Brooks Oliver – Artist Interview
How would you describe yourself?
I hope they would say I was funny. I think they would most likely say that I was a very passionate and friendly person with an ability to relate to people.
When were you first introduced to ceramics and by whom?
I was first introduced to ceramics in high school by my high school teacher, Raymond Ochs, who I still talk to regularly. Raymond first “gave me the ceramics bug”, but I really discovered my passion for ceramics in college at Southern Methodist University with Peter Beasecker. Peter was the person who gave me the courage to switch my majors from Mechanical Engineering (that I studied for 3 years) to ceramics. I am forever grateful to Peter for giving me the confidence and courage to do that as it changed my life in countless ways.
What are your influences? Who are your mentors?
I am so extremely lucky to have such amazing mentors! They are Peter Beasecker, Shannon Goff, Tom Lauerman, Chris Staley, Liz Quackenbush, and Klein Rieds. My biggest influences are Anish Kapoor and contemporary furniture and accessory designs.
What does “being creative” mean to you?
Creativity in my mind is the ability to play, taking risks, and not being afraid to fail.
What kind of creative patterns, routine or rituals do you have?
I am a creature of habit. I rely on my process to guide me and help me play. Chis Staley always used to say that “process saves us from the poverty of our intentions” and I full heartily believe that. I fall into my routine within my studio, and I find comfort in that routine. Once I am comfortable, I start taking risks and start playing – and that’s when the fun starts. I find that this usually happens late at night after a full day. In regards to routines, I only wear sandals in the studio and ALWAYS have music playing in the studio which often leads to dancing as nothing makes me more confident than dancing.
What else are you interested in outside of your studio practice?
Growing up as an amateur magician since adolescence I have always been fascinated by illusions and love when the eye is tricked and the mind is boggled. I have identified three crucial aspects to creating a successful illusion; to make the viewer question their assumptions, to construct a context around how the viewer perceives what is happening, and to generate a moment where belief is suspended. Like a parlor magician in a tuxedo or an illusionist on stage with a bedazzled cape with flashy lights, within my studio work, I set a stage and construct contexts around my forms. While they often tend to lean towards the dressy tuxedo side, my forms are often displayed in ways that provoke further inquiry regarding their performance and the anticipated environments where they are intended to reside.
Please tell us more about your artwork:
I use the universality and familiarity of the ceramic vessel as a means to approach the work, however I frequently attempt to alter the viewer’s preconceived notions of the vessel by disrupting and challenging expected functionality or by creating a conscious function. Just as a magician performing a magic trick, I ask the viewer to reinterpret the familiar and question their assumptions through forms that present multiple inquiries regarding their use. I want the viewer to examine various aspects of the vessel’s utility and question would I use this; when would I use this; how would I use this, and for what occasions? I strive to evoke ideas of functionality in my forms that frequently can be put to multiple uses, with some ambiguity as to which use is preferred. While not meant for everyday use, but rather special presentation and show, many of my works can be used functionally or simply maintain elegance as sculptural works.
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.”
Finish up those applications for the 2019 NCECA Emerging Artist!
“Applying for the NCECA emerging artist was such a spur of the moment decision for me. Not something I ever thought I would apply for, but was encourage by some amazing potters and makers. So I tossed my hat in, got my application in within a few days of the deadline! It was a wonderful experience and really challenged me in new ways (public speaking) and gave me opportunities I wasn’t even aware of! So I encourage everybody, especially folks working in functional work to apply, you may not think you are ready but why not practice applying and get some professional feedback!! And you never know!!” – Sunshine Cobb
NCECA believes that those creating work offering new/exciting/thoughtful perspectives on the ceramic medium, expanding upon genres of creative production and inquiry are qualified as candidates for its Emerging Artist awards. An Emerging Artist may be at the early stages of receiving recognition for his/her work but is currently underrepresented through exhibitions or publications that might otherwise bring the work to wide attention. The intent of the award is to recognize, cultivate and amplify vital, new voices of creative endeavor in ceramics.
Because the concept of emergence in the arts does not invariably correlate with a specific age, or other quantifiable terms, NCECA requires applicants to briefly describe why they perceive themselves to be at an emergent point in their careers and how they anticipate the award will impact the trajectory of their endeavors.
For more information – visit the NCECA website at: https://nceca.net/nceca-calls-and-exhibitions/emerging-artists/
The dealine is next week, so finish up those applications! Good Luck!
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.”
Del Harrow was an Emerging Artist at NCECA in 2009. These are his thoughts about his expierence and the program….
“Thinking about the opportunity to present as an emerging artist at NCECA (2009) one of the first things that comes to mind is how honored I was to speak alongside the other emerging artists of that year. As is the case every year it was a remarkable group: Ehren Tool, Linda Sormin, Joseph Pinz . . . One of the things NCECA does is to impart our field with a deep sense of community – a community in which different generations of artists all make contributions to the greater whole. As I’ve moved through my career the way I interact with this field changes: I used to go to the NCECA conference mostly to see my former teachers and peers. Now my most meaningful experiences also include opportunities to reconnect with former students, and to introduce current students to this amazing field. I often think of that cohort of 2009(?) emerging artists as a kind of generational peer group. I’ve followed the growth of their work and have watched the contributions they are making as teachers and mentors, and this has been an ongoing inspiration and model for the work I try to do.
In the last 10 years a lot has changed about how young artists gain visibility within the ceramics field. With the rise of social media it feels like so many artists have so much visibility, and often so quickly. There are a lot of things that feel really exciting about this new paradigm, and some things that are troubling, and some that are just not that interesting. I don’t think the emergence of social media totally changes something like the NCECA emerging artist program, but it shifts it in some critical ways. When I presented as an emerging artist a decade ago just the visibility of the stage felt incredible – the number of people were in the auditorium! Now the visibility provided by that platform feels like one of the least important parts. More important, I think, is the way this program brings together leading artists and scholars to select the emerging artists. This provides an opportunity for deeply informed individuals to thoughtfully select artists whose work and practices have a quality and relevance for the field today, and that hold the promise of an ongoing contribution to the field. This is a very special kind of recognition – and a kind rarely afforded by social media. ” www.delharow.net
Apply to be an Emerging Artist: www.nceca.net
Deadline: October 3, 2018