecting and encouraging artists to be ambitious.  The scale of the space has pushed all the artists to think big, both physically and conceptually.  The exhibition, technically demonstrates the inventive use of such an ancient material, while raising contemporary issues.   The works in the exhibition challenge traditional notions of “objectness”, providing a depth of content, and creating a diverse dialogue.

    Ceramics Now Magazine: Where do you get your inspiration from and what motivates you, what do you want to discover through your works?

    Katie Caron: We started off with the idea of a chaotic tangle, which led us to look at all kinds of forms, both from biology and industry.  My personal interest was in power lines.  For years, I have looked upward at utility poles, and found their functional aesthetic inspiring.  After undergoing major spinal surgery in 2009, and looking at x-rays of all the hardware in my back, I began to draw connections between the aesthetics of my hardware and the power lines.  Both aesthetics were determined by utility and appeared parasitic to their host forms. 

    While creating the work, I discovered I was pregnant.  I believe this change in my biology positively affected the work to create an illusion that the work was alive, and powered by an external energy force.  Creating cell-like forms with illuminated interiors became my focus for the work.


    Martha Russo and Katie Caron, Apoptosis (detail), 2010–11. Photo by Jeff Wells.

    Ceramics Now Magazine: Where can we find you and your works in the next future?

    Katie Caron : We are currently looking for another site for the work on both east and west coasts.  I have two solo shows in 2012 in Denver, at Ice Cube Gallery and Hinterland Gallery, where I look to explore the progression of these ideas and materials further.  You can find my work online at http://www.icecubegallery.com/ , and http://www.katiecaron.com/


    Ceramics Now Magazine: Please give an advice to young ceramic artists.

    Katie Caron: My advice to young ceramic artist is two fold:  First, make, make, make!  Ceramics is such a challenging material, so practice exploring all the ways to manipulate the clay is very important.  Don’t be afraid to fail or let the work lead you.  Too often ceramic artists try to control the clay, rather then using it as a guide.  Second, explore other materials as well!  Do not limit yourself to just clay, but build confidence with other materials, processes and concepts.  The more interdisciplinary your work becomes the more questions it can raise.

    Martha Russo:

    Ceramics Now Magazine: Your collaboration transformed into an outstanding piece of contemporary art, Apoptosis. What can you tell us about this collaborative work?
     
    We both started with something that we wanted to investigate from previous works. For Katie is was light and translucent porcelain and paper and for me it was clay combined with metal. We would work independently in our studios and then show each other what we had done and then make more work off of what each other responded to. Conceptually, we started with the word “tangle” and sent each other a flurry of images of any kind of tangle.  Our “image swap” generated a rolling progression of ideas and possibilities. What began to resonate with both of us were notions of electricity and wires, morphing cell production, masses of jumbled objects, and much more. We tested different groupings of the pieces in our studios and got a sense of how to make them physically cling to the wall.  With time our ideas began to coalesce into a hazy notion of what the thousands and thousands of pieces would form.  Because of the enormous scale (30 feet high and 25 feet wide) we really did not know how the installation would work until we put it up in the museum. I think the most important thing about our collaboration is that Katie and I gave each other complete freedom. We deeply trusted each other.  Working with Katie has and continues to be a complete joy and one of incessant wonder and possibility.  I feel infinitely fortunate to know and work with her.  The future is BIG.
     
    Ceramics Now Magazine: Apoptosis looks powerful, twisted, and somehow embraces you to look further. Maybe it’s because of Katie’s previous works that experience illusions, or because of Martha’s work with the physical nature of sculpture?
     
    Martha Russo : I think Apoptosis is a wonderful hybrid of our aesthetics, ways of working, trust in the unknown, and ideas about art.
     
    I just learned of a new word, phototaxis, which means that light compels one to move closer to an object.  I think the mystery and lure of the glowing porcelain forms and the hovering translucent paper spheres draws the viewer in closer to decipher the mass and weight of the cascade of objects, the jumble of metal burned into the clay coupled with the odd beauty and decisive scale of the utility poles. I think Katie and I share the fascination and try to mind the psychology of what intrigues someone to stay with a work of art.


     
    Ceramics Now Magazine: Is this a site-project? Did you experienced any challenges? (here you can tell us when did you start working on it, or how was the process, if you had any difficulties with the space, etc.).
     
    Martha Russo : Because of so many conceptual crossovers and interests in experimenting with materials, Katie and I toyed with the idea of some day doing some work together. When we were invited to the show, separately, the thought of having such a huge gallery space seemed like a great opportunity to collaborate.  After we decided to work together, we picked the space, which had not been used before to exhibit work. The prospects of such an unusual space set us in motion. I was most interested in creating some kind of wave of objects that would appear to have tumbled down the slanted thirty foot wall and Katie had the brilliant idea to connect an existing free-standing gallery wall to the slanted wall with some sort of floating forms.

    The turn-around time for the show was about eleven months, so we had no time to waste. The time pressure really made us work quickly and intuitively while also solving a plethora of technical challenges like using translucent porcelain, learning how to cast and create forms with paper, and coaxing the clay to co-mingle with lots of different kinds of metal. The process was all about discovery - brilliant fun and incessant challenges.  With a very carefully orchestrated plan, full support from the Denver Art Museum every step of the way, and an extremely smart, professional, and adventurous installation crew, the knitting together of the thousands of forms went off really well. Each day brought different challenges and unknowns and after two solid weeks of installing, Apoptosis came into focus.
     
    Ceramics Now Magazine: What do you think about the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition?
     
    Martha Russo: The exhibit, curated by Dr. Gwen Chanzit, is smart, diverse, beautiful, and eye-opening. With every turn in the gallery, there is something really compelling to experience and to ponder.  The show gives a fresh look into the contemporary art world at artists who use the clay process in some innovative and inventive ways.  Being included in the exhibit has not only been and continues to be a great honor but has opened up a breath of possibilities for the future.
     
    Ceramics Now Magazine: Where do you get your inspiration from and what motivates you, what do you want to discover through your works?
     
    Martha Russo: Here is the short list:
     
    not knowing
    cellular complexity and simplicity
    a burl on a tree
    logs jammed in a river bend
    the odd hardware and connective gear on utility poles
    the periodic table
    the miracle of systems in the body
    how my kids explore things
    goo and glue and Dragon Skin
    my husband, Joe, the scientist telling me about how chemicals interact
    how to negotiate with the water content of clay
    being a pyro
    the light of the moon eking out behind the clouds

    Martha Russo and Katie Caron, Apoptosis, 2010–11. Photo by Jeff Wells.
     
    Ceramics Now Magazine: Where can we find you and your works in the next future?
     
    Martha Russo: In the upcoming year, I may be in exhibitions in Seattle, Denver, and Aspen. I am in an art collective, called “Artnauts, which is a group of artist put together by Dr. George Rivera and Garrison Roots, from University of Colorado, Boulder. This year we have shows in Chile, Cuba, Brazil, and two venues in the Middle East.  To see more of my work please go to: http://www.martharussostudio.com/
     
    Ceramics Now Magazine: Please give an advice to young ceramic artists.

    Martha Russo : WORK WORK WORK and WORK SOME MORE. Making anything takes a long time. Staying in the studio and staying with a new idea or process simply takes time, concentration, and focus. Avoid editing away ideas too early. Give everything a long incubation period with unfettered flurries of making and then look at the work carefully.  And lastly, be open to every possible material and process in order to bring an idea to fruition.  Plus have fun.

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    Apoptosis
    2010-2011
    Porcelain, paper clay, glaze materials, colored pigments, assorted tools, steel and hardware, silicone, LED Lights, compact fluorescents, electrical cables, wires and conductors, utility poles, abaca paper, beeswax.

    Apoptosis is a floating swirl of motivated chaos that inhabits the museum’s architecture.  The cascading mass of morphing cell-like forms evokes growth and development, lightness and weight, and connects biological membranes with intertwining industrial lines. With a cacophony of sculptural forms, colors, textures, cables, utility poles, and lights it conjures up a tangle of beauty, grotesquerie, buoyancy, and energy.  Our goal is to create a state of suspended wonder.


    Katie Caron
    Born 1978 in Manchester, Connecticut; lives in Lafayette and works in Lakewood, Colorado

    Katie Caron graduated summa cum laude from Boston University in 2000, and received an MFA in ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2009. Her work has been in national exhibitions such as Breakdown at Guggenheim Gallery: Chapman University, California, Reinventing Beauty at the Museum of New Art: MONA, Michigan, and Elastic Authenticity at the Morean Art Center in St. Petersburg, Florida.   Caron is presently an Assistant Professor in Fine Arts & Art Education at Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, and a member of Ice Cube Gallery.   She lives with her husband in Lafayette, CO.

    I am fascinated by escapism: how and why our senses transport us to imaginary worlds, how electronic media change the way we feel the present moment and how it can mediate our lives. Through film and theatrical effects, I immerse viewers in the experience of an illusion—what’s real and what’s fabrication?
    These new worlds are uncanny and mysterious. I explore how unconscious reactions shape emotion; how certain spaces, sounds, and objects may provoke fear or incite wonder.


    Martha Russo
    Born 1962 in Milford, Connecticut; lives in Ward and works in Lakewood, Colorado

    Martha Russo earned a BA in developmental biology and psychology from Princeton University,1985.  Formerly a world-class athlete, she suffered a career-ending injury in 1984 while preparing for the Los Angeles Olympic Games.  After her recovery from surgery, attracted to the physical nature of sculpture, Russo studied studio arts in Florence, Italy, and continued at Princeton University.  In 1995 she earned her MFA at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Martha is represented by Allan Stone Gallery, New York, New York and Ron Judish, Denver, Colorado.  Martha also teaches at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Lakewood, Colorado.

    Before children have the language and cognitive skills to name an object, they explore the world with all of their senses.  For instance, a chair is not a “chair” but rather something to climb on, to crawl under, and, perhaps, even to lick.  With the acquisition of language and the awareness of the purpose of something, the investigations dwindle and the senses simmer. My hope is that people approach my work and stay with it because they are not quite sure what it is:  What are the forms?  What are they made out of?  How are they suspended in space?  I make abstract organic sculptures to give people a place to let language and purpose slip away and to allow the senses to frolic, to delight, to muse.

    Visit Katie Caron and Martha Russo's websites.

    Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and like our Facebook page if you want to stay in touch with us.
    → Read more interviews with ceramic artists and search through our featured artists.

    Interview by Vasi Hirdo - Editor of Ceramics Now Magazine with help from Miruna Pria.

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