“Primitive animal instincts lurk in our own depths, waiting for the chance to slide past a conscious moment. The sculptures I create focus on human psychology, stripped of context and rationalization, and articulated through animal and human forms.” Thus begins Beth Cavenar’s own description of inspirations underlying her work.
Beth’s trained at the Charles H. Cecil Studio in Florence, Italy. The Cecil studio offers a traditional, 19th century atelier-style of art training focused on drawing and painting from life. Returning to the US., Beth graduated from the Ohio State University with a Master’s in Fine Arts degree in ceramics in 2002. She has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally.
Beth’s roughly modeled clay sculptures typically depict writhing animal forms in a variety of actions and interactions – alone or with other animals and sometimes staining against inanimate constraints like chains and ropes. I’m reminded of a famous mural Duel With Cudgels by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya depicting two men mired in mud, ruthlessly flailing at each other to death.
“I rely on animal body language in my work as a metaphor for … underlying patterns [that betray intent and motivation], transforming the animal subjects into human psychological portraits,” she explains. “I want to pry at those uncomfortable, awkward edges between animal and human. Entangled in their own internal and external struggles, the figures express frustration for the human tendency towards cruelty and lack of understanding.” Again I think of Goya.
Beth works with clay on these massive sculptures, ranging between 800 – 2,000 lbs (363-907 kg), and part of her work involves a physical response to the material of clay. “I have always linked the materiality of flesh and the memory of it with clay. It has an incredible sensitivity to touch. Not only is the inert nature of the material alluring with its ties to the primitive and raw, but its voice spans a wide range of sensual, violent, and careless textural possibilities.” Beth documented construction of one sculpture in 2012 in a time-lapse video which I’ve embedded below. The video demonstrates the elaborate armatures she uses to support such large, heavy amounts of clay.
Beth has provided extensive information about her materials and process under the “Methods” section of her website. Beth is a master of manipulating clay as material. The surfaces of her clay sculptures vibrate with expressive gesture, yet she finishes the surfaces with delicate coloration.
Not only are the pieces impressive from an anatomical perspective, but there’s a rhythmic energy coupled with delicate details in each of her sculptural pieces.
Enjoy some additional examples of Beth’s work on her website and Instagram.
2 thoughts on “Beth Cavener – Artist Profile”
Spectacular work. These pieces are visually stunning and sensitive, yet emotionally challenging. A very difficult combination to achieve with such lyrical grace. Thank you for including the video.
Beth’s is a real standout. It’s well-crafted and interesting to virtually everyone. A great pleasure to see you enjoyed it!