As I prepare to begin my next body of work for an upcoming exhibition at the Catskill Art Space, it has been natural to look back and reflect on the arc of the work’s progression over my thirty-eight years in a clay studio. These objects have held the full spectrum of my life’s experiences, but perhaps the greatest catalysts have also been my greatest challenges.
My affinity for storytelling developed at an early age. I was born in the American South to a family that spent countless hours at the dinner table recounting the detailed, often humorous anecdotes and foibles of our ancestors, distant relatives, and fellow citizens of Gadsden, Alabama. I quickly learned that humor could create a seductive sugar coating to mask the bitter baggage of tales told of betrayal, failure, loss, hurt, and anger. Like young class clowns everywhere, I also discovered how effective making people laugh can be to distract and divert their attention away from my own insecurities, inadequacies, vulnerabilities, and untold secrets.
I moved to New York City in the early 1980s, a few days after graduating with a degree in architecture. I had always been a painter and, in my transition to the Big City, I began to pursue this with serious intent. A couple of years later, I found ceramics through a wheel-throwing class that I took at a neighborhood pottery in Hell’s Kitchen on the west side of midtown Manhattan. I immediately saw how my interests in architecture (form/function) and painting (surface) could literally be integrated into one through the firing process. This epiphany launched my thirty-eight years – and counting – of working in clay.
My early works were porcelain wheel-thrown shapes, which served as a canvas for a vocabulary of dense abstract geometric patterns and lavishly painted and carved surfaces. Although not overtly narrative in content, they seemed to capture the inescapable and cacophonous overload of stimulation from daily life lived in the city. I was also finding an audience for this work as they were sold exclusively at the Bergdorf Goodman department store for a few years. It was at the height of this halcyon time when the unimaginable happened: my partner was diagnosed with AIDS.
There are those times when the pathway you are traveling is unexpectedly and insurmountably blocked, and so you are forced to survive with a great sense of groundlessness before a new path emerges. I found in this difficult moment that in groundlessness, my work can potentially progress the most. As I now find myself saying to my students, "All of the challenges, pain, uncertainty, and also the joy can be cathartically injected into your work."...