The Wheel in the Studio Goes Round and Round

Work coming full circle in the studio this winter

If you’ve been keeping up with my previous posts since November 2016, you’ll know that I’ve been in a bit of a creative funk.  The results of the election knocked the stuffing out of me and it took awhile to find my creative footing.  When I’m stuck like this I find what I need to do is just shut up and make and let the reasons why take care of themselves.  The act of making with my hands seems to plug my brain into some sort of electrical outlet that ignites the spark that jumpstarts the creative juices into flowing.

For those of you who know my work, I’m not much of a thrower.  There are several reasons both ergonomic and creative.  Ergonomically I seem to have freakishly small hands.  Add to that my lower back is always an issue.  I keep toying with teaching a clay class called Throwing with Tiny Hands and a Bad Back.  Creatively, round forms make me very nervous.  They’re just so- circular!  Circles have so many connotations:  they have no beginning or end; they have a sense of completion; and there’s always that pressure of repetition.  I’m not a production potter by any stretch of the imagination.

But this winter I hunkered down in my studio every day and threw.  There was something very soothing about getting up in the morning, making a pot of tea, putting on an audio book, shutting the door and sitting down at the wheel.  Life at the time seemed so out of kilter, and  I needed the structure of repetitive routine.  I craved the calming influence and hypnotic effect of watching the wheel go round while clay squeezed between my hands.  I began to look forward to my days at the wheel like I never have.  I decided to challenge myself and throw plates, platters, bowls and cups to fill the kitchen cabinets in our new vacation home in the mountains of Colorado.  I may be out of creative gas but I could at least trick out my ride so that when the tank refilled I had more power under the hood and bells and whistles on my dashboard  to go more places than ever before.

I decided to stop being a wimp and to finally learn how to throw plates on hump molds and plaster bats and to make cup handles with an extruder.  I also challenged myself to throw series of bowls and forms the same size, and to nest.

Things started happening.  I found myself adding textures and elements making these round static forms more interesting, more mine.

From there I started thinking about colors, glazes, firing ranges and applications.  In the spirit of adventure I decided to revisit some old glaze recipes requiring spray-on application as well as some I’ve never done before, even using commercial glazes in combination with others.  Spraying involved figuring out the correct thickness, even which air compressor to use.

While all this was happening, the creative current began to trickle in.  I had a bag of glass nuggets incompatible for fusing and a glass lidded jar from a defunct terrarium.  All of a sudden the jar was on its side with the bag of nuggets next to it, and every time I walked by I glued one on.  What began as form of wheel avoidance and procrastination became an Ex-Voto urn for the sculpture Good Friends.

It was such a relief to make a glass sculpture by simple cold working.  But then it made me miss fusing.  I found myself getting emboldened.  While I was doing all these new things, and to a certain amount of success and satisfaction, why not finally get around to finishing some sculptures that have been percolating way too long in my noggin?  Time to fuse some glass and make bases for sculptures and lamps, and while I was at it, how bout some coasters and trays for spring!

Before I knew it, I had completed my goals.  That wheel work paid off in spades.  Not only do I have the dishes, bowls, and mugs made, but I seem to have launched myself into a better place creatively.

An Artist’s Role in Troubled Times

MeinmystudioThere is the idea that art is not a ‘legitimate’ type of work; that it is a frivolity best saved for spare time, etc; or a luxury for the wealthy. But for artists who have a vision that they are compelled to share, art isn’t a frivolity or luxury- it’s a necessity. And for society, art is also a necessity, although this may not be realized by many. We are the spirit keepers, the mirrors, the candles. And we need to become our own best friends- to believe in ourselves and what we do. And stick together, rather than compete with one another.  – Agnes Martin

For those of you who do not make art full time, Agnes is right, it isn’t a frivolity or luxury, making art for an artist is a necessity, a bodily function if you will, like breathing.  When tragedy occurs , especially on a global scale,  artists respond.  It’s what we do.  We make art to express collective sentiment, or to mark the event, or to raise money for those impacted.  Artists are active participants in change.

For some of us American citizens, the results of the recent presidential election is a tragedy of serious magnitude.  People are afraid- of deportation; of destruction to the environment; of violence caused by racial, gender and sexual prejudice; of certain rights in place being repealed; and of having all that our country has done to progress dismantled.

It is a time for us artists to hunker down and figure out a way to respond.  Usually when faced with a catastrophe, my creativity goes out the window for a good long while.  It’s as if all my creative energy goes elsewhere.  Within me is an ominous radio silence, like the quiet before a tornado when all the birds stop singing and the air is completely still.

The day after the election had me metaphorically face down on my shield.  I was devastated.  I felt all the fight drain from me.  Meanwhile on social media I watch all my artist friends spring into action.   There are calls to action, conferences, symposiums, calls for entry for themed shows, calendars for organized protests, all within a week after the election.  I seem paralyzed.  I feel as if I’ve been through so much that it’s taking me longer and longer to bounce back.  What can I do to help support those willing to be on the front lines?

I thus retreat into contemplative mode.  By quiet contemplation and prayer I seek out the small still voice that will lead me where I need to go and tell me what to do once I get there.  And that small voice is telling me right now that alot of healing and peace making is needed right now.  Comfort and healing is a major thread in my work, has been for  years.  This I can do.  As I pray for healing and comfort to those suffering, and for wisdom and peaceful hearts for those now in charge, I leave you with who I am as an artist and how I respond to times like this through my work:  come inside my work and rest.

 

Waiting Any Minute for the Big Breakthrough and an Exciting Opening Reception

Every once in awhile I go on a downhill slide in the studio.  I hate to refer to it as a losing streak, but sometimes that’s how it feels.  It’s the time where I’m the studio on a daily basis working away fervently with visions of cranking out lots and lots of great work, but in reality all I have to show for my efforts are clay spattered clothes and a full reclaim bucket.  Sigh.

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After an entire day of throwing, all I got out of the deal was 1 anemic bottle and a meh bowl….Sigh.

Used to be that I’d get really down on myself and discouraged. What the hell is wrong with me?  Why can’t I make great work like everyone else?  I’m a terrible potter, what was I thinking?! And on and on.  Now I just shrug and keep going.  What else am I going to do?  Besides, usually when I hit the creative skids like this, it’s usually before some sort of big breakthrough, either with an ongoing series or a new technique or new depth of range to my artistic voice.  So here I sit, behind the wheel, covered in clay, listening to my audio books (humor to keep my spirits up) like Charlie Brown stepping up to the mound.

Another factor in this creative trough is that sadly, we said good-bye to my most beloved studio assistant, Petey Pie Westheimer, who died of cancer at home last Wednesday.  Good bye my sweet clay dog!

Petey in his final week in the studio. God speed my dear sweet boy!

Petey in his final week in the studio. God speed my dear sweet boy!

But then I attend an opening reception of my work and all is forgiven.  In this regard, the opening reception of Sacred Spaces Holy Places at the Nails in the Wall Gallery in Metuchen, NJ did not disappoint.  Nails in the Wall is a bit of second home to me and my artwork.  The gallery is a very good fit for my work as their themes slant towards the sacred with components of social justice.  Linda Vonderschmidt-LaStella, who runs the gallery is an amazing soul.  She is a huge supporter of every artist she takes under her wing and a big booster of the art scene in the town of Metuchen.  She creates a lovely vibe for the receptions with wonderful food, music and talks by the artists, even some via Skype or video.  The gallery is located on the campus of the church of St Lukes, so there is lots of foot traffic.  I particularly enjoy that many of the people who come into the gallery do not consider themselves art collectors or art appreciators.  Interacting with these folks allows me to see my work and the work in the show with fresh eyes.  I love answering questions and explaining the motivation of my work to them.

Posing with "Holy Innocents" a the opening reception

Posing with my 3 sculptures a the opening reception. L-R: “Holy Innocents,” “Hotei Hideaway,” and “Hotei Hideout.”

I had the good fortune of having 3 of my works in the show, Holy Innocents*, a multi fired stoneware sculpture with 14K gold, Murano glass and acrylic inclusions, Hotei Hideaway**, a raku fired stoneware sculpture with resin inclusions, and Hotei Hideout,**, a wood fired stoneware sculpture on a carved cherry wood base with glass and resin inclusions.  I enjoyed spending the afternoon at the reception, catching up with Linda, her wonderful husband Nino and the other artists in the show, many of whom I have been in shows with previously.

*statement for Holy Innocents

**statement for Hotei Hideaway and Hotei Hideout

Exhibition announcement: Sacred Spaces Holy Places, opening reception rescheduled for January 30, 2016

Due to the impending snow storm the opening reception has been rescheduled. See you on the 30th!
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I am pleased to report that I have 3 sculptures in the upcoming show, Sacred Spaces Holy Places at the Nails in the Wall Gallery in Metuchen, New Jersey. These sculptures are dear to me and I’m honored to have them included in such a fine venue in the company of phenomenal works by very talented artists. I would love to see you at the opening reception and would love to hear your comments about my work.

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Hotei Hideout, 2008 For more images and statement go to: http://lisagw.com/sacred-art-/buddha-and-hotei/statement and http://lisagw.com/sacred-art-/buddha-and-hotei/view/340 and

Detail, Hotei Hideout, 2008
For more images and statement go to:
http://lisagw.com/sacred-art-/buddha-and-hotei/statement
and
http://lisagw.com/sacred-art-/buddha-and-hotei/view/340
and

Good-bye Summer, Hello Fall!

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I just returned from a truly fabulous and restorative vacation in Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  I got to jog, bike, ride horses, sleep, eat alot of fish, drink some fancy drinks and best of all, think.  Something about being in nature, especially in the woods and by the sea causes my mind to relax and wander and wonder.  It sets me up for the long stretches of work, both physical and creative, in the months to come.

There’s nothing like a climb up a long hill to help set goals.  I’m not a climber.  My body is stocky, meant for rocketing downward, taking advantage of gravity.  It takes me way longer than I’d like and uses much more energy than I think an average mortal needs to expend to jog or ride a bike uphill.  When my lungs feel taxed and my muscles start to complain my mind gets desperate for distraction.  These times are great ways to problem solve, strategize and plan.

What percolated from these sessions was this idea:  I hope to have a regular posting series entitled “studio tours” to let you know what’s happening (or not) in my studio on a regular basis.  I’ll let you behind the scenes to see that not everything that goes on in that place results in a finished product, but that the journey is what’s most important.

Now that I’m home there are different hills to climb:  teaching, sculpting, writing, promoting my Etsy shop, learning new social media platforms, selling work and trying to juggle them all and balance them with life in general.   I look at this last sentence and I feel  like I am at the bottom of a very steep hill with just me, my trusty bike and my thunder thighs.     Wish me luck, here goes nothing!  Happy Fall everyone!

Enjoy this little video as metaphor for the state I’m in.