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Todd Shanafelt – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview

Thursday, February 9th, 2012



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.

 

Shalene Valenzuela Plinth Gallery Artist Interview

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

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Shalene Valenzuela’s website: www.shalene.com

Plinth Gallery: www.plinthgallery.com

“Shalene Valenzuela’s ceramic work consists of quirky pieces that reflect a variety of issues with a thoughtful, yet humorous and ironic tone. Her inspiration is found in everyday common objects she reproduces through slipcasting, then illustrates  with a variety of handpainted and screenprinted imagery. Her narratives explore topics ranging from fairytales, urban mythologies, consumer culture, societal expectations, etiquette, and coming-of-age issues. Many of her images are pulled from somewhat “dated” sources that, for her, represent an idealized time in society and advertising. Such gems include instructional guides, cookbooks, old advertisements, and old family photos. Beneath the shiny veneer of these relics hides a complex and sometimes contradicting truth that things may not always be what they appear upon first glance.” – from Plinth Gallery – Jonathan Kaplan

Plinth Gallery will host a WORKSHOP with Shalene on Saturday, February 5,  from 9am-5pm. Cost is $85 per person which will include lunch.  Contact Plinth Gallery by email or call 303-295-0717 for more information.

Exhibition opens First Friday, February 4, 2011, 6-9pm. Reception with the Artist.

Plinth Gallery
3520 Brighton Blvd
Denver CO 80216

Tell us little about yourself!

I was born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA. I attended school at UC Berkeley as an undergrad, and continued in graduate school at California College of Arts & Crafts. I remained in the Bay Area for several years, working, teaching and running a small independent art space.

I did a two-week residency at Watershed in 2004 and then a summer residency at the Bray in 2006, and grew increasingly interested in taking a chance and trying a longer residency stint. In 2007, I left Oakland to begin a two year residency at The Clay Studio of Missoula, where I got my first real taste of living in “real winter” (sorry to say, I still prefer those glorious summer days over snow!). I spent the last academic year as visiting faculty at Oregon College of Art and Craft, and returned to Missoula this past summer. I currently have a studio at the Brunswick Building in downtown Missoula, I sometimes teach classes in the School of Art at the University of Montana, and I am serving as Interim Director at the Clay Studio of Missoula through March 2011. I tend to keep pretty busy.

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How did you become an artist?

I dabbled in art at a young age, and it was present throughout my childhood. My mother took art classes at the local community college when I was very young, so I was around her making things, and it stuck with me from there. I continued art classes through primary and secondary education, and eventually decided to major in art at UC Berkeley. I took my first college level ceramics class with Richard Shaw, and from there, I was hooked. I even ditched the Math major part of my undergrad degree. I finished grad school at the age of 24 and have been working in clay since.

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

I often hear my work described in the genre of “maniacal 50’s housewife”, or something to that affect. I think that mainly stems from the visuals that I gain inspiration from in many of my works. My work deals with humor, narrative, and an imagined nostalgia, plus a bit of what I like to call “trompe l’oeil with a twist.”

I have always found that introducing a sense of humor and playfulness is what makes my pieces feel most successful to me. I started to hone in on the imagery in graduate school, and have spent time since then refining my style and setting up technical challenges for myself. I’d say that my general stylistic approach made its path over ten years ago, but I have developed the surfaces and refined my techniques over time with age and experience (Boy, that makes me sound old!!!).

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What is your inspiration for your pieces?

My inspiration? Quite possibly, the irony of everything around us. However, though I see myself as somewhat of a cynic, I tend to be playful in my approach. My narratives explore topics ranging from fairytales, urban mythologies, consumer culture, societal expectations, etiquette, and coming-of-age issues. Stylistically, much of my imagery is pulled from somewhat “dated” sources that I find represent an idealized time in society and advertising. Such gems include instructional guides, cookbooks, old advertisements, and old family photos. Beneath the shiny veneer of these relics hides a complex and sometimes contradicting truth of what things seem to appear as upon first glance.

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What keeps you motivated?

I tend to keep busy. I get really fussy when I don’t get enough time in the studio. I have developed a dedication to my craft over the years, and still enjoy the fact that I really obsess over details. Plus ceramics, and even art in general, is always a learning process, and I enjoy that aspect.

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Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?

A full-time artist? Hah! I wish I had that luxury. In this market at the perpetually “emerging” level, a venture like that is a little risky. I do actually enjoy teaching, and that will always be a part of my life, whether it’s eventually something that is more permanent (which nowadays seems akin to winning the lottery) or even just my adjunct classes and workshops.

My creative process, like many, seems to operate like the tides- there are highs and lows. There are certain objects that resonate with me and I find some way to transform them into my dialogue. Other times, a pun may suddenly occur to me, and out of that, a more complex narrative will form. Plus I am a big admirer of objects and am intrigued in how they work themselves into our everyday lives. Something so seemingly mundane can be so integral to one’s identity. That is rather fascinating to me.

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What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it? 

As I had mentioned, creating had always been part of my life from an early age. And again, I am transfixed by the learning process as well, which is an ongoing process in creating. As an instructor, one of the greatest things to accept is that you never stop learning.

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What or who inspires you?

There is not one specific answer to this for me. “What” inspires me can be related to many of the answers I have given in regards to what inspires my pieces in general.

As far as the “who” part of the equation is concerned: Though there is that aspect of ironic humor in my work, I find a general inspiration in people who are earnestly invested in dedicated to their pursuits in creating. In working in residencies, collaborating on exhibits, and exchanging ideas with other artists, there is an energy that positively feeds us all.

I studied with Richard Shaw at Berkeley and Arthur Gonzalez at CCAC, and they are both equally dedicated educators as they are talented and productive artists. They have both been very supportive of me over the many years, and I strive to live by their example and hope to someday be that person who is there and supportive thorough someone’s ongoing artistic development.

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How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

That is an important question that we all must have different answers to! I am fortunate to have a partner who keeps me in check. My husband is not an artist, but does have work, classes and his different interests that keep him busy. It is nice to have someone so pertinent in your life that can pull you back into those other parts of reality that do not have anything to do with the studio. Last year when I was visiting faculty at Oregon College of Art & Craft, we were apart from each other and it was very easy to just go to campus, teach, and disappear into the studio until late at night with little contact with life outside the ceramics world. Sometimes it helps that someone else is there who will pleasantly distract you, but be supportive when you are in a deadline crunch.

I know it may sound cliché, but I make of point of riding my bike everywhere, going to yoga classes, and preparing meals from scratch. These things sort of keep me sane and prevent me from being run down, and I get antsy if they are present in my schedule. Truthfully, I’m likely more healthy now in my 30s than I was as a young undergrad or grad student.

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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?

Keep your receipts! I am a natural pack rat, and have been blessed with some analytical sensibilities, so numbers and taxes make sense to me. Another important factoid: Websites are so essential to have nowadays. It really helps to have web presence, and not having a website seems to now be a disadvantage. People do so much research on the internet, that having a website has become a requirement of sorts. I have gotten exhibition opportunities simply because someone has “run across the website” in a search for new work.

Be gracious to all venues that show your work: opportunities big and small, local and national, from scrappy independent spaces to established museums. They are all important!

My biggest problem that is one that many of us have: I am horrible at personally promoting myself when it comes to approaching people for opportunities. I can be a somewhat self-deprecating person at times, and I would say the toughest part for 95% of artists is promoting oneself. Promoting someone else’s work… sure! If I think they are great, I have no problem! But at a party, I am generally considered a corner-dweller. It is not natural for me to approach someone and sell myself. I guess my advice to myself AND others is to do your best to get over the self-doubt.

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

It is important to listen to feedback, but do not completely reinvent yourself to just please others. I see many students struggle with this, primarily in graduate programs. Grad school is a great time to experiment and push oneself in new directions, but it is also a very vulnerable time. There is this feeling you have to “change things up”, then you find people who start school with beautiful work putting on an MFA thesis show a few years later with pedestals just filled with random piles of vacuum lint. Seriously.

I did a bit of investigating and floundering in my first semester of my graduate program, then decided to ditch all that work and go back to my aesthetic with an improved perspective. It really helped to have the reassurance of Viola Frey, who simply stated- “you needed to do that work, now I am glad you are over it.” How right she was.

 

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Melody Ellis – Artist Interview

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Today’s interview is with Melody Ellis. I have loved her work for years. I can’t remember where I became acquainted with amazing sculptures, but her work has always been one of my favorites. All of her work is made from earthenware clay, steel and range from 7 – 9 inches in their largest dimension. Most of her work has moving parts as well.

Check out Melody’s website:  http://www.melodyellisceramics.com/

m.ellis jumping%20dog%20sideTell us a little about yourself!
I’m approaching 40 and have a small child who gets most of my time and attention. I’m fortunate to be married to another clay artist (Matt Wilt) who is my instant community when I need some technical help or input. At present, we have to carefully schedule our time so that we can both get studio, social, and family time. I relax by gardening and
playing with our daughter and our dogs, or getting together with friends.

m.ellis Rocking%20Monkey m.ellis Rocking%20Monkey%20detailHow did you become an artist?
My parents and maternal grandfather were very handy people when I was growing up– always making or fixing things.  Whether it was painting or carving or cooking or gardening, I got the message that making things by hand was a useful and engrossing occupation. I also come from a family of avid object-collectors, so I got to live in a house full of interesting and mysterious artifacts that I still find inspiring.

m.ellis Mr%20Punch How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with
your own style and signature look?
I guess I would describe my style as exuberant, dark, humorous, controlled, detailed… It’s a difficult thing to say when one develops a “style”, as it’s a process of evolution that is never complete. The more you work, the more it develops all on its own– it’s just a natural process.

punch What is your inspiration for your pieces?
I love to look at other artwork, whether historical majolica, handmade quilts, mosaic, or contemporary painting. I tend to gravitate toward figurative and narrative work, which is my own subject matter as well. But I do also take inspiration from toys, antiques, book illustrations… I think you just have to keep your eyes open and take it where you find it. It can come from anywhere. Just being in the world, gardening, interacting with people and animals, taking a walk with my daughter,  it all finds its way into my work.

m. ellis Judy%201m.ellis Judy%202What keeps you motivated?
Sometimes it’s the desire to see what happens next or to try something new or to just finish a piece I’m excited about.  Sometimes it’s a deadline, and that’s valid too– that really works for me when I’m not feeling particularly interested in working. A good audiobook and the prospect of some quiet concentration time can also be very alluring.

m.ellis Busts Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?
I can’t say I’m full-time. I don’t have an outside job, but being the mother of a small child who is not yet in school is very time-consuming and really restricts my studio time. As for new pieces… a lot of that, for me, has always been dependent on having the time to daydream and ponder and sit quietly with my sketchbook, or get out to shows for new inspiration.  Those things are in short supply these days, but I can usually get excited about an idea just by looking through my sketchbook at things I haven’t gotten to yet. I start with a drawing of a finished piece I’d like to create, and my next step is to figure out how I’m going to construct it. Since my sculptures have jointed parts and hang on the wall, there is a lot of planning ahead required to make a successful piece. That’s a fun challenge for me. I always have a well of unrealized ideas to choose from because I don’t get into my studio enough to make all the work I’d like to– but this keeps me energized and excited about making new work.

M.Ellis Pugilist%201m.ellis Pugilist%202What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?
I have always enjoyed making things by hand, since I can remember. Nothing else I’ve tried, or other jobs I’ve had, has really changed that or taken me from it.

m.ellisLive%20Mermaid%20mosaicWhat or who inspires you?
My family, other work I see, colors, textures, pieces I’ve made that have been successful or unsuccessful, discovering a new material or process, the excitement of a show coming up, approaching a new concept and hoping it will work, spending time with friends who are artists and who experience the same struggles and successes, getting out of the
studio and into the world.

m.ellisKrampus%203 m.ellis Krampus%202M. Ellis Krampus%20dHow do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?
I don’t have much choice right now– my schedule is pretty structured at the moment. Having less free time has really made me appreciate the quiet studio time that I do get to myself. I’m a bit of a daydreamer and slowpoke, and I’ve learned since becoming a mother that I can work even when I’m not in the mood, and I can work a lot faster and more efficiently than I thought. I now work in chunks of time as I get them, and I can shift gears a lot more quickly than I used to. The rest takes care of itself– I play with my daughter, have family outings, see friends, garden and spend time outside– almost anything I want to do, I can do with a 3-year-old, except working in the studio.

monkey-1-hi-resYou, 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?
I have always made it a point not to mix business and art more than is necessary. I know this would be completely impractical for many, but since I am not a full-time artist making a living from my work (and have never aspired to be), I have enjoyed being able to work slowly and do whatever I like in the studio. In the past, I have had full- or part-time jobs to support myself, and kept a home studio where I worked as much as possible. Now my husband supports the family with a university teaching job, I take care of our daughter, and Matt and I both eke out studio time where we can.  Having said that, of course the time comes when one must decide if, when and how to show one’s work– and then price it. My disinterest in business and production ruled out craft fairs and shows. I have mainly tried to find a few fine craft galleries that can show my work in exhibits on a regular basis, and then taken part in group shows when I can. I do keep track of expenses and income, but that’s more for my own amusement than for any other purpose. I declare my art income, and there is a reckoning on tax day some years, but it’s all pretty small potatoes.

m.ellis figureheadWhat advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?
Look at a lot of stuff that excites you, work as much as you can, try new things, talk to and watch people– especially those who are good at what they do, and are generous with their knowledge. Take every opportunity that comes your way, as much as possible. It will all lead you somewhere, even if that path isn’t evident at the moment.

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Melody, thank you for contributing to your interview to my blog, I’m sorry it took me so long to post.  It was a real pleasure reading about you and your thoughts!!