Sara Parent-Ramos: Being An Emerging Artist
“My work originates out of a cyclical process of accumulation and synthesis. I make sense of information first by arranging the objects I create and then assigning them a meaning through organization. I then obscure the categories I have created through recombination, which enables me to endlessly play with the objects’ associative meanings. I take pleasure in the transition from reduction to synthesis and back again. This journey enables me to appreciate the micro and macro simultaneously, reaching an intuitive understanding of the whole work as well as its component parts.
I am also interested in creating visual and physical manifestations of the rules, scaffolds and supports that underpin human existence. I see a direct allegorical relationship between the intimate scenarios I create and the biological, social and psychological processes that are the invisible scaffolding supporting human functioning.
Being an NCECA Emerging Artist has been an amazing and energizing experience, a time of personal artistic reflection and connection with others. I feel so fortunate to have had mentors in the field of ceramics who have shared their thoughts and time over the years. These mentors not only have provided feedback on my work and process, they have helped me navigate life as an artist, and have been my advocates. Thank you to Alice Robrish, Syd Carpenter, Kukuli Velarde, Richard Burkett, Joanne Hayakawa and Anne Currier. A particular shout out to Andrea Gill, who has encouraged and prodded in equal measure and provided feedback on the intricacies of being a women, mother and artist.
I have been asked to share the best advice I have been given about how to be creative. Here it is: being an artist is a marathon not a sprint. Be excited by what you are doing. Find/create community.”
Natalia Arbelaez – Art as Language
“Creating artwork has been important to me from a young age. I came back to the US at the age of four not speaking English and communication was hard for me. I learned English and forgot Spanish at a young age but relearned it later in life. I haven’t ever really felt completely comfortable with either language, art has always been the most natural form of communication for me. There are never any wrong answers in making art. I clung on to art from a young age because art was whatever I thought it to be.
I found clay in high school and kept taking classes in college. I was always interested in using figures and clay made the process so effortless. The body was an extension of communication for me and I used it as a storyteller. While in undergrad I took refuge in the sculpture department, tucked away from the main campus and run by sculptor Ralph Buckley, a “grumpy old man” who valued hard work. Buckley was tough, and I remember him almost making me cry one of the first classes. But he was the figure sculpture instructor and I was determined to work through it. I was a hard worker and it didn’t take Buckley long to recognize it. Once I was trusted, he gave me my own space and the freedom to experiment however I wanted. I casted multiple dead animals, set fire to a cohort of life sized paper figures, and created larger than life clay figures to melt away with the Florida rain. I stayed in the program well after I doubled the amount of college credits needed to graduate, knowing that I had to get my portfolio just right to make sure I could go to graduate school on a full ride. It payed off and I was awarded an enrichment fellowship at the Ohio State University. I moved away, and sadly Buckley unexpectedly passed away a couple years after. I never got to see him again or the chance to truly thank him.
When I moved to Columbus, OH from Miami I experienced a big culture shock. While feeling personal loss in graduate school, I started making work about culture and heritage and how they are lost and gained. I also started researching pre-Columbian work and religious aesthetics from Latin America. These influences are still very prevalent in my work and I continue to reference them. Learning to research and use my research to make has been an important asset to my work. It’s been hard researching Latin American histories as a lot of this information isn’t easily accessible and has been left out or portrayed in a negative light. I find it important to continue to educate myself of the histories that I have missed out on and I feel incredibly privileged that I will have the opportunity to continue my research as a resident artist at Harvard University’s ceramic program, Office of the Arts. There, I will have access to Harvard’s many libraries and collections of pre-Columbian artifacts. I hope through my work I can share my information and bring attention to the need for accessibility of these historical resources to people of colonized histories.”
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.”
Wade MacDonald – Becoming an Artist and Advice for the Future
“While preparing for high school graduation, I had a brief moment to sit at a kickwheel in the art classroom and attempt to throw a pot. This was my introduction to clay. Obviously, my pot was not successful and I thought I would probably never engage in that particular activity ever again. My first art mentor was Cary Vanderveen at Mattawan High School. Cary makes realistic drawings and paintings and his curriculum revolved around learning the necessary techniques to render any subject exactly. Ed Harkness at Western Michigan University ignited my passion for clay. One day, Ed spoke very eloquently about the clay medium while throwing a delicate porcelain jar. In that moment, I felt as though ceramics was the place for me. As a graduate student at Michigan State University, Paul Kotula, Blake Williams, Jae Won Lee, and Theresa Winge were stalwart guides and tremendous mentors.
For the first part of my journey in ceramics, I found myself drawn to the work of Chris Gustin, Chris Staley, Philip Cornelius, John Middlemiss, and Byron Temple. Later, Ken Price, Andy Brayman, Ron Nagle, Del Harrow, Matteo Thun, Arlene Shechet, Paul Sacaridiz, Peter Shire, Isamu Noguchi, were a few of the individuals who inspired.
I believe the need to make is a feeling that all artists are born with. I realized the great satisfaction of creating when I was in Montessori at the age of six. I’ve always owned a drawing pad and a journal and use them. The act of making is ingrained in my daily routine. I often hear colleagues or students say, “the most important thing you can do in your studio practice is to just make!” Having done this for many years, I’ve found that this isn’t entirely true. I have the ability to make art all day without understanding the greater reasons or messages behind the work. Artists must be thinkers not just makers. I look forward to the day that I can attend a residency and read and write and make very little.
Besides contemporary ceramics, my work is informed by architecture, interior design, furniture design, and fine woodworking; I could see myself exploring all of these areas in greater depth in the coming years. In my ceramics practice, I’ve been able to dabble in these areas while keeping focus on the ceramic object.
The best advice I received in my life, as it pertains to art, is not to be timid. In my first undergraduate drawing class, I felt trepidation to make a mark on a piece of paper. What if it was the wrong mark? I’ve worked hard to create an environment where my students are allowed to experience failure without the stigma. The classroom should be the safest place to conduct research, to experiment. If you think you are going to fail, fail big.
For the pre-emerging artists, I encourage you to work everyday. If possible, be in your studio everyday. Read voraciously; don’t be in a hurry to experience success. Focus on making great work; success will follow.”
Andrew Stansbury: An Ode to Missed Connections
“We didn’t have long, and you let someone skip in front of you. When it was our time, you choked back tears. “Oh honey, it’s okay,” I said, “we don’t gotta talk,” and I tried to give you the biggest, warmest hug I could, letting all the things left unsaid transfer.
At the end of the embrace, I think you said something like “I didn’t know we had such similar stories…” before we got cut off for the next conference talk. I tried finding you afterwards with no luck.
Is this you? Write to me, please.
I spent the NCECA Saturday hugging a lot of people. After the emerging artist talk, I had a line of people wanting hugs. I was a hug-machine. This felt a lot better than the past few days in the conference hall standing next to my work, where I watched people point, cover their mouths, and laugh at my body and art on the wall. Now, maybe they didn’t know it was me. I suppose, the problem of always wearing a mask is that I am never recognized next to my work, even though I am on full, bare display in it. Instead of engaging me in conversation, I was witness to the wrenching of their faces and their dismissive shaking of their heads as they walked away, never to look back.
By Friday morning, being witness to this constant stream of rejection took its toll. I had a mental breakdown from it all — from the drive from rural Minnesota to Pittsburgh, from the lingering recovery from the flu and a double-ear infection, from watching people’s dismissive reactions, from utter exhaustion, from just feeling so unwelcomed.
It’s not that I didn’t expect my work to trigger some realm of emotion, I just didn’t expect to be so negative, I didn’t expect to be ignored, I didn’t expect to hurt as much as it did. And I have to apologize to the other Westin breakfast eaters that Friday morning because I had a good, audible cry over my uneaten cold, sad eggs and bacon. I held hands with my first ceramic instructor, Debra Chronister, and then after that purge I went to my room and changed my presentation and talk.
That’s how my talk manifested. I confronted my nervousness and I let intuition and improvisation take over. My mentors taught me to embrace that feeling — nervousness — because it means you’re on the right track. Nervousness is just a false fear of failure that’s stopping you from taking that risk. My mentors, Debra Chronister, Ovidio Giberga, Libby Rowe, and Jim Lawton, have all given me the space to follow my gut and to be present, to allow myself to be open, to be vulnerable to the utmost degree. But perhaps the hardest lesson I have had to learn is to let myself love. As my dear Gery “Rocketskull” Henderson repeatedly told me, “You deserve to love.”
Loving myself has always been a challenge and continues to be to this day. In some ways, my studio practice is my self-care as well as my self-preservation. If I hadn’t found clay, I wouldn’t be alive, a sentiment I hear too often from queer artists. Clay, for me, is an act of performance and is only the starting point. Back in the day, Ken Little gave me the best criticism of my undergraduate work: “What else can you do?” A lot, I think.
In the end, my work is about love, about acceptance, about recovery. I was once told in a graduate school critique, in response to the trauma I have experienced, that I had won the lottery of life, that I have really lived. But there is nothing good of living through trauma; it is not a fucking lottery. If anything, the “tortured” artist trope needs to die by stone-throwing, and we should turn our attention to ending the violences that allow this trauma to continue to occur. Trauma isn’t a selling-point. It is what we seek to end.
I have to thank the people who have stood in my way and told me not to make my work. It’s the fuel to my fire. And I use it to burn down their hopes and dreams of what my work should be and what work in ceramics should be. Take some fuel, my dear reader, and burn everything down and start anew. Tear it all down. Out of politeness or out of fear, we leave many words unsaid, so…please…set ablaze to all the obstacles stopping you and let your story be told. Make your presence heard, and be as visibly free as you want to or can be.
Below, watch the complete video of Andrew’s talk at NCECA 2018.
We don’t have to talk. We have to create.”
Ben Aqua, CREATING > COMPLAINING shirt, 2017
Adam Chau – Essay about influence and idea development
“My clay journey started early – my family opperated a bakery when I was growing up and I learned commercial-level baking at a very young age; it was shortly after that I discovered that ceramics was parallel with baking and was an easy transition into a creative artform. Because of this introduction to seriality from a commercial standpoint I was most comfortable (and interested) in making multiples. My influences reflected as such in song-dynasty production, Ko-Sometsuke wares, tile factories, and global designers. Design plays a huge role in how I opperate and I am always inspired by it because it gathers craft, global dialog, and visual communication all together – I try to be on top of contemporary design trends and movements. On a more fined-tuned level I am looking at artists that use text in their work as I am incorporating language and communication in with my ceramics; artists like Sophie Calle and Tracy Emin are influences to me.
Jim Termeer was my thesis mentor in graduate school and instilled in me a studio practice that is always growing – objects that I make are adjustments from the previous batch. This way of iterative making keeps me moving and is a pursuit of a communicating a clear vision. Blake Williams has also been a mentor of mine; since she’s seen my work grow she has a clear understanding of the messages I try to convey and always brings me back to the foundation of my practice.
Since my background is in design I iterate a concept before I execute something – the large part of my time is actually mapping out an idea and concept without touching clay. It took months to arrive at the final version of my iPhone series because every single detail had a reason for the way it looked and how you interacted with it – it was all preplanned. I am always thinking of how other people will interpret my work; because of this I am constantly looking at other artists and designers to see how their message is coming across. I know a work is done when it conveys a message conceptually and aesthetically. I hope that design is taken into ceramic curriculums – it is only growing stronger in other commercial industries. I’d love to see emerging artists in the future adopt both technology and design issues to be a part of the global conversation.”