Literature, stories, and the way a writer or storyteller aligns certain words together into phrases has always been a source of inspiration for my work. In the past, I have looked to an old proverb ‘A fellow that’s neither fish, nor flesh’ and the phrase ‘found drowned’ as a starting point for most of my pieces. Both pulled from James Joyce’s Ulysses, I used these phrases as the vehicle or kick-starter to speak about other ideas. I am drawn to things that appear to be one thing at first glance, but become something entirely different (and often with dark undertones) after closer examination.
I have always been interested in exploring visual representations and ideas that deal with the body, particularly in the way the human body relates to space and objects, and the body as a physical thing. To do this, I focus on creating ceramic objects that are reminiscent of the human form, or skeleton, but have the feeling of something that cannot be named. Having worked, and been relatively unsatisfied, with the exclusive use of plaster and wax for similarly styled pieces in the past, the introduction of clay into my material language has been an exciting one. The unpredictability of the material from beginning to end (the end product is somewhat out of the artists’ hands) speaks to me and to my desire to create things that feel they have a life of their own. For these works, I looked to the body casts of Pompeii victims, to the Bog Bodies of Northern Europe, to mummies, and to ceremonial bone objects for inspiration. With these pieces, I want to create something that is both life-like and impossible.
Along with the body, I am interested in time—specifically time’s passage. Natural landscapes, as well as man-made impositions on the natural landscape, have influenced a great deal of my aesthetic choices.
In my last year of college, I was granted the opportunity to travel to Ireland. On my trip, I became intrigued by the stone walls that grid the countryside. These walls have existed for centuries, and are compiled of stones cleared from farmland and arranged in intricate and varied patterns. I loved how such simple and functional objects could become so implanted with physical beauty. They left me wondering who built these things, how long they struggled clearing the land and stacking the stone, and how many generations have continued to clear and stack just as generations before them did.
Upon my return, I sought a material that would behave in the same way—something that was relatively useless, yet could be transformed into something enticing. I became interested in the refuse that surrounds my daily life—clutter we need to remove in order to function, much like the Irish need to clear the rocky soil in order to allow for farming or building. I arrived at handmade paper (newspaper repurposed) as my solution. This trip, as well as this material finding was a pivotal moment in my art making. Not only did I discover or more accurately, realize my interest in gathering/finding/making materials and exploring how a material can influence a sculpture’s meaning, but I also uncovered an interest in taking something rather useless and transforming it into something beautiful—an idea that has continuously reemerged in my work.
I am repeatedly drawn to materials with a history outside of my art—from fat gathered from butcher’s shops and then rendered into soap, to newspaper stolen from my neighbor’s recycling bins, to pig’s ears chew toys, to feather quills, to ‘trash-line’ rope from the ports on the Mississippi river. These materials speak to me. They resonate with their past lives and imbue my sculptures with their histories—these materials don’t feel fabricated or fake, they feel real. When more traditional materials come into play in my work, it is almost always because of their ability to mimic life—the lushness of wax and it’s proximity to skin, the chalky bone-like quality of porcelain slip painted on ceramics. I want my art to speak to our (human) existence—both our mortality and our physicality and the mystery and beauty of these things.
While researching the Catacombs of Rome and the bejeweled bones of Christian martyrs found within these catacombs, I became attracted to the act of ornamentation. These bones are covered in precious metals and stones in an act of love, dedication, and reverence. Mimicking this, I began ornamenting pig’s ears (sold as dog chew toys) with gold leaf and chipped red coral. Each pig ear holds a different shape and form—each a perfect, tiny, self-made sculpture— that once decorated and adorned is transformed from something repulsive into something beautiful and precious.
Through an exploration of all of these things—materiality, the body, time and its passage, ornamentation, phrases like ‘found drowned’ and ‘neither fish nor flesh,’ I came to recognize this connective theme of mortality and death running throughout my work. At the root of this interest, I believe, is the loss of my grandfather, who disappeared while snorkeling on a family vacation in the Bahamas. For my recent work, I’ve looked to this loss to create sculptures that speak about death—with the goal of taking this highly personal event that occurred at a particular moment in history and creating objects that become more universal, more inclusive of death and ideas of mortality on a whole.
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