Regional identities, the Spleth/Walker challenge, and lots of vines
Im back after a week of travel. I often find that well timed breaks from my studio are just as valuable as work time because it gives me fresh perspective on what Ive been doing. Separation and inspiration often go hand and hand for me. My current work is based on my perceptions and nostalgia for the south. This is represented by my drawings of flowing vines that are so plentiful in the south. I started this work when I left for Colorado a few years ago. I could not have started the work while still in the south. It comes from the place of being an outsider and claiming a different regional identity then the one you are currently living in. The objects I make are often markers for places and times that I want to remember when I can no longer experience them in person.
In the fall of 2007 I went to a lecture by David Picton(renowned African Art Historian) who told a story that made me have an "Ah ha" moment. He told of a well respected African artist being asked “What is the place of Africa in your art?” The man said “ To hell with Africa”. Picton was shocked but the man followed and said that his work was about “ Being African in another place”. They were in Germany so the African artist was an African expatriot living in Europe. By living away from his home he had an African identity to the European but he didn’t try to put that out. He was just expressing his influences which are African.
I realize that displacement will create an idea about home that is the sum total of our experiences while we were at home. It’s a nostalgic response to being displaced.
I think the work I'm making doesn't always scream southern to everyone. Some people don't immediately pick up the influence. I do think though that I could ask 10 viewers and at least 9 will say that my work doesn't come from Upstate New York, southern India, or any other place. It might not have southwestern Va written on it but it still points to that area of the country. A sense of place is often defined by what areas it doesn't represent. This subtlety is good enough for me at this point.
Ive been working with hand built forms recently as a way to break the dependence I have had with the wheel. This has been a great challenge because I used to make a living as a production wheel thrown potter. When I was at Odyssey, Tom Spleth and Holly Walker came to do a critique with the residents. They talked about forcing yourself to not use your favorite tool as a way to restructure your making process. Change the making process and you will change the idea/conceptual process. At the time I thought it was a crazy suggestion. I mean no one asked Coltrane to put down the sax and pick up the trumpet so that he could get better. Over the years I have thought about this suggestion but said I would do this later after I had already become successful (I'm not sure what success had to do with it). I even found myself planning to switch to hand building if I ever hurt one of my hands bad enough that I couldn't throw. After taking Tom and Holly's suggestion for the past six months I have changed my mind. I would recommend that all artists stop using their favorite tool every five years or so.
Ive found when I hand build I consider the minutia differently. The tilt of a rim is more deliberate because I have to consciously put it there. With throwing I am often turning off my awareness and going off the thousands of pots I have thrown before. The good and bad thing about wheel throwing is that I have ideas about how things should look. With hand building I'm open to any and all solutions.The form above is a medium sized bowl that is about 12 inches across. The decoration is based on a french roller print that I have talked about before. I like the print because it thick, energetic, and it reminds me of the way all vegetation grows in Florida.