In the first of two artists’ talks last Wednesday, we met sculptor and scenographer Claire Todd, whose work combines elements of sculpture, performance, film, costume, drawing and print. Following a BA in Fine Art Sculpture at Northumbria University (1994) and an MA in Scenography at St Martins, London (1995), Claire graduated in 1999 from the Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam. Artist residencies have taken her around England, Aberdeenshire, Prague, Rome and Arizona. She has also exhibited widely too, in Holland, Belgium and Germany. Claire is now studying for her PhD at Sunderland and she shared with us the challenges she is currently facing of balancing research with the “compulsion to make”. Working on film and with performers, there is a sense of the unreal, ethereal and emotional about her work. She explores a merging of the senses with scenic landscape through site specific installations, to see its effect on embodiment. She makes costumes for her carnival-like performers using vivid colour, ornament and stitches; her people, like her drawings, are full of motion and activity. The movement of life is a theme very much at the heart of her work, which she described in the talk with great fondness and affection. One project, 'Oso Bay' (2008) involved an ex-marine who hurls a series of aluminium Frisbees, cast from marsh grasses, into a mud plain in South Texas. Claire filmed their flight and subsequent fall, capturing the way they connect the earth to sky in one brief moment. In another, 'The Majorette', an acrobat stands by the banks of the River Tiber, spinning a stick lit with fire at both ends, perpetually keeping things alive and moving. I found Claire’s talk sensitive and evocative, as she helped us glimpse the magical world that she creates, a world of movement, drama and performance.
Thomas Stoller: "Altering perceptions of daily experiences"
The second speaker was Thomas Stoller, a ceramic artist originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He started using clay in 2009 as an undergraduate and was soon hooked, immediately liking the way it responds to the user’s touch. He happily set about making mugs and cups in bright colours and designs. After graduating, he went to Turkey for six months, and absorbed himself in their ceramic tile making tradition. On returning, he gained a residency at the Moravian Tile Works in Philadelphia. Before long, he was off on his travels once more, this time to Jingdezhen, China, the one-time porcelain capital of the world. He was fascinated to find that over 70,000 people in the city are still associated with the ceramics industry. One of the photographs he showed us during his talk pictured him in Jingdezhen, standing in an amazing giant ceramic vessel, larger even than himself. By 2010, he was tackling his MA in Morgantown, West Virginia. He could now acknowledge that, for him, the making part of the ceramics process was easy: what’s difficult, he admits, is getting down to the ideas. So he started a daily ‘journal’ recording daily thoughts and feelings in words and images. In time, he was able to use its content to inspire a more introspective style of expression, capturing something of his inner self in his work. Over the years, he has been influenced by artists such as American abstract expressionist Barnette Newman. Newman’s paintings, he says, changed the way he looked at the world. He asserts that “ceramics is the one language I know most about” and through development of its vocabulary, his work has evolved from utilitarian objects into more sculptural forms. Thomas is currently doing a PhD at Sunderland and looking into how ceramic artwork can alter perceptions of daily experience. His research now centres round how to extract experiential context from those forms.