Janet Macpherson – Finding her voice as an artist
“A friend who was a sculpture major first introduced me to ceramics while we were at university. I was not an art major, but I hung out with the artists at school. She had an exhibition of functional vessels that she made, and I loved that she talked about them as art objects and that their utility did not take away from their importance – in fact it added another layer to their significance. I decided to take a course in wheel throwing at a community college in Toronto, and then took as many as they offered.
I enrolled in the Crafts and Design Program at Sheridan College shortly after that, and this is where my true ceramics education began under the instruction of Canadian ceramic artists and potters Bruce Cochrane, Winn Burke, and Tony Clennell as well as Dale Pereira, and Susan Lowbeer who became my mentors.
My early influences were ceramic artists who used personal narrative in their work such as Anne Kraus, Sergei Isupov, Shary Boyle and Matthew Metz, and I began to develop my own narrative language using images that referenced my Catholic upbringing, my childhood and adolescence. I began to think about the Christian iconography I was surrounded by in my youth, and also started doing research into Catholic saints, relics and reliquaries, illuminated manuscripts and more recently medieval bestiaries.
My creative impulse comes from a desire to tell stories and express myself through drawing and sculpture. I want to create objects that allow others to experience a sense of wonder by looking into a different world. I hope that it allows them an opportunity to reflect on their own personal story, and offer insight into mine. As a child, I loved drawing and making, and creating narratives. I am still drawn to these things today, and I feel fortunate that I am able to work in my studio most days, doing the things that have always felt natural to me.
I try to get to my studio as often as I can, and even though I don’t always have strong ideas of what I would like to make, the ritual of going to the studio and starting to explore materials is what starts the creative process in motion. The most important advice that I was given as an emerging artist, and advice that I would give to anyone starting their career in ceramics, is to go to the studio and work with the materials even if you are not feeling inspired. Often ideas are simply generated by the process, and new and interesting things happen as you work. I mostly make my work from plaster molds and I often begin my day by casting several different forms and then experimenting with different ways to combine them, creating an array of hybrid porcelain creatures. My artist statement below gives more insight into what currently informs my work.
Hybrids present us with two things happening simultaneously. They are in flux, one always alluding to and challenging the other. The borders between humans and animals, the manufactured and the natural, the spiritual and the visceral are distinct yet permeable, illustrating differences while creating spaces for wonder and uncertainty.
Influenced by my Catholic upbringing, I investigate hybridity within the context of Christian ideology, examining an array of sources from the margins of illuminated manuscripts, lives of saints and martyrs to the depictions of medieval monsters. The work has also been inspired by visits to the Ohio State Agricultural Fair, where farm animals were clothed in protective fabrics, tethered tightly to posts, awaiting exhibition and judging.
Using molds cast from found toy animals, hunting decoys and religious statues, I dismantle and re-compose these objects to create forms that subtly reveal a discomforting reality. Animal heads and bodies are interchanged, vegetation grows in peculiar places, and faces are masked and obscured. Wrapping forms in damp porcelain sheets – binding, bandaging the figures, contemplating the intentions of these gestures, I examine the boundaries between devotion and coercion, pleasure and pain, animal impulse and domesticity.
Being a part of the 2018 NCECA Emerging Artists has been an incomparable experience. I was given the opportunity to exhibit my work at a new venue, and was able to engage with many people who were interested in my work, as well as some who have collected it in the past. The opportunity to discuss contemporary issues in ceramics during our panel discussion was a really important aspect of the experience. The highlight was being able to present my work and artistic development in a short talk to a group of enthusiastic makers from so many different backgrounds and levels of ceramic experience. I would tell any emerging ceramic artist to apply for this opportunity – it is truly remarkable to a be a part of this unique, inclusive and amazing community.”