Life stopped one year ago this week when the Covid pandemic finally found its way into our small city. At that point, we stayed home. At first it was just business as usual except, grocery stores at 6am, home improvement stores at 6am, masks, sanitary wipes, and even gloves at times. Two overseas trips were not going to happen. That took a good bit of time to sort out and to cancel one and move the other to 2021. Now it is 2021, and although I am lucky that I have gotten the first vaccination and will have the second by the end of February, life is not getting back to normal. Art work has been a focus, as well as, baking, woodworking, and gardening. However, art exhibits are a whole other matter. There is a limit on what can be done and the two galleries that handle my work have gone full tilt to online sales. Although some openings are happening now, I do not think that will be the norm for many months. A really different time to be an artist, but artists use such things as spring boards to new ideas.
Okay, I am no spring chicken, but in my mind I am the same artist I was years ago. I came across an artist statement I had created for an exhibition at Lemieux Galleries in the 1990's. It is still relevant today.
"The issues of tolerance, freedom, equality, and love prevail in this series of works. The works are created in a narrative format with color, texture, and architectural structure adding to the focus. The unifying force of family, relationships, and home intertwine with in the images of confinement, natural forces, and women's rites both here and around the world. Events such as the Taliban rebels oppression of women in Afghanistan provoke a response. These events which try to force women to conform to a prescribed standard not of their own determination are disheartening and strike home. It is my hope that my daughters will not have to fight battles on the political front to be seen as valuable individuals, with strengths and ideas to add to society. Each work shows the strength of empowerment against the devastation of conformity and oppression."
As this year continues and America’s democratic values are under attack by this administration, I find myself having to speak out through imagery. Every day is an assault on our way of life and on science. Our environment is fragile. We need as Americans to stand up and yell at the top of our lungs that removing environmental safety regulations and defunding the EPA is wrong! That selling our education for profit is wrong! That devaluing people’s right to good healthcare is wrong! That racism is wrong! That hating some religions while expounding others as the only choice is wrong! That vilifying immigrants is wrong! That greed is wrong! That selling our government for personal profit is wrong!
On a recent post to the New Orleans Photo Alliance concerning our current article in Louisiana Life Magazine "Parallel Worlds" by John Kemp, we found ourselves at the end of an angry rant about what photography is and is not. It reminded me of the arguments concerning many forms of new art work, including when the photograph came on the scene and was used for more than portraiture. In this day and age of electronics, artists are changing the landscape and boundaries of creativity. I personally am still fairly traditional in my mind about composing a work. The difference is in the method I use to compose it. My interest in photography has lead to a melding of both the pure photographic image and my own sensibilities about what I want to create. Is this less of a photograph because I use my photography to build another parallel world? I think not.
I am throwing pots again after a 3 year break. Cleaned up the old Shimpo RK wheel, fixed the bad switch and coils on the old Crusader kiln and threw 50 pounds of Daves porcelain. Porcelain is quite different from throwing my usual red body clay. Porcelain is much softer and a bit harder to throw since it does not hold its shape easily if too much water is used when throwing. A light touch and dry throwing style works best. It also has to dry very slowly to avoid cracking and must be wiped down when leather and past leather hard to remove any slip marks from when thrown. I have thrown about 40 pieces to fire.
Creativity is a state of mind. It derives from a need to share my vision. Artists are inherently observers of their environment. I see the uncommon around me and take note of minor items that most people would pass on by. Each of these are stored in my memory and in my photographs. When composing a work, the imagery is the stepping off point that evolves into the narrative.
Every artist has their own method of motivation. For myself, it is the time alone in my studio space to just think and contemplate ideas. Viewing my photographic images in my many digital files helps me see correlations. As I work through the image it may take many turns that are unexpected. I typically work in 3 hour blocks and then just need to get away from the art to let my mind rest. The art of making is a continual series of decisions which the artist makes and then may change their mind. It is the ultimate multitasking endeavor.
For the past two days I have been throwing porcelain in a workshop with Elizabeth Cohen. For years I threw functional stoneware which I sold art festival. However as with many things, pottery took a back burner to life, since in my spare time I wanted to devote myself to my painting, printmaking, and photography.
. It had been two years since I last worked on the potters wheel and before that it was 7 years. But like riding a bicycle, it is something that comes back to you quickly. Mostly I have work in red clay bodies without grog and glazed these with majolica painted with plant imagery in mason stains. This workshop was all about throwing with porcelain. Porcelain is a very different animal from other clays. You must be gentle, throw with very little water and even plan you path to final vessel a bit more carefully because the porcelain will collapse on you as you get the walls to the thinness you want. So throwing a bowl that would generally take me five minutes at the most, took much longer. Elizabeth was a wonderful teacher, sharing great techniques for working with porcelain and her own personal methods and concepts which motivate her work. Her works are very elegant and the lines of the forms mimic nature.
It made me want to set up the wheel in a better place at home so I will use it more. I will need to fire up the kiln to fire the works I created.
As an artist, I am always viewing my world from the standpoint of awe. Inspiration comes from seeing things that no one else may value. I look at everything as if it is potential imagery for a work. When doing photography, I typically shoot the little things and then combine them to create the work.
Artists are always thinking of time. Time to create, time to ponder, time to learn new things, and time to seek out avenues to show.
For most of us, me included, life, job, children, and home all have dibs on your time. For an artist, the sacred studio is the area where they can shut out the world and refuse the interruptions of life in order to focus only on the art.
Leslie Elliottsmith is an fine artist and for the past 38 years an art educator. She has worked in many mediums and feels no limitation on which to use or explore. Her overwhelming desire is tell a story through the imagery.