How Landscape Influences Art

Late last winter I went to hear potter Tom Coleman speak about his work. He talked about how the landscape he lives in affects the artwork he makes. His ideas really struck a chord with me. He spoke about his move from the coast of Oregon to Las Vegas, and how when he arrived in Vegas the work he created was still very much influenced by the landscape of Oregon.  His new work did not resonate with the people of the desert, who were now his audience. However, eventually his style evolved as he became more influenced by his new surroundings.

Thinking about this I realized how most of the work I do is still heavily influenced by the years I spent in upstate New York, in the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley. The vibrant Spring is when the whole world seems to be in bloom.  Conversely, the cold harsh winter seemed to be when everything was quiet and sleeping. It was there in that landscape that I honed my craft. It makes sense that it would heavily influence my aesthetic. I think the best example of this is my “Tree of Life” dinnerware.

Tree of Life Dinner Set

I remember painting the first version of that tree on some trays.  It was a cool fall day, sitting on the bank of the Hudson as leaves fell from the trees all around me. In retrospect, I can see how landscape has unconsciously influenced my work and the subject matters that I choose.

Recalling my move from Troy, NY to NW Florida in the Fall of 2008, I remember many people suggesting I should make work with fish, sea turtles or other marine life. I remember thinking, “Why would I do that? It’s not what I do.” But, it’s hard to ignore those voices sometimes. So, I attempted a few pieces influenced by the sea and, needles to say, they were not a great success. I just was not there yet. My heart was still in New York and the salt of the sea had not yet permeated my soul.

Last winter two things happened that brought me to this new subject matter. I heard Tom Coleman’s lecture and I was challenged by Sol Davis to make jellyfish sculptures for a show we were working on together.  That show became “Me & My Jellyfish.”  At first I was very unsure about making jellyfish. I did not really know where to start. Jellyfish are so malleable, fluid, and full of motion. Clay on the other hand is rigid. Creating these jellyfish sculptures with movement and flow was a great challenge.  The first few were just awful, but I kept at it anyways. Then I got into the swing of it and really started enjoying it. As the collection grew I started creating jellyfish-ladies that were something out of a fairy tale. This resonated with me, this was my voice coming through  new subject matter.

From the jellyfish-ladies to the mermaids was a natural progression. I was captivated by the mystical, make-believe creatures of the sea. The more I worked with the forms the more I started seeing my work in the world around me. Days spent at the beach became quiet meditations on the collection. The more I played with the ideas the more they resonated with where I am in my life both mentally and physically. So often I feel lost at sea, disconnected from “reality”.  With a subject like mermaids and sea creatures I can connect to a playful make believe world in my mind. Mermaids symbolize many things.  They are free spirits and tricksters, they will play with your heart and maybe even steal it. This is why I have fallen in love with these ideas.

Stay tuned for more mermaid inspiration and  a tutorial on how I make the Mermaid Sculptures!





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