Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Todd Shanafelt – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview

As It Happens by Todd Shanafelt

Todd Shanafeltʼs ceramic sculptures chronicle his process of the “deconstruction or devolution” of the vessel form. Using mixed media as well as clay, Shanafelt creates highly personal narratives that that question relationships, whether it be between the human component and the natural world or other. His pieces speak of his reaction to “the profound disconnect throughout the world”.  He adds that “our world has obviously become rapidly connected, which has its wonderful advantages”, he states, “however, we have also become less and less sensitive to the subtleties of our relationships and the reverence of them, this idea is very personal to me and I feel increasingly prompted to create work that somehow address this”. – Jonathan Kaplan

 Reception rescheduled to February 10.

Exhibiton Dates: February 3-27
 Plinth Gallery * 3520 Brighton Blvd. * Denver, Colorado

  Visit Plinth Gallery’s website for more information on Todd’s show. 

For more  information on Todd Shanafelt please visit his website. 

Why did you decide to become an artist and could you imagine doing anything else? If so, what?

I think a lot of artists have said this — but ‘it’ chose me I think. Like something stuck to the bottom of your shoe. It has never really not been there. I could imagine myself doing something in the natural environment far away from civilization — something like studying insects, sea life, plants, rocks, etc.

How did you become an artist?

Again, I think it has always been there. It didn’t take much nurturing I think. No big museum visits, no high dollar art schools, just a huge sense of curiosity to make things with my hands and then re-make them, then respond and re-make, etc. a never ending game.

How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from very one else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look?

The clay material seemed to have a peculiar voice and attitude on its own — so I think I learned after sometime that I didn’t need to control it completely…that instead, I could collaborate with it more. That was exciting to me in college — when I found this out through working, I thought, wow, every push I give it, it gives back something on its own — and usually, something better than something I came up with.

The ‘style’ I worked in for many years came from trying to imitate other materials with clay — such as metal. My ‘art museum’ was the family garage and the natural world found around me in Estes Park, CO where I was pretty darn fortunate to grow up. I think the harsh contrast between the greasy, cold garage and the magnificent flora and fauna surrounding me there in CO impacted me and continues to influence my work. I am intrigued with these juxtapositions of human made and nature made beauty — as well as questioning what beauty is…since my definition of beauty has evolved over the years as I continue to learn how to see.

What keeps you motivated?

Listening and observing the world around me — sound bits from world events — politically, socially, environmentally, etc. Thinking about what kind of society we are leaving to the next generation has now become paramount in what my work looks like…so for example, I’ve become more implicit and illustrative by using human and animal ceramic figurines in my work.

What or who inspires you?

Rafael Perez is a ceramic/sculptor artist friend of mine who works in Rioja, Spain near Bilbao — I met him at an exhibition we were both in together in Valencia, Spain about 9 years ago. His process is almost more inspiring to me that the outcome of his works — although they are breathtaking objects that hit a cord with me visually for some reason…again, I think they define beauty to me that relates to what I grew up with in the early years surrounded by mountains (which mountains are created out of sometimes violent events, leading to incredibly exciting peaks, valleys, etc.)..

Anish Kapoor is another art hero of mine. Again, not always his finished works, but his processes intrigue me most.

What are your secrets for managing your time wisely?

None — work when you can…but I tend to need real vigorous cardiovascular exercise before getting into the studio or else I feel stale and uninspired…in short, the ‘juices’ need to be flowing.

Who would you like to trade places with for one day? Why? If you could live anywhere in the world – all expenses paid – for one year, where would that be? Why?

Somewhere in northern Norway I think — where we could cross country ski day in/day out — and take everything in — including the incredible minimal light there during the winter months — isolation and seclusion in such a place is therapeutic to me — and my wife and kids would like that too…..I think! who’s paying??

You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?

Yes, my first thoughts like most were — OK, I’m going to be having a family and dependents…how am I going to do this???? I didn’t think much about it though until I began thinking about marrying someone — so you want to support them. I scrambled and realized that I could be a studio artist AND teach and earn a living at the same time. I definitely wanted to be maker first and foremost…and I am still learning how to teach — which has been exciting too — and that ‘process’ has taught me a lot about what I am making too…

What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

I’ve heard this before too — don’t pick up any art magazines or even the internet — or youtube — that practice can then begin to put blinders on you….however, i did just that in college starting out — I think it helped see the range of possibilities, but it did immediately set me in a ‘track’ — it is then important to be able to consciously get out of it and make new work…so there is a balance…I occasionally read something, but I try to look at a broad range of work — not just ceramic based…in retrospect, I think I’ve always been more interested in looking at non-ceramic objects and imagine the transition from that object into clay and then the possibilities come to mind…

Museums are a very good thing — but simply put — just be curious about the world around you and follow your instincts.


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