Susan Beiner – Artist Profile

Susan Beiner has been a Professor of Ceramics at Arizona State University since 2006. She is also an active studio artist, working primarily as a ceramic sculptor.

Susan has exhibited her work widely, both domestically and internationally. Her work was exhibited at The Mint Museum of Craft and Design, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Clayarch Gimhae Museum in Korea, the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts, and at Princessehof Keramiekmuseum in the Netherlands, to name several.

Susan has exhibited her work widely, both domestically and internationally. Her work was exhibited at The Mint Museum of Craft and Design, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Clayarch Gimhae Museum in Korea, the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts, and at Princessehof Keramiekmuseum in the Netherlands, to name several.

Susan describes her work process in the Virtual Studio Tour video below. As she walks through her studio, she shows several work examples (both in process and complete), plus some of the many molds she uses in her work. Susan’s video tour is one of the more interesting I’ve seen. In the first 10 minutes, as she moves quickly through her studio space, you get a real sense of how she uses molds to create the components of her large-scale pieces, and then you see some of the finished components that she will assemble into finished works. She also shows her studio in the context of her garden – an important part of her ceramic pieces and her lifestyle.

In the subsequent 5 minutes (10-15 min), she discusses how she finds inspiration in her garden amidst growing, thriving plants. “I’m outside doing something almost every day,” Susan says, “and I watch things as they grow. As I watch things, I do little drawings as notes for forms. Those [drawings] then become parts of the shapes I make out of clay. I then start repeating them to create bigger forms.”

JW: You have an intense interest in the botanical world – even a “microscopic” view of the botanical world. Have you always had a strong attraction to plants, gardens and organic forms?

SB: Yes, I have always enjoyed the landscape and all that goes with it, color, shapes and texture. I watch plants grow and change until they produce, whether that be offspring, seeds, flowers, fruit or vegetables. I meticulously tend to my garden and fruit trees as well as nurture all the plants. I watch and take part, I feel connected, its an integral part of my art practice and my life. Gardening makes me feel grounded, literally, and often when thinking about units for my work, I investigate many historical palace gardens, they are visionary. Plants are important in our civilization, they are a part of our history, and they present in curiosity and wonder.

One of my favorite things in my travels to different countries, is to look for indigenous plants in various areas and search out untended fields only to discover inspiring growth.

JW: Is there a progression in your work? (Things like color to monotone, modular to single unit, individual pieces to wall units to environmental (entire room) experiences, for example.)

SB: I have always wanted the viewer to be able to immerse themselves, maybe a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Most of my work is modular so I can work at a larger scale with smaller sections that are more manageable, and I can conform them to various walls or floor spaces. Many of my wall pieces, though they are single pieces, are still composed of several sections that fit together.

You may not notice the things that have changed, for instance, the scale of the encrusted forms are much larger than they have been in the past, which may seem like its less detail, but field of color is taking shape. I design and compose sculptures, a single object to experiment and experience new ideas, like sketching with form or just play with form. Sometimes I use remnants of pieces I am working on to think about that specific piece before it goes in the recycle bin. There is something interesting about the cast off/cut off piece that I find filled with intention, so I go off on a tangent and start something else…I especially do this after working on a big project, where I need to work small for a while, to get a piece completed in less than a year or more.

In my practice I think the idea of “play” is important for me, I try a lot of different things, many of which no one sees but me.

I consider my work to evolve around project ideas, as environmental issues are in the forefront of my mind of late.

I use color as a tool to shape ideas, trying to arrive at the essence of form. The rendering of various glazes to create the perception of foliage now has changed. Now I am interested in using color as a way to unify forms without being specific about the organic-ness of plants. You will see this in my most recent installation, Bounded Fragility, a floor piece based on the idea of a carpet, covering earth, all one glaze. It hasn’t been revealed yet, but soon.

I think that I learn something from every piece and that moves into another piece. Some of the wall work was figuring out various hanging devices, however, ultimately it all takes so much time so perhaps I take small steps?

JW: I do sense a more recent interest in synthetic vs. organic themes (for example in Organic Dissolution and Non-Biodegradable). Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but do these pieces reflect some form of disappointment or disillusion on a larger scale?

SB: I would call it concern. I wonder what will be left of our planet and what troubles we will be consumed by in the future. Our resources are being used up and we will get used to swimming in an ocean of plastic… It’s similar to responses to the pandemic, we have to act in unison to make a change, it’s a serious commitment and an understanding of treating our planet better. Unless corporations stop producing single use plastic…it will never end, but we will.

JW: Some (much) of your work is very large-scale. What keeps you inspired through what must be very long periods of time it takes to create these pieces?

SB: Scale keeps me engaged, and time is an element in space. As I work with a plan, I commit to the activity and timeline and once I start to see progress I feel like the presence of the piece associates with what I want to viewer to feel… overwhelmed. I want the work to be something you can dive into and feel.

Small work is over too fast, the feeling goes away too fast, I much prefer larger work.

JW: You seem to sketch quite a bit. Are your ceramic pieces usually sketched out and carefully planned in advance? Or do they “come together” as you are working on them?

SB: I do plan them in advance, but there are usually some changes once I start the making process. There is still room for intuition even with a plan.

I have to make an entire set of molds since I slipcast and assemble all the parts from my molds. Making the prototypes of the parts comes first and takes up a chunk of time before I proceed to making. Many times I need to make duplicates of some of the shapes because I cast them so many times, they get worn out.

JW: Where to from here? Do you have plans for upcoming work that you can share?

SB: Yes, as I said in above question, my newest piece Bounded Fragility which will be out very soon, is still very new in my mind, all one glaze color it feels very powerful to me. Since I am at the end of this project, I can finally see the direction that awaits and eager to move forward. However, as I mentioned prior, I am ready for some smaller individual works to experiment with, sort of give me a rest so I think more. Additionally, I will be working on some large format drawings.

I am excited for you to see this piece, I would enjoy the feedback. I have never made such a large format piece as one intensely active field.

See more of Susan Beiner’s work on her website.

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