“Art is the best weapon against cynicism,” Frank Rose told Richard Eeds on KSVF 101.5 earlier this week. That’s our rallying cry for spring, as we open two new exhibitions that feature fiber artists from around the world. Come to tonight’s reception for Shifting Landscapes (presented in conjunction with Surface Design Association) and Mark Newport: Mending, and Saturday’s gallery talk featuring organizers, jurors and artists from both shows. Danielle Kelly, Executive Director of Surface Design Association, will appear at tomorrow’s event. For a preview, listen to her conversation about Shifting Landscapes with Spencer Beckwith on KUNM.
Michael Abatemarco of Pasatiempo featured Shifting Landscapes in a lovely piece called “Uncommon Threads” today. Here’s an excerpt:
“The border region is a place shaped by limitations and separation, which generates a unique experience for its inhabitants,” writes artist Sarita Westrup, who lives on the Texas-Mexico border, in a statement about her recent practice. “Cultural geography, Mexican-American identity, spiritual icons, belonging, and landscape are ideas that I investigate and that visually inform my work.” She describes her relief wall-hangings, composed of found and recycled materials including paper clips, metal fencing, and rocks, as forming a nonrepresentational portrait of border identity. Westrup’s reliefs are included in Form & Concept’s juried exhibition Shifting Landscapes, which explores the notion of place in the work of textile and fiber artists and designers.
Click here to read the rest of Michael’s piece, and click over to the form & concept Facebook page to RSVP for both events. Local blog Santa Fe Arts Journal also featured these exhibitions on their homepage, so make sure to check it out.
“It gave me something that was a little unbelievable, that I could believe in,” said Elana Schwartz in a phone interview from Albuquerque. It was a few days before she was headed up to Santa Fe to deliver her artwork, and we were just beginning to explore her mythological universe.
Elana has been building a pantheon of ethereal characters since just after she graduated high school. “I’d make these characters and these puppets, and I wanted them to come alive,” she said. In the BFA program at University of New Mexico, she started carving her deities from wood and forming tableaus that recounted entire fables. She graduated in 2012, and has maintained a studio practice that she likens to spiritual meditation. “Carving and making art is what brings me to the present,” she said. “That’s what I’ve discovered is my religion.”
With a process that blends art and craft—and incorporates myriad materials, including animals that the artist taxidermies herself—Elana was a perfect fit to join form & concept’s stable. “I’ve come to think that my work as a combination of sculpture and craft,” she said. “It’s kind of in between, because I really value and think about the process and the materials. I think about the concept too in the end, but the concept grows out of the process. So I consider myself a craftsman at this point.”
Several days later, the artist loaded her delicate creations into a Pensky truck and drove up I-25. Check out images from the installation below, along with excerpts from our interview. You can browse all of Elana’s work on her artist page.
How did growing up in Albuquerque influence your work?
I was very influenced growing up with all of the Native American culture, and retablos, and Catholic folk art. Those things really inspired me. I was always doing art, but I didn’t really consider myself an artist until after high school, which is kind of late.
This sounds kind of weird, but what really started me into making art was my obsession with the Puppet Master movies. I became fascinated with making characters come to life.
What appealed to you about creating your own characters and stories?
It gave me something that was a little unbelievable, that I could believe in. It was like my own religion, something to believe in that seemed a little magical. I’d make these characters and these puppets and I wanted them to come alive.
How did you start wood carving?
I got really into working with wood at UNM, when I took a class in sculpture with Steve Barry. He ended up being my art mentor. He was really harsh on everyone, and I loved it. I felt like a lot of other art teachers are just like, ‘That’s so great.’ Steve took it a lot more seriously, and he got me to take it a lot more seriously.
I did one project in wood, and fell in love with the process of reductive carving. I could create these allegorical and mythological creatures from solid blocks. I really liked the reductive process because you have to imagine what’s there and remove everything else around it.
Part of the reason your characters seem so vividly alive is because of the material. The wood has an inner glow to it.
I love working with wood because it has a history of its own. I’m creating this character and personality from what was already there, and just bringing it out of the wood. It really inspires me to create characters that have their own lives, their own histories, and their own futures that are separate from mine.
What does the beginning of your process look like?
I’ll get ideas and then do these preliminary sketches. With some of my smaller pieces, I create them from one block. For larger pieces, I have to puzzle things together. I’ll make the head and the body and the limbs, and I have to fit them together. I’ll clamp them into place and just keep whittling them down.
It sounds like your carving process is almost trance-like.
I’m not a specific religion, but carving and making art is what brings me to the present. That’s what I’ve discovered is my religion. It’s this meditative process for me.
I’ve actually gotten heat stroke a few times from being in my shop and not eating or drinking for long periods of time. I just lose track of everything. I kind of love that, though. It’s like yoga or meditation for someone else.
Is your process reflected at all in the finished sculptures?
In my work, I keep returning to these themes of transcendence, and meditative spirit, and a spiritual in-between space. The process of creating definitely shows up in the sculptures. I talk to the sculptures a lot as I’m creating them. Right when I make the eyes, that’s the moment where I’ll say, ‘Now you can see where you are in the world and develop your own identity.’
How did you and Frank select the first round of works that will appear at form & concept?
I’d like to think of them as all living in the same universe, on the same plane. I’m bringing up an eclectic lot.
What appealed to you about showing at form & concept?
All the work is very eclectic. It’s lots of different mediums, but they go together really well. I think my work fits in there perfectly, because it’s a completely different medium. It’s one of the few mediums that the gallery doesn’t have.
“I’ve come to think that my work is a combination of sculpture and craft. It’s kind of in between, because I really value and think about the process and the materials. I think about the concept too in the end, but the concept grows out of the process. So I consider myself a craftsman at this point.
We’re headed to Elana’s Albuquerque studio in March to create a studio visit video and learn more of the artist’s story. In the meantime, make sure to check out the artist’s work in our downstairs galleries or on our website.
The Surface Design Association (SDA) has members all across the world. It’s no surprise that the featured artists in Shifting Landscapes, SDA’s third international juried exhibition, are a diverse and dynamic crew. The show will present fiber (and fiber-inspired) artworks that are traditional, non traditional and contemporary interpretations of place.
SDA Executive Director Danielle Kelly was particularly interested to see how artists of different nationalities responded to the theme. “With everything that’s happening environmentally and politically around the world right now, I can only imagine what many artists are thinking about as they make work for the exhibition,” Danielle told us a few months ago. “We can communicate things through art when words fail us. Sometimes the best place to talk about your world is through what you make.”
Watch the video above for sneak peeks at work by each of the artists, and read on for a small sampling of their remarkable stories. Shifting Landscapes opens at form & concept on Friday, February 24 from 5-7 pm.
Wendy Weiss is an independent artist and weaver. Textiles, pattern, and power relationships drive Wendy and her studio work. Primarily a weaver and natural dyer, she works with other materials, most recently, digitally cut vinyl to create multi-color wall installations. She is professor emerita of textile design in the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She was awarded a 2014-15 Fulbright Nehru Senior Scholar Award, to follow-up on a previous Fulbright Award in 2009 to document ikat textiles from an artist’s perspective in India, and is a past recipient of two Nebraska Arts Council Artist Fellowships, as well as a Winterthur Residential Fellowship. She serves on the board of the Textile Society of America as External Relations Director and Newsletter Editor. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group shows in North America, Europe and Asia. She uses natural dyes that she cultivates and collects locally.
Faith Kane is a design researcher and educator working in the area of textiles and materials. Her research interests include: design for sustainability; design/science collaborations; the role and value of craft knowledge within these contexts; and drawing for textiles. She is a Senior Lecturer and the Programme Coordinator for Textiles at the School of Design, College of Creative Arts at Massey University In Wellington New Zealand. She is also Editor of the Journal of Textile Design Research and Practice.
Jodi Colella works with a broad range of materials to create provocative, tactile works that often include public participation. She has exhibited at Danforth Art Museum; Fruitlands Museum; Wheaton College; Helen Day Art Center; World of Threads Toronto and Textile Museum Washington D.C., among others. She has received numerous awards including the 2016 Fay Chandler Emerging Artist, 2016 Fellowship ComPeung Thailand, Pollack-Krasner Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center, and Somerville Arts Council Fellowships 2015, 2012. Jodi has taught nationally at Society for Craft in Pittsburgh, SDA’s Confluence in Minneapolis plus many local venues. She lives and works in Somerville, Massachusetts and most days can be found lost in her studio.
Yuni Kim Lang
Yuni Kim Lang is a Detroit-based visual artist who creates sculpture, installation, photography and performances that explore ideas of beauty, adornment and cultural identity. She investigates themes of weight, mass, accumulation and hair in order to understand her personal and cultural identity. Lang was born in Seoul, Korea. All her life, she has been living as a TCK (Third Cultural Kid). Raised overseas, formal training in New York City, Lang holds a MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Metalsmithing (2013) and earned a BFA from Parsons The New School for Design (2009). Lang was awarded a merit-based grant at the Vermont Studio Center Residency (2014), a Red Gate Residency (2013) in China. Her work has been favorably reviewed in several publications including the American Craft Council, Groove Korea and Huffington Post. Lang’s work has been shown at venues such as the John Michael Kohler Art Center (Sheboygan, WI), Frost Museum (Miami, FL), Collective Design Fair (New York City, NY), Galerie Marzee (Nijmegen, The Netherlands) and a solo exhibition at Sienna Patti Gallery (Lenox, MA).
Click here to read the full list of Shifting Landscapes artists, and make sure to RSVPfor the opening reception on Facebook. Shifting Landscapes debuts on Friday, February 24 from 5-7 pm, and runs through May 20.
As a new round of events and exhibitions approaches at form & concept, we’re bidding farewell to two brilliant shows. Look below for videos and interviews that explore Elegance of Mutation by Bunny Tobias, and Kin by Amy Weiks and Gabriel Craig. The exhibitions featured cutting edge contemporary sculptures made from repurposed materials and age-old forms. Make sure to come see them before they close on February 19.
Bunny Tobias presents new artwork made from reclaimed materials—and a fierce philosophy of recycled art—in Elegance of Mutation. The longtime Santa Fe artist is known for charming, surreal artworks made from found objects and natural materials.
You’ve exhibited your jewelry in the form & concept shop since the beginning. How did this sculpture show come about?
Frank had come out to my studio, and I’m a multimedia artist. I work in a lot of different types of materials and art forms. At first we mostly talked about my new jewelry, but then he got to see my other work.
How did you start incorporating found objects into your work?
Form many years, I’ve participated in the Santa Fe Recycled Art show. That’s actually where I got my start in terms of making jewelry with found objects. I live on a rural property, and I used to find some really interesting rusted pieces on the ground. That sparked my interest repurposing material, first for jewelry and later for art.
What are some of your creative influences?
I’ve always been interested in surrealism, dada, and arte povera. These were periods of art that I can easily relate to, because I love taking material that once had another purpose and another life, and turning it into something new. I love vintage material.
Tell us about how you chose the title Elegance of Mutation.
My work morphs and mutates old material into new concepts. Anything and everything is capable of morphing: ideas, objects, functions and materials.There’s an awful lot of humor in my work—and chaos discipline and nonsense. Those are all part of what I see as the elegance of mutation.
What’s your process of composing sculptures from the objects you’ve discovered?
I’ll often try many different variations with a piece. I’ll keep adding and taking away pieces that I think might work. Sometimes it takes an awful lot of experimenting, and trial and error. Other times, it happens very spontaneously.
A lot of it has to do with the material. It has to speak to me, whether it’s doll parts or rusted old tools. My biggest challenge is to avoid cliches, and make sure it’s something that is original, that’s just a simple statement of pure art.
Amy Weiks & Gabriel Craig
For their collaborative exhibition, Kin, artists Gabriel Craig and Amy Weiks revved up their time machine. The show was a chance for the artists, who co-founded a nationally renowned metal fabrication studio in Detroit, to delve into the human history of objects and tools—and explore their own past in the process.
When did you start working together?
Gabriel: We’ve been metalsmiths for 13 years. We met when we were both undergraduates at Western Michigan University in the metal studio. We started working in metal in 2003, and we’ve been working together since 2007. We did a collaborative residency for a year in 2009. When we started working on Kin, it had been a while since we collaborated. We wanted to have an exhibition that would serve as a catalyst to revisit some old ideas and some new ideas.
How does your work differ?
Gabriel: Amy’s work has always been an exploration of objects and tools throughout history, and playing with the idea of function and utility. My work has been an exploration of ornament and pattern. Often, the things we’re exploring can get married together in really interesting ways in the same object.
Amy, you were a photographer before you started metalworking. Tell us about that transition.
Amy: I took a class on a whim my last semester of undergrad. I was interested in exploring something that is more tactile. I was doing a lot of darkroom processing, but overall photography is so much about the image, so it was a really fascinating transition. I started thinking more about form and texture and tools. I got sucked into metalworking really quickly.
When did you become attracted to more tactile art practices, Gabriel?
Gabriel: Growing up, I didn’t really use my hands or tools very often. My dad was a salesman, and his dad was a salesman, and his dad was a salesman, and his dad was a horse thief. From a young age, I was very creative, but my outlets were painting and drawing and photography. When I discovered metalsmithing, it was this realization that I could use tools and manipulate the environment around me. The more I do it, the more I realize that my ability to build forms in metals creates a surface for me to draw on. That comes full circle from my original interest.
Tell us about the first time you collaborated, in the 2009 residency.
Amy: We had done some projects in the past, so we decided to take a bunch of pieces and parts and ideas that we had already. We were working on recycled metal and found materials, like coins and chain, and thinking about texture and pattern. We put them on a table and mixed things together.
Gabriel: We would create elements or small studies, and approached it almost like collage. We would start bringing these pieces together into a larger form, or we’d arrange them on a piece of paper and we would draw around them. It was very labored. There were a lot of parts we rejected and things that didn’t go anywhere. There was a lot of bickering. We kind of figured out through that process what’s at the core of our investigation and what we’re interested in. That body of work was very intricate, very layered.
Was your collaborative process different during Kin?
Gabriel: For Kin, we limited our palette in a way. We’re only using forged steel and forged or fabricated bronze. We’re starting most of the time with forging as a process to start shaping the material. It reads much cleaner, more simple than the previous body of work. It’s a deep investigation. Working together is a lot more comfortable now.
Amy: We’ve created all these pairings with this series. We have form and pattern, and we have bronze and steel, and we have engraving and chafing.
Gabriel: For us, working together has been like playing exquisite corpse with one other person every day for a decade.
Tell us more about the Kin series.
Amy: We’re looking at ancient artifacts and objects. There was this idea that these objects come from somewhere deep in our past. I’m trying to achieve some essence of artifacts in museums that are really old and handmade.
Gabriel: It’s about the kinship we feel with historic, functional and metal objects, and how people who made these objects in the past approached them with simple, technical interventions. We’re trying to find a kinship with that in what we’re doing. There’s some connection across time between what we’re doing and what was done.
“This is war, and we’re strong, and we’re here,” Lucy Madeline told Honey Harris on KBAC Radio this morning. “We’re going to fight this, even if the odds feel like they’re against us.” Madeline appeared with our director, Frank Rose, to promote the debut performance of the Victory Grrrls collective. The interdisciplinary group, comprising Madeline, Niomi Fawn and Thais Mather, will take part in a weekend of feminist action at form & concept.
On Friday, February 10, legendary feminist artist Judy Chicago will appear at a special presentation on her artwork by Chad Alligood, curator of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. All available seats are reserved for this free event, but you can tune in to our Facebook Live broadcast at 5:00 pm MST. The following afternoon, Victory Grrrls will occupy form & concept’s atrium for three powerful performance art pieces. Here’s Emily Van Cleve’s take on Saturday’s event from Santa Fe Arts Journal:
The upcoming visit of feminist artist and art educator Judy Chicago to form & concept has inspired Niomi Fawn, Thais Mather and Lucy Madeline, a.k.a. “Victory Grrrls,” to present their first performance piece at the gallery.
“It felt like we’d finally found our tribe,” says Mather about last year’s founding of Victory Grrrls, whose name was inspired by a World War II campaign poster and the 1990’s underground feminist punk rock movement Riot grrrl. “This is the prime time to be doing what we know is our calling: to be feminist activists.”
Read the rest of the article for more information on Niomi, Thais and Lucy’s performances, and make sure to mark your calendar for the event on Saturday, February 11 at 3:00 pm. Click here to learn more about the Victory Grrrls performance, and hereto learn more about the Judy Chicago presentation.
Can you embroider a border, knit a bridge, or spin a sanctuary from silk? The Surface Design Association challenged artists from across the world to explore the concept of “place” using a wide array of fibrous materials. form & concept will debut the organization’s third international juried exhibition, Shifting Landscapes, on Friday, February 24 from 5-7 pm.
Our director Frank Rose is a Shifting Landscapes juror, along with Arizona artist Erika Lynne Hanson. As Frank reviewed hundreds of submissions, he embarked on visual journeys through landscapes that are representational and abstract, literal and metaphorical. The final array of artworks unites a vast web of fiber (and fiber-inspired) artists from around the world, and proves that even in a time of stark geopolitical divisions, a single thread can tell a story of unity.
The Surface Design Association produces its own quarterly journal, and they recently recounted form & concept’s history on their blog. Here’s an excerpt:
form & concept is an art gallery founded to expand and explore the boundaries of perceived distinctions between art, craft, and design. Their programming acts as a conversation between these three, supporting contemporary creative practice through exhibitions of regional and international artists. Here are three recent exhibitions that highlight the breadth of concepts, styles, and materiality that form & concept showcases…
Click here to read more, and make sure to join us at the opening reception for Shifting Landscapes on Friday, February 24. On Saturday, February 25 at 2:00 pm, we’ll hold a gallery talk featuring Surface Design Association Executive Director Danielle Kelly, along with Shifting Landscapes artists and jurors. A solo exhibition by fiber artist Mark Newport, Mending, opens on the same day.
This February, Mark Newport will return to form & concept for a solo exhibition that cuts to the heart of the Michigan textile artist’s practice. His new body of work, Mending, features torn muslin cloths with meticulously embroidered patches, a symbol of the scars that life etches on the body and psyche. Mark will be in Santa Fe for the Mendingopening reception on Friday, February 24 from 5-7 pm, and will speak at our gallery talk the following day.
The artwork in Mending stands in stark contrast to the artist’s first exhibition at form & concept. In ourReFashion group show, Mark presented hand-knit superhero suits. We spoke with the artist by phone about the new series, and how it evolved from his earlier work.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Mending.
I’m exploring the idea of repair and scarring, to make a connection between textile and the body in that way. I’ve been researching and using traditional textile mending techniques that I examined on trips to New York, Boston, London and Amsterdam.
What’s the history of these techniques?
I first learned about mending samplers when I was in college. People, mostly women, were taught these things to learn a trade, so that they could take care of themselves. Frugality and economy were part of the culture then, which we don’t have as much now. I’m using the same process to repair tears in off-white cloth, and examining the relationship between stitches on a cloth and stitches on a body.
How did you make that connection?
I’m interested in this idea of reconstructing something better than it was. Maybe there’s a lie in the textile; it’s not what it originally was. If you have a stain on your favorite shirt, or you patch up your favorite jeans, they’re not the same anymore. But maybe they’re even better now because they lived through that.
It’s the same thing with the body. When it’s scarred, it might not be such a negative thing.
Do you have a lot of scars?
I was a very accident-prone child. I have some scars. I have always thought of scars as this record of where you’ve been. ‘That was the time I fell on my bike, or that’s when I had appendix surgery.’
The work in Mending is very different from the superhero suits you exhibited in our ReFashion show. How did that transition happen?
It took a while for me to get to this point. I had worked on the costumes and other pop culture-related work since around 1995. When I had been working on the costumes for 8 or 9 years, I got to the point where I had explored that line of thinking and that way of working to its fullest. I gave myself time to think about new ways of working, and wrestled with that for a couple of years.
Underneath the pop culture trappings of the earlier work, the body was always part of it. The costume suggests the body, masculinity, armor. With Mending, it’s more about vulnerability and exposing flaws. I’m flipping that coin on its head.
Has this project lead you to confront your own vulnerability?
I’m at a time when I’m a little bit older, so my body isn’t as certain as it used to be. As I age, I think about how things have changed and what that means.
I love being an artist, because you have this ability to explore things in a way that you don’t always have the opportunity to do. The work slows me down, and gives me a chance to think.
We’re excited to announce that Debra Baxter is joining form & concept as our newest represented artist! Debra has exhibited her DB/CB Jewelry line in our gallery shop since we opened, and her sculptures were featured in our ReFashion group show. We visited her studio in Eldorado late last year, and had a wide-ranging conversation about her jewelry and sculpture practices.
Debra is originally from Nebraska, and earned her MFA from Bard College. She lived in Seattle for 18 years, but made a big move to Santa Fe in August 2015. While she was in Washington State, she created a series of crystal brass knuckles and other wearable sculptures that went viral online and landed one of the works in the Smithsonian Collection (read about it in our previous blog post about Debra). For this special announcement, we spoke with Debra about coming to New Mexico, experimenting with new materials and other fascinating topics.
Check it out below, and make sure to check out Debra’s new work in the form & concept collection. If you’re in Santa Fe, her sculptures are on view now in our upstairs galleries.
Have you always been creatively inclined?
I’ve pretty much been interested in art since birth, and naturally been drawn to it. I happen to be pretty good at it. Early on in life, it was mostly drawing. I just kind of stood out in that way, and I’ve always wanted to be an artist.
Did you have a lot of collections as a child?
Throughout my life, I’ve had rock collections. My mom has a pretty good one, too. My late grandma was a science teacher, and her husband was an electrical engineer. They had a lot of samples from her science class, so I got some of those that say what mineral it is. I don’t know that I’ve collected found objects so much as just rocks.
Tell us about your move to New Mexico, and how it has influenced your work.
I had been in Seattle 18 years, so it was a little painful because I love a lot of people there and have a really strong community there. But I was really ready for sun. I think Santa Fe is this crazy, magical place and probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. I just went to a conference, and when I told people I was from Santa Fe, they were like, “You get to live there?” It’s an honor to be able to live here. It’s kind of a miracle. Me and my husband worked so hard to figure out how he could get a job and we could do this.
A lot of people have asked me, ‘How has living in New Mexico changed your work?’ One of the main ways has been working in bronze and having access to a foundry. I also got a residency at Bullseye Glass there, so I’ve been able to access new materials and people. I think it might take time to figure out how it totally influences my work. It would be more obvious if I was a landscape painter, but it has definitely influenced my well-being. I feel like I have a really high quality of life. I don’t ever sit in traffic. That’s amazing, if you’ve lived in Seattle.
Give us a rundown of the materials you’re using in your sculptural work right now.
Sculpturally, I work in a lot of materials. If I tried to reel it in to make a list, it would be alabaster, bronze, iron, crystals and minerals, wood, glass. They’re all pretty traditional sculptural materials. I’m drawn to permanency and things that will last, but I have this longing for tradition. I’m trying to take something traditional, and use it in a very strange, new way.
It’s quite an arsenal! You work with so many contrasting materials.
I really like combining materials that make no sense together. Like having crystal shoot out of alabaster. If I embed it well enough, people believe they actually grew out of the alabaster. I kind of love that I can actually make it almost look natural.
How do materials play into the concepts you’re exploring?
A lot of it is about materiality, and how much I love beautiful crystals and minerals and metal. Most recently, I’ve been exploring glass casting at Bullseye Glass, because I have a residency there. Content-wise, I’ve been interested in this idea of vulnerability. Partially in theory embracing vulnerability, but then the strength that can come from the bravery it takes to be vulnerable. You wouldn’t guess that by looking at this, but a lot of my pieces are purely formal. I like playing with beautiful objects and trying to solve a puzzle with how to put them together.
So you’re using the parameters of your materials as a kind of creative inspiration.
It’s good for my brain. I really enjoy the puzzle. I get really excited when I have pieces where I need to figure out the solution to make it visually nice. I find it super fun to try to problem solve, by getting this back from the glass studio and saying, ‘Now what do I do with it? It’s gorgeous, what is it?’
How did you develop an interest in the concept of vulnerability and power?
At Bard College, my thesis was partially written about this whole idea of vulnerability and how it could turn into power. Years later, there’s this writer and researcher, Brené Brown, who talks about how the only way to make leaps in your life is to be vulnerable, and how much we hate it.
When I’m in the middle of something horrible that makes me feel vulnerable, I’m usually not having a good time. But in order to make the jumps in life, you have to make yourself vulnerable. To fall in love with someone, you have to open your heart. That’s terrifying, because they could just destroy you. And I have been destroyed. But it’s such a big part of being a whole human. Brené Brown calls it “whole-hearted.”
I’m a really sappy, sentimental person. When I love, I love really hard. I think in some ways, it’s okay for that to come through in my work. It’s not cool to be sentimental in the conceptual art world, necessarily. But I just really believe that power can come through being vulnerable, even though when it’s happening, I despise it. I just think it’s really interesting that there’s research that backs that up. Brené Brown has done all these studies that back up how much you need to be vulnerable to grow.
I think I always have been drawn to delicate, breakable materials. Using fragile materials to talk about fragility makes sense. I had a glass balloon that was broken, and I built it all back together in this show I had in 2009. It was called False Hope.
I’ve always been interested in that, even though something like bronze is very solid. But that’s part of why I love glass and I’ve always loved glass, is that the material itself is vulnerable. It makes it tricky to work with, and tricky to show.
How do you feel about your recent explorations with glass casting?
It’s kind of a discovery. There’s this mathematical equation for figuring out how much glass needs to be in the cast. I’m kind of playing with what happens if you don’t put enough in. It makes a cool edge if it’s just dripping. It drips in the kiln, and it might make a cool shape and might not.
I’m pretty into these accidents. I’m really more interested in not doing things the right way, which drives some people crazy about me. But I think with the experiments, sometimes you discover more than if you were trying to totally control the process.
Have you made connections with glass artists through your residency?
I am starting to collaborate with a glass artist in Oakland, California. She sent me some of her duds that I’m trying to make something out of. We went back and forth, because I wanted her to blow glass on one of my alabaster sculptures, but then we both realized that it would probably crack and destroy the alabaster.
Tell us about your found object sculptures.
Some of it falls into this Duchampian history of found objects in sculpture. Once he started using found objects, that changed everything. I started noticing that I’m drawn to similar objects and shapes. I’m very interested in natural materials. I did a project called 100 Days of Sculpture, where I made a sculpture every day for 100 days. Those are 90% found, because you can’t carve a piece of alabaster in a day, every day. What was interesting about that project was that I was always looking for objects. I’m just like that now.
How do you feel when the materials you’re working with suddenly fit together into a piece?
Oh man, it’s so exciting. When I’m working with different pieces, and when they actually fit together, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, it worked!’ I love that process, and that’s part of what was fun about 100 Days of Sculpture, is to play with these objects every day. It’s all about experimentation. There isn’t a right way to do things, so you need to trust your intuition.
“The very simple act of donating and repurposing jewelry becomes a political, environmental and social act,” said San Francisco-based jewelry designer Jenn Carroll Wilson at last month’s gallery talk for our Radical Jewelry Makeover Artist Project show. Wilson and her fellow Ethical Metalsmiths board member Peter Calvert were in town to discuss the impetus and values behind the monumental project.
For over four years, Radical Jewelry Makeover has traveled the nation, educating the design community and the general public about the toxicity of mining practices. The project brings together volunteer “miners,” who dig out and donate their old jewelry, with volunteer jewelers and students, working together as refiners and designers to collaborate on an exhibition of re-made jewelry. For the form & concept exhibition, a small group of artists from across the country who previously collaborated with Radical Jewelry Makeover were invited to dive more deeply into the motivations and questions of the project.
Emily Van Cleve of the brand new culture blog Santa Fe Arts Journal recently covered the show. Here’s her take:
What can you do with unusable jewelry? For some folks, the answer is to donate it to Ethical Metalsmiths, a New York-based organization dedicated to promoting mining practices that respect and protect the earth, its people and cultures. […]
“Each jeweler was asked to make jewelry out of a variety of materials they were given,” explains form & concept’s director Frank Rose, who adds that the materials ranged from precious metals and stainless steel to enamel, reclaimed horn, abalone, plastic, glass and fishing line. “What they came up with is really amazing. Every piece is one-of-a-kind.”
Read the rest of Emily’s post here, and watch the video to learn more about our Radical Jewelry Makeover show.It’s on view through February 19 in the form & concept atrium. Drawings of mining sites by Nina Elder are on display in conjunction with the exhibition. Click here to read an interview with her about her artistic practice and the environmental impact of mining.
“I touched each one, and decided each one was worthy,” says Heather Bradley. She’s standing above a canopy of ceramics, clustered on a long table in her studio. The elegant porcelain vessels she’s created represent over a year of her artistic output, and some of the last pieces have just emerged from the kiln. “I think of them as ‘the family,'” she explains. “Today, some of them are meeting the other ones for the first time. It feels complete.”
Heather is originally from Tennessee, and studied art history at the University of West Florida. She first came to New Mexico on the National Student Exchange, completing an MFA in painting at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. “I was just going to stay for a semester, and then I stayed for a year, and then I decided to stay here for the rest of my life,” she says. After completing her MFA in Ceramics at NMSU Las Cruces, she moved to Santa Fe and has fostered a prolific career.
Now Heather is part of form & concept’s permanent stable of artists. During our studio visit, she talked about passing her 20th year of making ceramics, engaging with the New Mexico landscape, and confidently defying the expectations of the ceramics community. Read the full interview below, and make sure to browse Heather’s artwork in our online store.
You presented a brand new body of work for your first display at form & concept. Tell us about selecting the pieces.
I switched to porcelain about two years ago from stonework. I loved the porcelain so much that I wanted to, for the first time, not make many marks on the surface. But then when I started working with the porcelain, there was lots of cracking and breaking. It’s fragile. For each one that I chose in this body of work, there were probably three or four that didn’t make it. They either broke, or died, or weren’t worthy.
So this is the culmination of a long-term experiment?
It is. I’ve been hoarding these for a special show. I really wanted to show them together because I think of them as ‘the family.’ Today, some of them are meeting the other ones for the first time. It feels complete. I feel like the colors are talking to each other more now. The porcelain itself is just really new and special for me. I feel like I’m finally able to handle it.
What are some special considerations that you have to make when you’re working with porcelain, versus other mediums that you’ve worked with in the past?
You have to work faster, for one thing, because the porcelain won’t handle a lot of manhandling. It holds up for a certain time, and then it gets too wet and just flops. I have to go fast when I’m throwing it, but then when it’s drying it has to dry really slowly and carefully. I have to be patient with firing. I’ve had several that I fired too soon, that exploded because there was too much moisture.
I also have to be a bit more sensitive with my fingers. The porcelain has a memory. If I make one little move, if I sneeze or something while I’m touching it, then it remembers that. I just have to be really focused because the porcelain is so sensitive.
How does it feel when a piece explodes in the kiln. Is that a little tragedy, or is it just another casualty of your work?
I’ve had a lot of time to analyze those feelings. Just the other day, I opened the kiln and the top part of the kiln made me very happy. I was like, ‘Oh, those are beautiful.’ Then I could see shards around the edges. On the bottom part of the kiln, they were all exploded and broken. I felt awful. I don’t know how else to explain it, it’s very disheartening. I guess in a sense after you lose so many of them, the ones that I do have become a bit more precious, because they feel like survivors.
In your artist statement, you talk about finding these imperfections in the final products that give them their personality or essence. How do you balance that with your desire for perfection?
There’s something imperfect about each one. Maybe there’s a mark that I didn’t intend, or the hole isn’t perfectly circular. At first, I’ll say, ‘Oh, reject pile.’ But then it starts growing on me.
When I’m throwing, I feel like I’m always trying to do a variation on the same form. I try to find some perfection or get close to something that I feel is elegant, but it never quite happens.
I start to relate it to being human. There’s nothing perfect about any aspect of me. I can find an imperfection about every single thing, so I just kind of accept it with the work. I notice that when people interact with it, a lot of times it is the imperfections that they’re drawn to.
How do you feel when someone notices an imperfection like that, and falls in the love the piece because of it?
I’ve noticed that over the years. A lot of times I’ll show someone something, and I’ll start to apologize. I’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know what I was thinking at this point.” Or “It touched another piece in the kiln.” or “It has this mark on it that I didn’t intend.”
They would usually not really enjoy that apology, because that’s what they were connecting to. I’ve tried to also accept those imperfections, and see them as what makes it human-made rather than machine-made. That’s a good thing.
You’re originally from Tennessee. How did you end up out here?
I went to school in University of West Florida, and was studying art history. I wrote a paper about Georgia O’Keeffe, and then I came on a national student exchange. I chose New Mexico because of O’Keeffe. I went to New Mexico State in Las Cruces. I was just going to stay for a semester, and then I stayed for a year, and then I decided to stay here for the rest of my life.
You studied painting before you were in ceramics. How did that transition happen?
I was studying painting and I was also studying ceramics. One day I brought my ceramics to my painting critique, and it was a completely different response. Everyone in the room was like, “You should be doing this. You can keep [painting] but we don’t really care, but you should be doing this.”
It was a relief, because that’s where I really wanted to be. Painting felt more like labor, and ceramics was what I could do when I was finally finished painting. I took it as a sign, and started focusing more on ceramics. I got my BFA in painting, and my MFA in ceramics.
New Mexico seems like such a perfect place for a potter, because you can pick up the earth and shape it into something. The structures around us are made from the earth. Could you talk about connecting with this landscape, and the initial feeling of making pottery here?
In Las Cruces, I was definitely blown away by the landscape. It’s so different from Tennessee because you can really see the earth. There are a lot of ceramics going on down there too, so I was inspired by other potters. Being in Santa Fe, I spend a lot of time in the mountains. I went up Santa Fe Baldy a lot this summer. I feel a lot of connection with the sky, too. Some of the surfaces and colors of my ceramics are inspired by that connection with the sky. Sunset and sunrises.
Something about having your hands in the clay makes you feel more connected to the earth. With the porcelain, it feels so refined. It’s expensive clay, and you have to go to a particular store to buy it. Sometimes it doesn’t just feel like I have my hands in the mud, it feels like I have my hands in expensive, refined, imported materials.
Could you talk about your current thoughts on color, and how you chose the palette for this body of work?
I made some pieces before this that were all black and white. I worked in black and white for quite a while before I started adding the color. At first I felt a little bit afraid to use pastel colors, because there are a lot of cultural associations with pastels. I was worried that people were going to have a connection to pink in a different way than I saw it. But I just went with it, because there are a lot of these colors in nature.
There’s something about the subtlety of them that spoke to femininity for me. There’s a softness, but also the gradation of color reminds me of nature and things that happen on the ocean, and in the sky, and on rocks. I’ve always loved what copper can do, so there’s a lot of coppery colors. I feel like it’s a pretty broad palette. It kind of does cover the spectrum, but for me I needed them all to speak to each other. They needed to be balanced. It’s really nice to finally see them all together today.
They do feel like organic forms, perhaps eggs or seed pods. Was that part of the intention?
I can relate to the seed pod part. I’m definitely inspired by Native American ceramics, and the pots that have the tiny holes that they used for seed pots. I’ve always been drawn to close the top of the pot. I’ve spent so many hours of my life in pottery classes, where they were teaching me to make bowls and teapots and cups and plates. My teachers can’t make me keep the form open. I just can’t do it. I want to close the form, I think it creates a more sensual look to me.
Sometimes it reminds of the top of cathedral spires, or they have these beautiful Buddhist stupas that they use in graveyards that have this spirally top as well that inspire me. I don’t really think of things growing out of them, necessarily.
The work is just at the edge of being fully functional. You could put a flower in them, but you couldn’t fit a whole bouquet. Are you referencing functional pottery?
Yes, sometimes I’ll be really inspired by amphoras or different water vessels in Africa, or things that people use. I think there’s sort of a rebellion in me that’s like, “Try to use it. I don’t know, put a stick of incense into it.” I really just want them to be art.
You mentioned the “memory” of the pots earlier. Could you talk about your tactile memory when you’re making work, and also the memory that the pot itself preserves afterwards?
It’s interesting, because I’ve been noticing how long I’ve been doing this lately. I just turned 40, and I started doing it when I was 19. I’ve always closed the form, and all my teachers have tried to make me not close the form. A lot of time when I’ve been throwing the long necks, people will ask me how I do that, and I can’t really seem to put it in words. But my hands know, and I like that. I can take a break from the pottery, and it’s like riding a bike in a way. I’ll think maybe I’ve forgotten, but my fingers remember how to close the form
I think for each piece I make, it does sort of encapsulate a moment in time or a day. I can remember which ones I made when I first went to the studio, and what was happening in my life. The clay is so sensitive, and I can remember taking the needle tool and making that mark, and feeling like I have that freedom to mark the clay.
So, for you, the work really chronicles all sorts of moments in your life?
I do feel like that. It is almost a diary ,in a way. I have no idea if that’s conveyed to the audience or not, in any way. But this is a year and a half of my life. That’s how I feel.
What would you call that era in your life, if you had to label it?
I guess “40.” Turning 40 was like, “Whoa, good job me.” I stuck with it. I remember, when I first started when I was 19, walking back from pottery classes and feeling so defeated. It was something I wanted to be so good at, but my hands were incompetent, and I was so aware that I was incompetent. But I had to keep doing it. This year, I realized that I don’t feel that way anymore. That was nice.
Come view Heather’s new work in form & concept’s upstairs gallery, and click over to our online store to see the whole collection.