Living on the Edge
The struggle that comes with being an artist keeps me living on the edge, always searching and striving for something indefinable that is just out of reach.
The desire to make a name as an artist is part of the journey. The potter George Ohr, known as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” made his name some 50 years after he died in 1918. Ohr was quite a character – one of the signs at his store read, “Get a Biloxi Souvenir, Before the Potter Dies, or Gets a Reputation.” He seemed to have a crystal ball when he said, “When I am gone, my work will be praised, honored, and cherished. It will come.” And it did. Now his work is in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and in a museum named after him in Biloxi, dedicated to his ceramics.
To have your work in collections and exhibits, not to mention a museum of your own – even posthumously – is, for some, the epitome of success. But what of the artist who lives in obscurity because of circumstances? Decades ago, I saw the movie Babette’s Feast which focuses on a famous chef who must leave it all behind. There is a lot of food for thought in this exquisitely delicious story that feeds the soul. I have been telling friends about this movie for years.
An Artist is Never Poor
The 1987 Danish film, based on the 1950 drama by Karen Blixen (under the pen name of Isak Dinesen), deals with the ways people choose to live their lives. There are several vignettes, but the one that intrigues me involves the French refugee from Paris who becomes the cook for two elderly sisters in a remote 19th-century Danish village. After 14 years of cooking simply, Babette gets word from France that she has won 10,000 francs in a lottery. Rather than use it on herself, she decides to spend it all by bringing in exotic ingredients and finery from Paris to prepare a French gourmet meal for the village residents. It is a resplendent celebration of art.
At the end of the movie the sisters finally learn that Babette was once the head chef of a famous Parisian restaurant. When they discover their cook has just spent her entire winnings on the meal, one of the women sadly says to Babette, “Now you will be poor the rest of your life,” to which Babette responds, “An artist is never poor.” This sentiment has echoed in my mind ever since. I too will never be “poor” – my artistic spirit thrives.
There will always be a struggle, or maybe it is more like a climb. That is the life of an artist and I have a long way to go before even getting close to the top. Meanwhile, I’ll take a hint from Ohr – “Get a Pot Before the Potter Dies, or Gets a Reputation.”
Thinking of Hedy, Smokefired Porcelain, 14" x 11"
Sculpting in clay takes time, but getting there is all part of the journey for me. Every new piece presents a challenge to create an original form. My process is to work the clay until the elasticity is exhausted and the walls of the piece are at their thinnest. This technique of stretching the clay till it is fatigued creates the most unique forms. During the shaping of this newest piece, I saw a wavelike form beginning to emerge and so I let the clay decide how far this wave would go.
After one too many close calls of almost losing this piece from overworking, I took the hint that it was time to let the clay rest. This is always a turning point when the shaping is done although the piece is far from finished. Now is the time for finessing edges and smoothing surface blemishes. I look for the slightest imperfections, minute details that are barely noticeable, anything that interrupts the design. When I study the piece, I envision it being exhibited on a pedestal in a gallery. It should be flawless.
I love the transformative quality of clay. As I looked at this static, almost bone-dry sculpture, its tenuous form seemed to convey a sense of movement. I felt the rhythm of a wave waiting to crest.
Available for commissions and exhibits.
Waiting to Crest, Porcelain, 11” x 9”
It is amazing to think that at this time last year, I was in Taos with just a month left to my residency. At that time my book was only a hope and a dream – now it is a reality, as is this website. Although I initially intended to write something more informative for this first blog post, my tendency to muse got the better of me.
But then I realized getting lost in thought and reflection while I work is actually part of my process. My feelings about what is going on in the world and in my life are expressed in the clay. These days, the passage of time is on my mind... what happens in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year. I think about how long it took to produce this book, the months of editing and writing here at home and the months in Taos creating the pieces and images.
After all this time working on the book I have finally found the time to start a new sculpture. It feels good to have my hands back in clay. The five pounds of Taos porcelain sitting on my banding wheel is a work in progress. As this piece begins to take shape, thoughts about where I have been and where I am headed run through my mind. I like where I am going with this piece...will post a picture when I get there!