It’s Working Out

A couple years ago, I pulled my work out of galleries and pretty much stopped accepting invitations to show. I wanted to bring as much focus back into the studio as I could. I wanted to bring some percolating themes to a full boil, work with more challenging scale, and a broader array of materials — basically move my studio practice forward.  Yes, all great intentions, but, of course, without the follow-through of making the time and space to work and actually doing the work, these wants would have gone the way of most intentions. There’s more to it than that, though. I don’t think I would have focused my intentions without having been shook up.  That happened, initially, over four years ago during my residency at Anderson Ranch. Thank you Doug, Sam, Ralph, and Steve for rattling my cage(s) and to Yuri and Dave for picking me up off the floor.  I recall thinking, “What’s begun here, is going to take years.” I sometimes joke (wonder) that I’m a quick study and a wicked slow learner, but as I look at the work I’m doing now, I see the changes I needed were profound and take practice to bring forth.

At the beginning of the summer, I did a two week residency at Haystack Mountain School of Craft. The Ranch was ten. This was a very different but no less marvelous experience. Haystack is a place of soul-feeding beauty with a staff I can’t speak highly enough of.  And the other residents were awesome (I mean that in the grown-up sense of the word). Still, as I reflect on those two weeks, I’m not done being shook up.

Just Three Years

I started this piece over three years ago. I’ve done others like it, but not to this level of detail. Initially, I threw a number of vases in this form, but chose this one to carve.  It took days and days to draw the pattern. When I finally started carving, it took about three days to rough carve one vertical row. I got a bit faster as time went on. There are forty rows. I would work on it for a length of time and either lose patience, focus, or be called to another task before setting it aside. After the first month of working on it, I seldom worked on it for more than a week at time.  At one point, I thought that I couldn’t finish it, but a supportive and enthusiastic collector encouraged me to push through. Once I finished carving, I bisque fired it and found myself at another hurdle. Glaze. I was nearly paralyzed by the possibility of getting the glaze wrong. There are potters who live to glaze. I don’t fall in that category. My solution was to make smaller ‘test’ pieces. You may be able to recognize a few on the website. After several attempts I found the right glaze combination and application. Et voila!  I’m curious to see where in the world it goes.

This piece is not listed on my web store. Please call if you are interested in purchasing it for your collection (207)975-3456.

Featured Artist: Jessica Ives

IMG_1027
Name: Jessica Ives
Year of HS graduation: 1999, when my last name was Stammen
Current Location: Damariscotta, Maine
What fills your days?

Learning. Whether I’m painting, swimming, stretching, reading, dancing, cutting a carrot, or driving in the car with my husband, I think it’s good to remember that it’s all learning, that I’m learning to see, and that I’m learning to see more more beautifully every day. I have a sneaking suspicion that how I see and why I see determines what I see. And by learning to see I mean cultivating a capacity that includes, but goes far beyond the visual. Yes, I believe this kind of learning can happen even, and especially, when cutting carrots.

Also, I keep these words by Baba Haridass pinned to my studio wall, as a reminder of the simple things worth filling a day with:
Work honestly,
meditate everyday,
meet people without fear
and play.
What’s most important to you about what you do?

That I love what I do is, to me, the most important thing about what I do. Any other reason I would or could give — as honest, as impressive, or as articulate as it could be — must be secondary to this. We live in a time and place where reason and wordy whys burden everything. Especially art. Love, beauty, enjoyment — as experiences, in and of themselves — are not so much valued. But I agree with Joseph Campbell who has said, “People say that what we are seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”

What impossible dreams or goals do you keep reaching toward?

Tim Keller has said, “You should never go to God because he’s useful. Go to God because he’s beautiful. And yet there’s nothing more useful than finding God beautiful.” I love the paradox in this! I love the mystery and the adventure that it implies. I love that it turns me on my head and puts the world upside down. I think learning to see beauty, without a need for utility, is a goal worth living, and something that will take a lifetime.

Also, I’d like to read all the books I own. This, too, might take a lifetime. I need to stop buying books!
What do you need to keep going?

Beauty, lots of time spent outside playing, and a healthy capacity to say no.

Further comments?

I prefer to paint on the floor! I squat in front of my panels in the manner that most the world’s population sits and rests, butt to heels. Chairs sort of bum me out.

Summer Newsletter (late posting)

Expanding Focus

I’ve been sticking pretty close to home, concentrating my energy, allowing myself to wander in the studio. Things are opening up.

My friend, Garrett, once told me, “The only real power we have is where we place our focus.”
I’m looking more carefully at the sculptural aspects of my work, mixing materials and ideas that have long held my attention. Admittedly, I’m lost some of the time, but I don’t lose my sense of direction. I’m pretty sure this is the set-up for discovery.  Focus and wander, focus and wander.  It’s a lot like breathing in and breathing out.

The only shows in which I plan to participate this year are going on right now.  One is up at Cynthia Wynings Gallery in Blue Hill. It’s a group show called Nature of Materials. I tell you, that woman can hang a show. Please, if you’re up in the area, do yourself a favor and check it out. While you’re up there, stop by Mark Bell’s studio. Our collaborative project continues. He has several prime examples.
The other show is Art to Collect Now currently open at CMCA Bicknell in Rockland.

It figures, then, that I’m mostly counting on you to visit me. I’m working, exploring new forms, refining others, completing commissions, but the show isn’t going on the road to a town near you. It’s staying here, Give a call and come to the studio/gallery. Come Do the LoopAugust 8 and 9.  It’s a terrific tour. I’m thrilled to be part of this stellar group. You really don’t want to miss this.  But, of course, not everyone can make it to Maine this summer.  Come see me online.  Keep an eye out for new work added to the website and to my Square store.

I am truly enjoying this summer. I hope you are too.

See you soon,

Siem

Featured Artist: Jesse Gillespie

 PortraitName:  Jesse Gillespie
Year of HS graduation: 1999
Current location:  Rockland, Maine
What fills your days?
My wife and I recently returned to Maine from D.C., where we lived for three years. We’ve been settling in to our new home in Rockland, swimming and checking with friends. A good deal of time has been dedicated to working out details for an upcoming show (see link above to Dowling Walsh). Also, I’ve been experimenting with some new drawings inspired by Max Ernst.
In three sentences, how did you get to where you are now?  
May parents let me develop into myself.
Ed Roth and Brother Thomas taught my teachers.
I grew up on the edge of a state park.
What’s most important to you about what you do?  
Art, for me, is an antidote to the swarm of practicalities and trivialities that consume so much time. My work is nonlinear and improvisational and the act of going into the studio to empty out, be irrational and stop making sense is therapeutic unlike anything else.
What impossible dreams or goals do you keep reaching toward?  
To make something that I can’t identify. I’m not sure what that means…
What do you need to keep going?
Edges. To keep going, I need to know that things end.
What are your best and worst memories from high school?  
Like most people, my worst memory was bullying, which sticks with a person.  I am not homosexual but I experienced homophobia. I didn’t have it bad but it doesn’t take much.
My best memories involve the friends I still have from that time.  The embarrassing times, usually involving girls, are fun to think about too – I should have gone out on more limbs…
 

2015 Winter Newsletter

My Plan for 2015 (besides shoveling snow)

First name, last name, I don’t remember: his students just called him “Gunner,” and he was one of my favorite education professors at Saint Lawrence.  He had all sorts of good things to say, but thirty-three years later what I remember is, “If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”

In January I focused on Bellven pots — the pieces Mark Bell and I make collaboratively.  Because it was a new year, I started taking the design a bit further.  The top image shows what happened as I was pushing the limits of carved porcelain.  Oddly, this was okay with me. It felt right.  Therefore, I’ve decided to consider this the perfect way to inaugurate the coming year.

The important lessons keep coming around and around.

While working, I reflected on 2014.  It was a full and rich year — full of shows and making work for those shows.  It was a year of getting it out there.  It was a year for meeting new people and sharing my work.  My list of collectors and fans grew significantly, and I’m very pleased with that.  I am less pleased with what happened inside the studio. Don’t misunderstand me, I made good work — indeed, some of the most refined pieces I’ve ever made.  Overall, though, the work didn’t advance the way I would like.  My main focus for the year, especially the second half, was on having enough of the right work for shows and events.  I kept my skills sharp.  I worked long, efficient hours, managed production by reducing loss rate, and balanced studio time with computer time.  I had fairly clear, prescribed outcomes in mind and I worked toward them.

It’s time for the pendulum to swing away from product and toward process.  I look forward to a refined return to what is best about my work, to spending my energy on projects that open and expand my studio practice, and getting back to that edge.


Here are the major projects planned for 2015:

  • The collaboration with Mark Bell will continue. In fact, it’s been so inspiring that I intend to set up two more collaborative projects. Possible confederates include architect John Gillespieand multi-media artist Mark Kelly.
  • Ever since painter Alan Bray introduced me to it, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space has been a significant source of inspiration. I intend to continue a series combining clay and wood based on the Nest chapter from that book.
  • I want to go much larger with egg forms. And I mean much larger.
  • In 2005, I spotted a particularly intriguing pattern on the perimeter of a 16th century shoji screen at the Art Institute of Chicago.  I drew it into my journal. I redrew it, again and again, for a few years, before carving it into the surface of a porcelain vase. Two years ago, I began my most ambitious iteration of this motif. I plan to finish it this year.

That should be more than enough. I suspect this list will take me well into 2016 and even beyond.


A few important nuts and bolts:

Come visit me!
My work is on display in our home gallery.  Visitors are always welcome. In fact, conversation and interactions with visitors are an increasingly vital part of my practice.

What can I do for you?
In lieu of shows, I would like to do more commission work. The trick here is timing. Have something particular you want me to make for you or as a gift? Attending any weddings this summer? Important birthday or anniversary coming up? Want some cups, bowls or plates for holiday giving? If so, let’s talk.

Shop on Line!
The website portfolio is all up to date. My current inventory is now available for sale on line. Click on the “Shop Now — Order On Line” buttons on the home page or contact page of vandervenstudios.com.

That’s the year as I see it.  I look forward to hearing from you.

With love and gratitude,

Siem

Snow Poem

Someone sent Kate this poem for Valentine’s Day.  We don’t know who. I really like it.

 

Listen, Valentine

In the check out line
When a stranger warns of a blizzard
Do not say,
“Yippee, more snow!”
Leave the store before you imagine
Violet shadows on a clean white field
The way the edges soften
The way you glide a foot above the ground.
On your sleeve snowflakes are delicate as breath.
In numbers
They stop trucks.
They erode our determination
As the edges of the world draw in,
The biggest house becomes an igloo.
Every human thing is swallowed up.
Roads vanish,
Deadlines come and go,
Signs of progress are softly erased.
Rain and wind have other things to teach
We love snow because it reminds us
That everything can change
That nothing lasts.
That we can’t fight
But we can wait
The world under the snow,
The shrubs and fire hydrants,
Will rise again
This transient beauty stops us in our tracks
And fills them again and again.
— anonymous