The artist statement is one of those things that is required with an exhibition. I wonder where this requirement started. Can’t think any artist in any of the workshops I’ve attended saying, “Yipee! Statement time! My favorite!” Why do we insist on adhering to this practice? Do people actually read these things?
Who am I? What do I do? What inspires me? What was I attempting with this body of work? These are the questions that one asks to begin the Statement.
Well, this work represents the beginning of a new subject for me, the American bison. The exhibit at DSU explores my process of how I go about studying and learning about a new form.
Here’s the backstory. If you’ve been reading the blog you know that over the past two years I’ve taken a pottery class at Dickinson State University. Twice a week I drive from my home in Bowman North Dakota up Highway 85 to Dickinson. Right outside of Bowman there’s a large herd of bison. I pass them every trip I make northward. I’ve watched them moving around the pasture for these two years. I find the shapes of their bodies and the textures of their hair intriguing. There are bison-like bison and others that appear to be crossed with cattle. There is variety in their brown lumpy forms.
I’m interested in how genes are expressed. This is one of the things that interests me about dogs – all that doggie DNA in all the various packages from Chihuahua to Great Dane. I’m also interested in powerful animals that have an inherent fragility. Greyhound dogs can be aerodynamic death missiles to small furry creatures but are covered with thin skin that easily tears. Bison are strong and reasonably dangerous animals that have a bottlenecked gene pool. I like to use animals that find success in spite of of their (possible) difficulties.
So how do I go about sculpting a new animal form? I start with the elements and principles of design. I’m interested in shape and form and texture. I’m interested in volume and finding visual balance. I ask, “how can I re-create this creature without making an anatomical model? How can I simplify the form of the American bison and yet still communicate the things that interest me about this animal?” The work in this exhibition shows some of the answers to those questions.
The exhibit also shows my process of exploring several clay bodies, firing temperatures, and the surface techniques. Some of the work is glazed using an electric kiln. Some is directly exposed to flame and smoke staining the surface. Others are multiple glazes and firings or cold surface techniques like paint and graphite. Which ones satisfy my aesthetics? Which ones read “bison”? This work is an attempt to answer those questions as well as create more questions for further study.