The Asheville Art Museum in Asheville, North Carolina, has a wonderful collection exhibiting fine craftsmanship in various media from the Southeastern U.S. The collection is diverse yet striking. The exhibition space is pristine. The scale is not overwhelming. It is an altogether worthwhile museum. Here are a few images of items that I particularly enjoyed.
Eric Serritella’s Paperbirch Basket With Vine Handle, 2014, is one item in the collection that illustrates the quality of the overall collection. Serritella’s Basket is a stunning trompe l’oeil gem. The artist creates lifelike illusions of material such as birch wood and vines by skillful application and firing of matte glazes.
I loved a piece by Cynthia Bringle entitled Raku Wall Painting, 1969. The sculpture is an assembly of four ceramic tiles mounted on board. Bringle’s tiles share a unifying palette and include graphic markings and textural “folds” that cross more than one tile, to the piece really works well as a whole.
It may not be wholly evident from the photos, but Bringle’s Raku Wall Painting has impressive mass and substance when seen in person.
Laura Perry’s Excuse Me While I Slip On My Good Manners Shoes and The Lover, The Savior Of Small Things are plain fun, creative, joyful, and packing a subtle sense of humor.
I liked how Mary Engel used clay objects as elements in her mixed media sculpture Louise, 2008. Engel is a contemporary artist who explores “ritualized animal imagery symbolizing a bridge between the rational and instinctual worlds” through sculptures of animals, oftentimes family pets, that incorporate family heirlooms and sentimental objects (such as porcelain mementos). Her work is very creative.
Finally, I particularly liked Michael Sherrill’s ephemeral How Plants Travel made out of porcelain, glass and steel, and Black Medicine, made from bronze, moretti glass and porcelain. Sherrill references the bright colors that plants evolved to attract animals for pollination and dissemination of seeds in How Plants Travel. The works are difficult to photograph but wonderful to appreciate in person.
One final note of appreciation. My wife and I stopped at the Museum cafe and sampled a local snack that was ABSOLUTELY fantastic: Piedmont Pennies. Thank you Grandma!
I recently enrolled in a professional development course entitled “Harness the Power of Your Online Presence,” offered by Rose Frederick. Rose is a marketing consultant who for many years (over 2 1/2 decades) curated the major international Coors Western Art Exhibit, plus numerous other art exhibitions. Rose’s consulting practice spans both advising artists on how to market themselves to advising collectors and arts institutions.
I enjoyed Rose’s course very much and would recommend her courses to any artist. Because of my positive experience in the course, I reached out to Rose to discuss several topics related to artists marketing their work through different channels.
JTW: What have you gleaned from your experience of serving as a curator and juror for art exhibitions?
RF: I summarize what curators and jurors look for in an eBook entitled “Upping Your Game”. This eBook is available for free to anyone who signs up on my website at www.rosefrederick.com.
In that eBook I discuss the typical judging process, which often involves 3 elimination rounds. I outline what gets you cut in the 1st round, what gets you cut in the 2nd round, what either gets you cut or selected during 3rd round decisions. It’s important to remember that many times what gets you cut isn’t necessarily a commentary on the quality of your work. For example, some people don’t provide requested information like artist statements or CVs. Other people may not meet listed criteria for the show. Maybe a show may be designed to feature artists from a specific state or working in a specific medium. If you don’t live in that state or work in that medium, you will be eliminated. The biggest issue I see is that an artist submits poor quality photographs of their work. Things like that can eliminate you from moving forward even if your work is good.
In my eBook, I mark-up a prospectus for a show to highlight items you need to understand and focus on in order to improve your chances of getting accepted.
I think the overall thing jurors are looking for is professionalism. By really reading the show prospectus and providing what’s requested, and taking good photos of your work, you will improve your chances of being selected. Failing to do that signals to jurors that you lack professionalism, or have an attitude, and just may not be ready for the show.
Good photography is one area where I always encourage artists to spend some money. If you’re not good at photography, then hire someone. The iPhone can take very good photographs, but photographing 3D work is tricky. You need to have special lighting and neutral backgrounds and sometimes you need to play with shadows to communicate to a juror “hey, this is what I’m looking at.”
JTW: Let’s step back a bit. We’ve been discussing how to increase your chances of getting into shows. From an artist’s perspective, what’s the value of participating in shows in the first place?
RF: Well, it depends on what your goals are as an artist. I tell artists all the time, “apply to shows.” Apply. Shake off your ego and fear of rejection and apply to shows. A rejection notice doesn’t mean your work sucks. It probably means that (1) you didn’t check a box, or (2) your work just doesn’t fit into the direction of the show, it’s not bad – it just may not fit.
Here’s the thing – so many more positive things happen to artists if you apply to shows. Every time I judge a show, I find an artist or two I want to work with on another project. You may not be accepted into that show you applied to, but you may get an email from me saying, “Hey, I think what you’re doing is incredible. It really doesn’t fit in this show, but I want to work with you. Here’s my email because I’d like to keep in touch with you.” So, the artist may not get into that particular show, but he or she is now on a curator’s or juror’s list as someone interesting. So, either way, applying to the shows is a win. And if you get in to the show, I’ll tell you that on opening night and even throughout the run of a show dealers and collectors are coming through. So again, you’re getting your work in front of the right people.
Applying to shows costs about $35 a pop. That’s the cheapest form of advertising out there. You are putting yourself in front of people you want to see your work. The trend nowadays is also to have the artist pay for shipping to and from the exhibit, so there’s a cost to being selected. But think of it as a cost of advertising or cost of doing business. So put yourself out there. If you apply to shows consistently, and you get into some, over time you will jump start your career to the next level.
JTW: We’ve focused mainly on exhibitions and juried shows. Many ceramic artists look at other venues such as galleries and art fairs. Do you have any thoughts on those options?
RF: I would say that people working with clay may have some of the same issues as jewelers. There is clay work that is more functional, fine craft, and then there is clay work that is more fine art. Jewelers have a similar issues, I think; there are finely crafted things like wedding rings but then there are also really unique, fine art types of jewelry. Juried shows help bring out more of the fine art side of the artist. If a clay artist has both sides, functional and fine art, then I would recommend that the artist push the fine art side through exhibitions and shows. I wouldn’t hide the functional side. As a curator, I don’t mind seeing someone working in clay with a fine craft side of their work. I look at that as bread-and-butter work suggesting they are a fulltime artist. That’s great. But for shows I would push the fine art side of your work.
When approaching galleries, that is also where you want to show your fine art side of your work initially, so they see your versatility.
When I see clay artists in art fairs—and I frequently buy clay pieces in art fairs, typically functional pieces to give as gifts—I think of that more on the craft side. I am not saying one is better than the other or one is lesser than the other. What I’m saying is that if you’re looking at getting into a gallery or a fine art show, you want to stretch and show the non-functional fine art work, but don’t hide your functional work from your website.
JTW: Any other observations for artists?
RF: Yes. Hand-in-hand with applying to shows, is having the language around your work. I’ve heard artists say, “My work speaks for itself.” Good luck with that. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I always read those artist statements. We jurors are not judging work by standing in front of it or visiting artists’ studios. We are looking online at images. Hundreds of images. And when looking at work online, I am dubious, and I know other jurors are as well. Images can be doctored. Colors can be juiced up. Something may be really eye-catching online, but no person in my shoes wants to look stupid by admitting into a show something that’s really amateurish. So, the way we safeguard ourselves is we read your artist statement and we visit your website. I can guaranty you that if you get past the first round, I’m Googling you. I’m looking at your website and your Instagram feed. I’m confirming that the images that I really liked in your submission aren’t just a fluke. I want to know that you consistently produce high quality work.
I will say one other thing, too. Sometimes I’ll get emails from artists who were rejected from a show, asking “What did I do to offend you?” or “Will you please look at my work on my website?” or “Can you please tell me what I can do better next time?” I used to respond but now I never do. I delete these emails. What I’ve learned from responding is that those artists are angry and they’re taking a show rejection personally. When I get those emails asking me to take a look at their work and tell them how they can improve, the artist is not really asking me what they can do to improve. What they want me to do is look again and tell them, “Oh, my gosh, I made a terrible mistake. You’re right, you should be in the show!” Anything I say, other than that, is not welcome.
JTW: You have two parts of your advisory business: working with artists, and working with collectors and arts organizations. Will you tell me more about your overall business?
RF: I do have 2 sides of my business. I’m in the process now of refining my rosefredericks.com business so that it’s focused exclusively on marketing for artists, helping artists with the language on their website, getting into shows and galleries. I was working with a clay artist yesterday. She’s wondering how to market a series of work. So, I gave her some avenues to go down and it was really specific to what she needed.
What I try to do with artists, first, is listen to what they really want to have happen next in their career, whether it’s getting into museums or big art shows, or selling classes to students, or finding a market and selling work directly from their website. Then we craft a conversation around those specific goals. An artist who wants to target museum curators has a much different message from an artist who wants to collaborate with interior designers and place work in hospitals or hotels.
I am starting a second website which is really for collectors, teaching connoisseurship and giving collectors inside tracks to artists, but that is separate.
JTW: Interesting. I suppose I’m surprised to hear there are services like that for collectors.
RF: Well, think of it like this. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of someone coming up to you and saying, “That’s so interesting what you do. How do you do that?” You might think they’re asking about the mechanics of throwing a pot, or building a sculpture. The artist can explain all types of details about clay and glazes and firing temperatures, but that’s not what the collector may want to know. That’s not what they’re asking. They really want to know how the artist comes up with these ideas. Where does creativity come from? How do you tap into it? Are you afraid, as an artist, that you won’t make money out of this? ‘Cause I’m afraid if my kid takes up art as a career she’ll end up in my basement for the rest of her life. They want those stories, those conversations. In a way, it’s sort of like the artist speaks Spanish, and the collector speaks Russian. I’m in the middle, translating. I can help the artist communicate to his or her audience, and I can help collectors understand what artists are saying.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco recently held an exhibition of the work of Michelle Erickson, a Virginia-based ceramic artist & scholar whose work “combines colonial-era American ceramic techniques with contemporary social, political and environmental themes.” (Note: the Museum acquired Michelle’s piece called “Transangel” from the show, adding to the important museums around the world that include her work in their collections. I’ve included images of this piece at the end of this article.)
I am really interested in artists such as Michelle who refer to or draw upon earlier periods of history in their ceramic work. In 2012, for example, Michelle was an Artist In Residence as a “ World Class Maker” at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. While there she created a Delft Puzzle Jug (amongst other works) which the V&A documented in a video that gives a great introduction to Michelle’s work. (The V&A also documented Michelle’s process to create an agate teapot.)
Michelle “mudlarked” along the Thames River, collecting 16th, 17th and 18th century ceramic artifacts and shells for life casting. She has created a number of “Bellarmine jugs” (which I discussed in an earlier post) which reflect both her interest in historic English ceramic techniques and her practice of combining those techniques with imagery and forms expressing contemporary themes (as shown below, Bellarmine jugs referencing a Starbucks Coffee logo):
The San Francisco exhibition website included a short film about Michelle’s work. It also provides more background on Michelle.
JTW: Did your interest in colonial era ceramics originate more from a historian’s perspective or from an artist’s perspective?
ME: Definitely an artist’s perspective. Even though I grew up in the ‘colonial triangle’ of Virginia, the first connection I made to historical ceramics was just after I graduated from the College of William and Mary when I was working as a TA in the university’s Ceramics Department. The head of the Ceramics Program, Marlene Jack, arranged for her classes to visit the predominantly English pottery and porcelain collections at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. At the time, the Foundation’s collections were housed in the basement of the Curatorial Department, stacked floor to ceiling on metal shelving. (This was before the Dewitt Wallace Museum was built and now showcases Colonial Williamsburg’s world class decorative arts collection.)
The extraordinary range of ceramic genres and techniques in the Foundation collections were mind blowing. I actually said out loud, “What in the hell is all this stuff?” At that time most studio ceramics studies were primarily concerned with the ceramics art movement heavily influenced, historically, by an eastern ceramic aesthetic, especially Japanese stoneware, with the exception of maybe a day on Josiah Wedgwood.
I never forgot that sight. It was an epiphany moment and a couple of years later I began a 30 year journey to more fully understand what I was looking at that day.
JTW: What role does replication play in developing artistic skills and/or artistic direction?
ME: I really don’t think it’s possible to ‘replicate’ these pieces since everything from the materials to the arcane techniques and environments of their making have been lost to time. What I have come to master is the art of recreation. That practice has become the unique technical and conceptual language of my contemporary art.
Holding myself to a standard that authentically captures and conveys the physical integrity of a specific historical ceramic piece matters to me a great deal because it’s through the process recreation that I connect with that physical object and bring authenticity to the context of its history in the present moment.
JTW: Will you tell me about your experience as artist in residence at the V&A Museum? How did that come about? What did you do there? What did you learn from the experience?
ME: In 2011 I was a presenting artist at the American Ceramic Circle conference in Milwaukee, WI, where I gave a demonstration lecture at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Reino Leiftkes, Curator of Ceramics and Glass at the V&A, also presented as the keynote speaker, debuting the newly reinstalled V&A ceramics galleries collections. After seeing my presentation, Reino asked if I would be interested in doing a residency at the V&A.
My 2012 residency was in the category of “World Class Maker” and during my tenure I created three short films that included a collaboration with Nike’s 2012 Track and Field Innovation at the Summer Olympics. (These are documented in a V&A blog post and in a blog post on my website.)
The experience was intense and invaluable. My time was shorter than most residencies since I could only be in London three months instead of the full six. Because of that time limitation I spent long hours in my residency studio which is in the ceramics galleries within the V&A Museum. The access the world class V&A collections was literally at my fingertips. I continue to draw on that experience every day in my practice.
JTW: You’ve merged a deep study of historic ceramic techniques and your personal creative pursuits and interests. Do you have any recommendations on how others might immerse themselves in historic ceramics and ceramic techniques?
ME: Firstly, I would highly recommend the annual publication “Ceramics in America” which has featured a number of articles on my rediscovery of lost ceramic arts. The journal also features numerous never before published archeological ceramic collections and research.
I was really able to engage with this history through looking into the vast resource of colonial American archeological ceramic collections. What was buried in the ground beneath my feet in the place where I grew up and how those ghosts and ancestors speak to who we are today. Looking at these fragments not only reveals the cross sections of material and technique unseen when looking at whole pieces displayed in Museums but also the context of global cultural dynamics they reveal by their juxtaposition.
One of my most popular posts has been on Swiss ceramic stoves. Today while visiting the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina, I saw another Swiss ceramic stove. The Biltmore refers to the piece as a “fireplace-over-mantel” and a “Tyrolese chimney.”
The Biltmore website has a post about this piece and it’s restoration in 2009. Unfortunately, the accompanying images on their website aren’t coming through for me, so I’m including a few that I took today.
I noted earlier that thesis type of ceramic stove is an efficient heating system. The earthenware ceramic tiles take time to heat but once warmed the ceramic stove will radiate heat for an extended period of time, perhaps up to 36-hours. The tiles on this stove were decorated with floral designs.
These floral decorative motifs tie into the overall aesthetic of the Biltmore Mansion and accompanying gardens. The Mansion itself is filled with magnificent floral displays from the surrounding gardens.
The gardens were designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, perhaps best known for designing New York’s Central Park. My wife and I wandered a bit is these immense garden grounds, but it was raining so we had to call it an early day.
I would encourage anyone to visit the Biltmore Mansion. The grounds, the mansion and the art collection within it are all outstanding.
I recently completed an interview with my sister, Helen, about my creative life, sources that sustain my creative activities, and plans for creativity in my future. Helen conducts similar interviews with people from around the country, spanning a wide array of human endeavor, from artists, designers, healthcare professionals and software developers. These interviews are great reading and inspiring, too.
Helen’s questions were interesting and provocative. And also timely. I retired from my professional career a little over a year ago and have thrown myself into creative activities that I had to keep on the back-burner for much of my working life. I work in extensively with ceramics. I’ve now taken several sculpture classes which benefit my ceramics work by forcing me to think more sculpturally. I’ve also revived earlier creative pursuits like drawing and painting. While pursuing multiple art forms may dilute progress on any one front, I’m actually finding quite a bit of cross-pollination going on. For example, I’ve recently started integrating more drawing into my ceramic surfaces.
Helen started these creativity interviews after noticing difficulties some of her landscape architecture graduate students encountered “transitioning from the analytical, research-oriented start of a project, to the creative, design-oriented portion of the assignment.” How does one, in any context, “become creative” or “turn on their creativity”? Are there ways to improve one’s creative processes? Are there ways to expand creativity from, let’s say, professional contexts or specific artistic endeavors to more generally “living creatively”? Helen’s interviews seek to answer or at least provide examples of answers to these questions.
I found it quite challenging to answer some of Helen’s questions. They really made me think through my past experiences and my present motivations. I’m still thinking about some of her questions, honestly. I’m not sure I really got to the bottom of what moves me creatively, or why creating objects is such an important and prolonged theme in my life. Maybe these are unanswerable questions. Creativity is, to some extent, almost impulsive, something that works at the subconscious or even genetic level. I think the best approach is to worship the creative impulse, even if you cannot completely define and understand it.
I encountered a magnificent terracotta portrait bust at the Kimbell Art Museum last month. It possibly represents Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, a celebrated art patron of her day. It is attributed to Gian Cristoforo Romano, an Italian sculptor and medalist who lived in the late 15th / early 16th century (ca. 1465-1512). The attribution is based on documentation that shows Isabella d’Este commissioned Romano to make a marble portrait bust of her as early as 1491 (although no marble bust by that artist can now be located).
It’s also known that Isabella d’Este commissioned Romano to create a medal with her portrait on it which she awarded to members who attended her court.
The identification is further supported by similarity of the portrait bust to a drawing of Isabella d’Este made between 1499-1500 by Leonardo da Vinci, which is currently housed in the Louvre.
While not much information is available about the origins of this terracotta bust, I can attest to its outstanding quality. Detailing in the face is extraordinary, as are details of the woman’s hair and costume.
The portrait bust has an interesting modern history. The Nazis acquired the bust prior to WWII and hid it in a salt mine with other confiscated artwork. (The Kimbell Museum provenance description notes, “sold to Adolf Hitler through Hans Posse in 1941; transferred to Kremsmünster and then Alt Aussee, Austria; recovered by Allied forces and taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point on June 28, 1945; repatriated June 3, 1946, to the Netherlands Art Property Foundation….”) Apparently US “Monument Men” discovered the bust in 1945.
I would encourage anyone in the Fort Worth, Texas area to visit the Kimbell Art Museum to view this wonderful terracotta bust.
Archaeologists are using data about ceramics, such as dates and locations of ceramic production, to study social networks around the ancient American Southwest. This is technical work involving statistical analysis and GIS (global information system) programming. Apart from the technical details, these studies generally serve to remind us that ceramics are a permanent reflection of culture.
Robert Bischoff studies the distribution of San Juan Red Ware pottery (originally produced in southeastern Utah between 750 – 1050 AD). San Juan Red Ware, known to have been produced in a relatively small area of Southeastern Utah through analysis of its clay body, was one of the most widely traded type of pottery across the ancient Southwest region. There is strong evidence to suggest that this type of pottery was closely associated with feasting.
Archaeologists have been able to group San Juan Red Ware into production time periods (for example, Abajo Red-on-Orange style of San Juan Red Ware was produced in Southeastern Utah from 750-850 AD, while Deadman’s black-on-red style was produced during the period 880 – 1050 AD).
Robert analyzed the quantity of San Juan Red Ware pottery produced in different time periods discovered at different locations around the Southwest, apart from the location where the pottery was produced. Robert charted the distance from where the pottery was found to the production source location to measure the extent the pottery was traded at different points in time.
He found that most early (ca 750 AD) San Juan Red Ware pottery was located apx. 60km from the production site. By 900 AD, most of that pottery was located around 100kms from the origin site, and by 1000 AD, most San Juan Red Ware pottery was found apx 150km from the production site. Collectively, these findings suggest San Juan Red Ware pottery became more widely traded over time. Dispersion patterns indicate widening social connections, as pottery was traded between people in ever widening circles over time. By the later periods of production, this type of pottery can be found as far away as Nevada and Phoenix.
Bischoff used the publicly available CyberSouthwest database (www.cybersw.org) to conduct his research. That database contains location data of millions of ceramic pieces throughout the Southwest region.
As a side note, when looked for background information on Robert Bischoff online, I found that he had created a number of 3D models and posted them on Sketchfab – a 3D modeling tool that I covered in an earlier blog post.
Futurism was born in 1909 with the publication of the first “Futurist Manifesto” in the French newspaper Le Figaro. This 1909 Manifesto promoted ideas of motion, speed and mechanization in art, born out of rapid advances in technology, communications, transportation and mass-production at onset of the 20th Century. Sparked by this Manifesto, the Futurist movement spread quickly to literature, painting and politics, appealing to artists, architects, and poets across Europe. The Futurists’ intent was replacing classical and romantic traditions in art.
In 1930, Tullio Mazzotti invited a second wave of Futurist artists to design ceramic objects that he could produce in his father’s factory, the Ceramiche Giuseppe Mazzotti Albissola.
Using the pseudonym of Tullio d’Albisola, Tullio Mazzotti laid out his vision of Futurism as:
“[wanting] nothing that could even remotely recall the ancient, antique or prehistoric ceramics. I want to make ceramics that overthrow tradition. Polycentric, antimitative, mechanical forms. Futurist, aggressive, dazzling and bright layers of color. Perfect technique, carefully executed, made with poor local Italian materials.”
Beyond producing the ceramics of other Futurist artists, Tullio Mazzotti, himself, produced ceramics in the family factory. Some sample works by Tullio, to the right and below, illustrate the artist’s aggressive, bright personal style.
In an article on Futurism in a broader sense (i.e., in art forms beyond just ceramics), the Venice Clay Artists website noted, “Some Italian fascists tried to persuade Mussolini to ban modernism (as Hitler had in Germany) and include Futurism in the list of degenerate art. Mussolini refused because by the late 1930s, the style of Futurism had become the favoured art form for promoting Fascism.”
I recently travelled to Fort Worth, Texas, for a family get-together on my wife’s side. We took a morning to visit the Kimbell Art Museum. I was impressed with two African ceramic pieces in the collection, one from the Nok culture and the second from the Ife culture.
The Nok culture in what is now northern Nigeria flourished from about 500 BCE to 500 AD. Nok terracotta sculptures are some of the earliest known artistic expressions from the region. Nok terracotta sculptures show rounded, voluminous, stylized human forms. Experts also cite typical Nok sculptural features that include large triangular eyes with deep-set carved pupils. Elongated body elements alternate between smoothed surfaces and incised textures to denote hair, clothing and jewelry, as shown in the sculpture below entitled “Male Figure.”
Nok terracotta clay itself is quite rough. Yet Nok sculptors managed to smooth and add texture to surfaces with great effect.
Complex hairstyles are characteristic of Nok sculpture – especially the conical “buns.” Note the textured detailing.
I love the combination of smooth and textured surfaces built over a rounded, flowing architecture representing the human form. Just beautiful.
The Ife culture flourished in the 12th-14th centuries in what is now southwestern Nigeria. Most Ife art represents royal figures and Ife artists worked in both bronze and terracotta. The terracotta piece below (“Head, Possibly a King“) illustrates stunning skills at depicting a naturalistic human form. This is characteristic of Ife sculpture.
The Kimbell has a short audio recording describing this sculpture in more detail. I’ve added it below.
The back side of the sculpture shows the piece was built with coils of terracotta clay. The front surfaces were then smoothed and decorated with incised lines that highlights the fluid modeling of the face. Smooth lips and eyes are a striking contrast.
3D examples of Nok sculptural heads and Ife sculptural heads can be found on the Scantix website. (Scantix uses radiological processes to examine non-metal artworks (including archaeological terracotta from West Africa) for fraud verification and damage / repair assessment.)
“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.