Influence pushes. Inspiration pulls
My high school photography teacher was a guy named Mr. Parker. He taught through precise demonstration. We could ask questions, but mostly we stood silently, watching him work, and then were let go to try it ourselves. Back then, we were working with manual cameras, black and white film, and chemicals. I loved every bit of it.
My bus stop was a half mile from my house. One day, well into the semester, on my way home, I noticed a section of roof had blown off an abandoned barn. The image stopped me in my tracks. Something inside of me had changed: I didn’t see the hole, or the underlying rafters and purlins. I saw pattern. I saw abrupt changes of value creating a particular strength of contrast. I didn’t have my camera on me, but I WAS seeing through it. My body, for the moment, had become the camera, and the camera had become a tool for me to reach outside of myself. That day was the beginning of a life of seeing and understanding the world through tools, process, and material and of seeing the potential to find meaning in objects.
When I was done getting my undergraduate degree in printmaking, I moved to Maine to work on boats. When I was nearly done with boats, I apprenticed to and began working for artist Tom O’Donovan. As part of his instruction Tom told me, “True beauty expresses itself throughout its growth and its decay.” That concept crystalized something for me and inspired a keen fascination with the patterns and marks of growth and decay that I continue to explore to this day. That notion and the tools of jewelry and metal smithing are integral to my studio practice. I’ve also been a house builder and so I bring those tools and materials too. The stuff of boats and printmaking have likewise found their ways into my studio and into my work. And if I can’t see my way through with any of those tools, I make new ones to get me there.
So, if someone asks about a specific piece, “How long did that take?”, my only answer can be “57 busy years.”
I’ll mention one more clarifying moment. I was building, with my friend, Tim Marchetti, an intricate, architect-designed fence. I don’t recall exactly what we were struggling with, but I remember Tim throwing up his hands saying, “Why does this have to be so difficult? All we have to do is be smarter than the wood!”Though we aim to use materials for our own purposes, they, nevertheless, continue to speak in their own special, insistent language. I work to bring my understanding of one material to my work with others, especially clay — a material which always tells me I’m part of something larger.
Much of the time I work alone in my studio. While throwing, piercing, or carving, I have ample time to reflect on my 20 years as an art teacher. It was definitely some of the best and most important work of my life.The work with my students made me a far more conscious artist, one who thinks in terms of collaboration and intent. My mother once told me, “You teach best what you need to learn the most.” My students taught me. I am grateful, and there are parts of my life with them that I miss. But former students have become colleagues. Now I get to go to their openings, fire kilns with them, exchange technical and material questions, and accept their critiques. My favorite part of my website is a sidebar containing a long and growing list of LINKS to former students making a life through creative work — from custom motorcycle maker, to professional creative clothes recycler, to installation artist.
The roots of my studio practice dig deep and spread wide into rich soil. The deeper I dig the taller and wider my practice can grow. Cups and bowls are the steadfast core. Projects – the Nest sculptures, Wrack Line Paintings, and Big Eggs – are branches, reaching up and out. Many branches bear fruit, some don’t and are lopped off or just wither and die. And I make a lot of leaves.
And: Eggs. What a humble, ubiquitous, iconic form, these ideals of fertility, these fragile houses of potential. There are so many reasons they recur in my work, but two in particular are worth sharing: Because of its extreme simplicity, the form itself is endlessly variable. The slightest change in proportion can change the character of each iteration profoundly. The second reason is that the egg is an embodied paradox. Paradox is central to what I find most interesting in art –– both the art that I make and the art I enjoy most. The egg is designed to encase and protect. It’s shaped to repel. It’s also designed to be broken open from the inside and only fulfills its purpose when that occurs. A good metaphor, a perfect canvas.
And: Cups A beautiful, handmade cup is a three line poem about consideration.
The foot speaks about a relationship to its ground, about stability and how it will lift.
The body of the cup talks about a relationship to your hand, about separation and containment, about the definition of inside and outside.
And the rim offers its wisdom in its relationship to your lips, offering and delivering warmth, refreshment, stimulation and redemption to your body.
Making cups allows me to make hundreds of little useful sculptures, to wrestle with the intricacies of proportion, weight, and balance, to explore texture and color, to try new techniques and perfect and evolve established ones.
And making cups offers me a chance to be part of your everyday.