NCECA 2013 Emerging Artist Lindsay Pichaske’s work defies classification, blurring boundaries and existing on the threshold between human and animal. Her figurative animal sculptures are incredibly detailed and refined. They are completed with precision and accuracy yet allow a vast space for the viewers experience and interpretation. Lindsay graciously shared insights into the development of her practice, her motivation and her process. You can see more of her work at: www.lindsaypichaske.com
You can also view the catalogue of her current exhibit at Foster/White Gallery here.
1. You have shared your childhood fascination with Great Apes, even volunteering in the Great Apes House at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Did you also have a childhood love of art? When did your interest in the arts develop?
I did love art as a kid. I loved to draw, in particular. I took art classes after school and went to art camps during the summer. My interests in zoology and art developed simultaneously. I did not work with clay until college, though! I wish I had at an earlier age.
2. How and when were you first introduced to ceramics?
I studied abroad in Florence, Italy during my junior year at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. There, I took figurative ceramic sculpture and fell in love with clay. The class was very traditional, and we were all crammed in a tiny room and the model would be spun around every few minutes for us to see each angle. But it was such a wonderful place to work figuratively! We would also sit on the steps of the Duomo and sculpt the relief heads that were on its doors.
Because the class was more focused on traditional terra cotta figure sculpting, we did cold surface treatments, and did not learn anything about glazes. I think this influenced me to not feel so attached to the notion that clay has to be glazed.
This experience was what made me enamored of clay. I loved the way I could push my thumb into the chest of the figure and it would look exactly like a sternum, for example. Clay is such a fleshy material and it felt so natural to be sculpting figures with it, as though it were alive.
3. Was there a specific influential moment or experience in your ceramic education that contributed to your current body of work?
Making “The Mask” in graduate school was the turning point for my current work. Previous to this I had been making human figures interacting with animals, or with surreal body parts. Because “The Mask” was just one solitary animal, the viewer stepped into the role previously occupied by my figure sculptures. I was telling a similar story, but instead of telling it in a narrative way, I was asking viewers to feel it and empathize with this strange beast. The creature also embodied a lot of the dualities I was interested in. It was in between living and dying, inside and outside, and beautiful and grotesque. Rather than illustrating these ideas, though, it embodied them.
4. You have studied in North Carolina and Colorado, completed a residency in Montana and now reside in Washington, D.C. Have the places you lived, there specific environments, affected the development of your work?
Living out west affected my work in terms of scale, color, and materials. The sense of vast space in Colorado and Montana is quite different than it is on the east coast, where everything feels a bit more crammed. My work there was larger, which was a reflection of the expansive sense of space of the environment.
Additionally, the subtle colors in Colorado and Montana influenced my work. When I first moved out west, I remember feeling that there was an absence of color. Rather than bright flowers and lush greens as in North Carolina and DC, these places had ranges of golds, tans and browns. I soon began to appreciate the subtleties of the western landscape, how these gold fields could actually become quite stunning and appear to glow in the Montana sunlight. Pieces like “The Pecking Order” and “The Matriarch” are a reflection of these subtleties in color. The seemingly monochromatic sunflower seeds or sticks actually become quite colorful and are full of variations in color when you really pay attention.
Since moving to DC I am obviously in a more urban and manufactured environment. Rather than natural materials like sticks or feathers, I have been using plastics and pre-made materials, because they are the materials surrounding me.
5. A studio practice can be a solitary life. How do you stay connected to others and get feedback?
I have my own studio space in a communal studio. So, there are lots of folks around. My studio-mates range from sculptors to new media artists and performance artists, so there is always a refreshing dialog. I also have a few staple friends and colleagues who I call and send in-progress images to for their feedback.
6. How did you decide or what led you to use non-ceramic materials to finish your pieces?
I think in part my experience in Italy that I described earlier made me feel unattached to glazes and other ceramic decorating methods. So, from the start, I was taught to treat surfaces with paint, wax, shoe polish, and really anything the instructor could find.
The experience that really spurred me on this path, though, was in graduate school, when I was visiting the cadaver lab at CU Boulder’s campus. I became fascinated by the muscle striations of the bodies once their skin was peeled away. They were like beautiful, regimented pink patterns tattooing the inner body. I had these dumb little potato-shaped clay blobs that I was about to throw away in my studio. At the time, I was really interested in this question of what is the bare minimum something has to have to suggest sentiency or life. One of these blobs had an eyeball carved into it, and I just started wrapping it in pink string. It looked exactly like the musculature on the bodies. And there was my answer to the question! This little eyeball potato suddenly felt alive and pulsing.
I also loved the process of wrapping the form with string. It allowed me to further connect with the piece. I am also a bit obsessive and a worrier. The act of wrapping allowed me to focus my energy and calmed me down. To this day, when I am gluing little intricate materials to a larger surface, the repetitive task is meditative.
7. How do you choose the materials for each piece? Is it always obvious to you what each piece needs as its “skin”?
For some pieces, I know exactly what I will use. For others I have to do a bit of experimenting and exploring. I usually start with a notion of the texture and color I want for that particular creature. From there I collect tons of different materials and test them out to see how they will arrange themselves across the surface. The material has to undergo some sort of transformation and become something more beautiful and interesting to me as it multiplies on the surface. I have to fall in love with it and be able to learn from it, otherwise I will not be interested enough to spend so much time with it.
I thought, for example, that I wanted to use hair on “Darwin’s Muse.” However, when it came out of the kiln and I stepped back, I realized that it was far too alien and threatening a piece to have an additional strange element added. I understood that what it needed was something ornamental and sparkly, so that it would be seductive rather than scary. I had these sequins in my collection of materials for years, and when I tested them saw that they laid in a pattern that referenced jewelry but also fish scales. To me this was perfect, since I was thinking about adornment and evolution simultaneously. Further, because they were translucent, the painted surface underneath showed through. Thus, the range of pinks and whites made it feel as though it were a fleshy but jeweled at the same time.
8. Is the act of making, upsetting roles and blurring boundaries, primarily about your own exploration and understanding or are striving to create a particular experience for the viewer?
The idea that a creature can be situated in between several states of existence is endlessly fascinating to me. The creatures I make are different manifestations of this overarching idea. While I am more interested in my own connection to these animals and the materials in the making process, I am also aware of the viewer. It is hard for me to separate how I want the animal to exist in the world with the experience for the viewer. The expression, height, and other characteristics of the animal are inherently linked to the viewer’s experience with the work.
9. When you begin a piece do you always have an image of the final creature in your mind or do they evolve during the making process?
Although I do have an image of the final creature in mind, the animals definitely morph and evolve throughout the making process. The end result is always different than the initial idea. This morphing is actually what I love about working with clay. It feels as though no matter how much I try to impose certain traits and features on the clay, it will, to a degree, behave in its own way. I think if I knew how the animal would turn out, I would not ever complete a piece because it would feel already finished!
I do make maquettes and look at drawings and photographs of the animals I am sculpting. The maquettes are a relatively new thing for me, and are helpful to get the gestures and proportions correct before committing on a larger scale. Then, and I’m working, I look at images of several different species. Thus, the result is usually an animal whose identity can’t quite be pinned down. For example, it might be antelope/deer/sheep, or human/Neanderthal/great ape all at the same time.
10. What helps keep you motivated and engaged?
I love making. The desire to see the animal ‘come to life’ as it is sculpted and then covered keeps me working. I save the parts that really make the animal feel alive, like hands, face and eyes, until last. Once the face has an expression, or the eyes are painted, I feel like the creature is complete and I can identify with it.
11. How has the honour of being recognized as an NCECA 2013 Emerging Artist affected you studio practice and life as a maker?
It felt amazing to receive recognition from the ceramics community for my work! It really inspired me to keep plugging away in the studio, and to believe in what I was doing. I also had the wonderful experience of it leading to an article in American Craft magazine, written by senior editor Julie Hanus. This will come out in the August/September issue.
12. Where can your work be seen? What do you have upcoming?
I am represented by Foster/White gallery in Seattle, WA. I have a show there right now, which runs from July 2 through 27th. I will also be exhibiting at SOFA Chicago with Duane Reed Gallery, where I will also have a solo show in the spring of 2014. Finally, I have a solo show at Flashpoint Gallery here in Washington, DC, in January 2014. In this show I will be creating a site-specific string and hair installation.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Lindsay Pichaske and the insights into her process and studio practice. If you would like to learn more about me and my work please visit: www.kalika.ca