Georgia Southern University

Understand Fear as Modern Curiosity

As a child I was taught to always be curious, but never too curious.

Things in this great wild world we live in tend to be mysterious and beautiful, with a subduction that can draw a young child in. Especially, one like myself, who was more often than not free to roam the outdoors unaccompanied for hours on end.

Detail of new work in the studio, January 2017.

A majority of my childhood up until I started high school was spent outdoors. I remember living in Louisiana and my brother and I getting our first TV, a small heavy box of a thing with a screen about the size of a standard sheet of writing paper. It went in his room, because he had the bunkbed but we were only ever allowed to watch it after we had finished our homework and gone outside for a bit. Honestly, I think my mother just needed a break from us, but back then going outside was not as dangerous as it is today. My family lived on a military base and it was completely normal for a group of like aged kids to walk the streets until the lights came on. All the families dads and mothers probably worked together on base in some way, and it was customary for parents to feed each others kids snacks in a kind of unspoken agreed upon rotation. Today that would never happen. I remember there being some houses that I was told not go inside of, even though I was friends with the kid that lived there, but these were just rules I followed. The woods were a different story. Rules did not apply the same way they did while in the neighborhood. It was all up to me to keep myself safe, aware, and alive. It may sound a bit of a exaggeration, but some of the things I did as a a child should and very well could have killed me. Jumping off the water tower with a rope around my waist, climbing into the sewer during a thunder storm, shooting bottle rockets at other kids in a game of war---the list goes on and on.

What I am getting at here is that "sense of curiosity" and what it does for an artist. In the woods, particularly in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia---there are plenty of beautiful, colorful, and eye catching things in nature that can hurt you and still be so interesting. My professor Jeff explained to me that in my work there has still got to be some hope, something that gives the viewer a sense of curiosity and most importantly hope. Snakes, spiders, and four legged things are not the things that give people hope and are the more obvious ones people list off when they talk about dangerous creature sin the woods; which is why I was always interested in the smaller more unassuming plants and critters that were around me. Bugs, mushrooms, creepy crawlies, ivies, fungi, and what lived in the ground where smaller than me so I guess I was more curious than afraid. These things were just as dangerous as the larger counterparts but without fail I collected them in glass jars like the old Victorian glass terrariums seen below, and brought them home. Only to then get scolded by my mother for bringing them in the house. But I loved them. Loved them to the point where I'd create tiny habitats for the critters I captured, only to have them die after a week or two of captivity despite my best efforts.

It's been a good long while since I was out in the woods just to explore though. Something changed mentally and that curiosity I used to have shifted. The fear I lacked as a child only grows the older I get and something about going out in the woods alone as an adult is extremely terrifying and at the same time oddly appealing. But I believe the fear itself has transformed too, because its not that I am scared of whats out there, it's just that I know. I am more educated, and more prone to overthink situations rather than just take them at face value like I did as a kid. That idea of dropping everything and walking into the woods- it's the pioneers dream and probably most cubicle working adults.

I feel my work in the studio lately has the same love that I had for the tiny critters in the jars I collected as a child. I've gone back and researched images of things that are common in the woods where I grew up and the pieces I am developing scream "natures bounty." They reference Bernard Palissy, whom I've mentioned in previous blog posts but they also have new influences such as Mister Finch, a textile artist in the UK. I've seen his work before, in passing while trolling through Pinterest, but it was not until I came upon his series from 2014 called Specimen, where combined various clashing nature forms that I really took interest. He explains the work in this collection as:

Here’s a new collection of my latest work. I wanted to create specimens that look like they have been collected from somewhere else... wherever that may be.... Ive mixed wings with fungus and plants with foxes....spiders with feathers and a bird with translucent plastic fins underneath its plumage and over sized feather collar.
— Mister Finch

I related to this because my most recent work has been combining what I find in nature as well as what i find in the domestic space, and creating new works from that combination. But when I went hunting form more artists who use the theme of domestic spaces with nature in their work artist Giselle Hicks came to light. Her work from 2013, where she created floral arrangements on the wall influenced my work with a few floral additions into my sculptures. Turns out she too went to Alfred for her MFA in 2010-which is apparently where all the great clay people come from! She has taken part in various artist-in-residence programs including the Anderson Ranch Art Center, the Arts/Industry Program at the Kohler Company, The Clay Studio in Philadelphia (where I believe a former student here at GSU now works, Lois Harvey), The Greenwich House Pottery and The Archie Bray Foundation. Her resume is also quite extensive and has given me multiple opportunities to now look into. Most importantly however is her view on the pieces shown nelow, where she describes the domestic space as:

This work investigates the sites within a domestic space that are routinely and ritually inhabited, particularly the bed/bedroom and table/dining room. For me, the bed and table personify human relationships. Their design and function determines our proximity to one another affecting our actions and interactions. I imagine their surfaces as absorbent, retaining traces of our presence and our histories. This work is an abstraction of the expansive and complex life experiences that take place across surfaces of these sights within the home
— Giselle Hicks

As for my personal studio work this week, I have really worked hard for my first critique of the semester which is Monday and Tuesday of this week. I have two pieces complete and ready to show in addition to three smaller pieces that accompany the larger two. I had a third, but it collapsed under the weight of the materials I was adding to it, despite me efforts to keep it upright. Lesson learned...and learned hard. But thats ok-because it's body parts can now be used to build something else.

Nothing is ever a waste in clay-it can always be remade and reused.

Stepping Forth into Knowledge

This past week one of my professors assigned something that I immediately began to dread, gathering books from the library.  The actual library, not the online interwebs I love so much, but physical books from within a physical building.  My mission was simple, get five books; three that relate to something you're interested in, one that is completely off topic, and one that you just happen upon and "found".  I put it off until the day before class because I personally don't like the "idea" of going to the library and searching for books...or at least I thought I didn't like it.

After just over two hours of exploring the "N" section of the Henderson Library at Southern, I'd gathered up seventeen books.  Yes you read that right, not just the meager five, but seventeen books ranging in topics from ceramics and their glazes, to theory and how to critique contemporary art.  I was a kid in a candy shop.  I'm still not sure what made me feel such distaste for the assignment to begin with because I ended up having a very good time searching for things to read and pilfer through.  I've had them for a couple of days now and I'm already preparing to try out new glaze tests, make a porcelain clay body, and read up on how to show your art when you don't know what your art means.  And the best part is that the books aren't due back to the library any time soon because I am a grad student.  Lucky for me, I get to keep them for the rest of the semester until May, unless someone requests them (which I doubt will happen).

Aside from the book adventure, my friend Jessamy and I took a trip to the local saw mill on Thursday and saw the complete process of lumber production from start to finish in the Claude Howard Lumber Company mill.  We submitted weeks ago a proposal to paint Statesboro's Eagle Nation on Parade plaster eagle, and we won the proposal!  So the whole week was spent planning our pitch, meeting with Mr. Howard, and then actually seeing the mill.  Now we have to come up with proposal #2 for our next meeting and incorporate all of the things we saw at the mill and what was discussed in our meeting.  It might sound a little odd for someone like me, who does sculpture and ceramics to want to paint a giant bird, but I'm down for a challenge.  I painted multiple murals before my time here at Southern so I'm not a stranger to painting, but this will surely be a challenge.  Once we begin the painting job I'll be sure to mention our progress briefly here in the blog.

Sadly I missed the very famous Carrie Mae Weems give her lecture at SCAD this past week.  She presented her work Considered at the Trustees Theater at SCAD through the deFINE Art 2016 program.  My fellow grad Carrington who did get to attend gave me a brief run through about the lecture, and how Carrie Mae Weems touched on her appropriated pieces from the Harvard Library.  We went over these the day before her lecture in class when we were discussing appropriation and what it's limits are within art.  I think it's crazy how Harvard originally was trying to sue her for the image use, but when she accepted the lawsuit and said that people needed to hear about these images, and see what was being "studied" Harvard dropped the case.  A few years later Harvard invited her back to give a lecture and exhibition about those very works.  Simply amazing!  This prompted me to investigate the history behind the photographs and Art21 has a great video on Appropriation and Borrowing.  I found out that the people featured in the images were treated like experiments, and specimens.  The professors at Harvard wanted to prove that the black man was inferior to the white man, genetically, physically, and mentally.   Weems brought these images to light, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of her works on display in Savannah when I visit this weekend coming up.  I plan to kill two birds with one stone and take a side tour to SCAD while I am at m conference for the British Commonwealth Liaison Program.

Overall this whole week was centered around stepping forward into knowledge and not fighting it so much.  I have a tendency to get overwhelmed with task management and assignments but this past week I really focused on just going with the flow.  I didn't want to go to the library but once I accepted that I had to go, I really enjoyed myself.  I thought the saw mill was going to be a waste of my time but in fact it was a huge eye opener for me.  I never would have known that this city was actually built around the mill originally, or that they supply 90% of the building materials for the city of Statesboro.  Plus the process was so cool to see from start to finish and it's definitely gave me ideas for when we begin to paint the eagle. And finally even though I did not get to go listen to Carrie Mae Weems lecture in person.  I took it upon myself to do a little searching and read up on what she is currently doing as well as a little history about her work.  I really believe the seventeen books I gathered up will help me finally get an idea about what my ceramic pieces mean...maybe.  Now I just have to get to reading them!

Trip to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta GA

The weekend before my second semester of MFA classes kicked back in session, I ran away to Atlanta for one last visit to the outside world.  After traveling four long hours in my car while listening to a podcast by Tales of a Red Clay Rambler, I made it from Statesboro, GA to the ATL.  All I wanted to do was get out of my car and have a hot cup of coffee at Cafe Intermezzo on Peachtree NE along with some cheesecake and possibly some real food, but mostly just cheesecake.

Molly Hatch Physic Garden, 2013-2014
Earthenware and Glaze
456 plates, each 9.5 inches in diameter

Aside from that, the biggest to-do on my checklist of adventures was to make a visit to the High Museum of Art.  I particularly wanted to re-examine a piece called Physic Garden that I had written a research paper on the previous semester by the ceramic artist and self made sales woman, Molly Hatch.  See my original plan was to go inside, take a seat on the log bench just opposite the plates and with my new found knowledge and rehash all of the original questions I had before I started to do research on her.  Needless to say, that did not happen.  Instead I became a walking encyclopedia for the plates on the wall and began explaining in detail about how they were made, where they came from, and what inspired their creation.  My friend who I was visiting the High with was unenthused by my excitement and walked off while I continued to spout interesting facts about Hatch's process.  As I continued to ramble not realizing the my friend had since left me, some museum visitors who clearly were interesting began to crowd me.  An elderly lady in the small group of six or seven people actually asked me some questions regarding how the glazes on the plates were made, as well as "where is the restroom ma'am?"  Clearly I had been mistaken for an employee of the museum due to my eagerness to spill the knowledge born from an intense eight page research paper.

All in all, what I got from this experience is simple.

I now have a greater appreciation for the modest looking plates on display at the High first and foremost.  Had I not been forced to stand in line at the coat check due to rain on my previous visit, I would have never taken an interest in them.  At first glance they just look like a large number of colorful plates on the wall as you enter the High through the revolving doors.  But now I know that there is actually an entire row of plates in storage and not on the wall due to a measuring mistake on behalf of the museum.  (The High Museum of Art actually mis-measured their own gallery wall...really guys, come on!)  I also now know that the physical plates are not even the original ones that Molly Hatch tried to order from overseas and that the original order was canceled a few days before delivery due to international shipping port authority issues.

It's tiny quirky facts like these that made me want to come back for another visit.  I wanted to see the piece with new eyes.

I also am slowly learning that I should always do a little research on the pieces of art that I see or read about.  In the past I would visit a museum as "something to do to pass the time" instead of visiting as a "way to gain new knowledge".  This has always been a big problem for me, and I believe it is a problem with most people these days.  Like any random stranger, I too enjoy mindlessly walking around the galleries, reading small captions, and occasionally getting yelled at by the guards for getting too close to a priceless piece of art.  It makes me feel good when I can come up to an artwork and I know something about it.  I feel like a genius for a brief moment...please tell me who doesn't love that feeling?  I'll go ahead and apologize in advance for butchering this recount of Art critic and Nun, Sister Wendy and her description of "what art is to people" through her description of Piss Christ by Andres Serrano. She basically says that "people are ok with art most often because it gives them something to relate to.  When it's not approachable or they don't have an moment of comfort because of its familiarity, it isn't held as good art and it gets forgotten."...just like most of the art I have viewed over my life time while aimlessly wondering through the museum.  Now I make it a point to do even a small google search on an artist name, a title of a work, or a gallery I walk past or hear of.  Like writing something by hand, I remember it better after taking the time and putting in the effort to actually look it up and read a few quick lines.

Inspiration Plates from Chelsea Factory ca.1775 in Permanent Collection at the High Museum of Art

Moral of this adventure:  Everyone should do this more often.  We have the world in our hands and who doesn't appreciate some instant gratification via the web.  But what we need to do differently, and I am retraining myself in this aspect daily... I am making it a point to do my "homework" and retain what I read rather than letting that insta-knowledge escape me.  No more drive by captions in the museum galleries of life, I want to learn about what I am seeing/hearing/reading/watching/doing/experiencing.

I pose a question to my readers who I have made it this far in my blog---when is the last time you actually took the time to look something up with the intent of learning about it, rather than just instant gratification?

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