THE BRIGHTNESS OF LIGHT
A friend recently wrote to me saying Georgia O’Keefe’s Shell and Old Shingle VI, reminded her of my clayscape photography. When I looked at this 1926 oil on canvas painting for the first time ever I was taken aback myself – two of my own images immediately came to mind. When I showed them to my friend she wrote back, “both of these look like the Georgia O’Keefe painting.” You can see a picture of her painting on the St. Louis Art Museum's website: https://www.slam.org/collection/objects/10406/
To be in O’Keefe’s artistic company, one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, if only by coincidence, is humbling. Though decades separate me from O’Keefe, I feel a kindred artist connection to her way of seeing light. She once wrote,“My first memory is of light – the brightness of light – light all around.” For me, light is my portal to another world where forms of clay blossom.
KINDRED ARTISTS OF LIGHT
The light and shadows that transform my clay sculptures into new dimensions has became an extension of my ceramics. The imagery comes from all stages of the work that reveal the different textures of the clay as it changes from greenware to bone dry to bisqued and smoke fired. One of the early images of this work, Plato’s Cave, was included in my 2012 exhibit “Light from the Window.”
When I look through the camera into a sculpture’s interior I see motifs beyond my imagination – enigmatic shapes, at times reminiscent of landscape and figure, that only materialize in the sunlight. I still remember the exhilaration that swept over me when I first discovered these forms secreted away within my sculptures waiting to be exposed. It felt as though I had been transported to another realm – as though a secret portal had opened up.
PAINT, CLAY AND FORM
I see shaping clay in a similar light as painting. O’Keefe wrote, “The subject matter of a painting should never obscure its form and color, which are its real thematic contents.” Though my imagery is at times interpreted as conveying a sensual nature, it is as incidental to me as it was to O’Keefe. Form is what I seek always.
O’Keefe wanted to distance her flower paintings from the bodily image references when she wrote, “Nobody sees a flower... it is so small.… So I said to myself – I'll paint what I see – what the flower is to me, but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it … and when you took time... you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don't.”
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
Sometimes I even see hints of O’Keefe’s animal skulls and bone paintings in my clayscape photography – is it simply a stroke of serendipity? Perhaps Georgia is on my mind more than I realize.
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"