1. There’s nothing ho-hum about Oregon-based ceramicist Sara Swink’s work. She creates human and animal figures that tease our thinking and beg interpretation. She takes something familiar and gives it a dreamlike, bizarre, or even humorous twist. Her distinctive pieces definitely compel us to take a second or third look.
Her love of clay began when she was eight, with the encouragement of a neighbor who was a potter. She learned to throw on a potter’s wheel, hand build and mix glazes in high school, even buying her own wheel with money earned cleaning houses.
Some twenty years later, she began taking ceramics classes, then studied art history, printmaking, drawing, and foundry work at several universities while teaching. Studying with Coeleen Kiebert (whose approach is to fuse artmaking with the psychology of the individual) was pivotal in shaping Sara’s work. Sara’s pieces can be seen as expressions of her inner psyche; there is a personal narrative that runs through all her art.
Sara opened Clay Circle Studio when she moved to the Portland area in 2006 and continues to offer workshops. Find out more about her classes at her official website, where you can also view a wonderful archive of available and past pieces.
Thought we’d brighten your week with some of Vanessa Bowman’s lovely still life and landscape paintings.
Vanessa lives and works in Dorset, England, and graduated from the Winchester School of Art with a First Class Honours Degree in Printed Textile Design. She comes from an artistic family — both her father and sister are also painters.
She works entirely in oils, thinning her paints to achieve the fluidity of watercolors. She loves celebrating the beauty of everyday objects. As a keen gardener and ceramics collector, it follows that her own flowers and found treasures often appear in her still life paintings.
I grow flowers which aren’t usually found in shops – dark, almost black flowers in Tulips and Centaureas, a beautifully marked hellebore in an unusual shade of green and dark Nasturtiums, jewel like Dahlias, fiery Crocosmia, Cosmos with their frond-like leaves and many more.
She begins her days by taking a walk with her dog, gathering her thoughts as she immerses herself in her beautiful surroundings, noting seasonal changes and checking her garden to see what’s in bloom on the way to her studio. Gentle hills, hedgerows, and regional flora and fauna appear in her landscape paintings — charming depictions of idyllic country life.
Typical of her landscapes is a detailed foreground of seasonal blossoms or berries that invite the reader into an intimate portrait of the Dorset landscape.
Her still life paintings center around the colors and shapes of her chosen flowers:
I am drawn to flowers as my main subject matter as I am captivated by the variety of colour and detail they offer. I am fascinated by the elements of colour and shape each flower offers, from the simplicity of a snowdrop to the complexity of, say, a dahlia, with its jewel-like colour and complex petal formation.
It’s always a good day when I stumble upon a new-to-me artist to love. More often than not, the artist in question turns out to be from the UK.
Anna Pugh was born in 1938 and hails from Kent, “the Garden of England.” An esteemed British folk artist, her work shows her deep affinity with plants and animals, both a central part of her life growing up as the daughter of a veterinarian and a devoted gardener.
I love the stories she tells in her paintings, whether a scene of the countryside or coast. Her finely detailed and beautifully textured depictions of flora and fauna and the changing seasons are infused with an element of whimsy and the surreal. Alongside a dog or chicken one might find the occasional unicorn. Who would not be charmed with titles like “Hang Gliding in Heels” or “Bugs Do Pilates”?
“Blue is therefore most suitable as the color of interior life.” ~ William H. Gass
THE LAND OF BLUE by Laura Mucha
Across the valley, it waits for you,
a place they call The Land of Blue.
It’s far and near, it’s strange yet known –
and in this land, you’ll feel alone,
you might feel tears roll down your cheek,
you might feel wobbly, weary, weak.
I know this won’t sound fun to you –
it’s not – this is The Land of Blue.
It’s blue – not gold or tangerine,
it’s dark – not light, not bright or clean.
It’s blue – and when you leave, you’ll see
the crackly branches of the tree,
the golden skies, the purring cat,
the piercing eyes, the feathered hat
and all the other things that come
when you escape from feeling glum.
Across the valley, it waits for you,
a place they call The Land of Blue
and going there will help you know
how others feel when they feel low.
As the poet explains at her website, this poem was written for a poetry workshop in response to a painting she saw at the National Gallery in London. The painting featured two mountains with a “land of blue” in the distance. She thought perhaps people went there when they were sad.
Though initially written as a children’s poem, Mucha’s observations about sorrow — that experiencing it ultimately helps us develop compassion and empathy — certainly applies to adults as well. I was also reminded of how Mr Rogers stressed the importance of honoring children’s emotions and encouraging them to speak freely about what they were experiencing.
I do love how art begets more art (which is why I’ve always enjoyed ekphrastic poetry). In Mucha’s case, her emotional reaction to the painting inspired her to explore often untalked-about-feelings within the safe space of a poem.
Every day I look at a lot of art, listen to music, and read inspiring words, both poetry and prose. How effectively a piece is able to instantly make me feel something is a good gauge of its worth.
I agree with William Gass that blue is most suitable as the color of interior life. Picasso comes to mind, with his famous Blue Period.He was going through a profound depression after the suicide of his friend, but just as Mucha suggests about the nature of despondency, he was eventually able to move past his dark mood in a few years.
Although blueis quiteoften associated with coldness and melancholy, we see through the works of other artists that the “land of blue” may also be one of peace, serenity, calmness, reflection, and deep, abiding beauty.