Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hilde Lambrechts, Ceramic Artist, Tells Her Story

My name is Hilde Lambrechts. I am a Canadian ceramic artist since 2012. I see art as a form of communication. Naturally, my artistic expression changes with the nature of that conversation.

My life as a professional artist started in my 40s with life drawing. For a couple of years I was completely fascinated by the body language and expression of the human figure in art and I was very eager to learn how to get that on paper.

I was also struck with the confidence of the live nude models posing for me, and the fact that they had accepted and loved the bodies they had, no matter how they looked: fat or slim, young or old, short or tall, scarred or intact, abled or disabled.

Through observation and drawing from life I experienced how beautiful any physique can be and I learned to accept what I saw as shortcomings in my own physique. More importantly, I learned to accept my own vulnerability, which boosted my self-esteem to somewhat normal levels and helped me conquer depression. My drawings remain therapeutic to this day; I make them when I need to have a conversation with myself to put things in perspective.

Drawing does not come naturally to me, but when I work in clay I feel truly blessed. Clay is the medium that makes me feel alive and loose. I started working with it in my 50s and from the very first moment I touched clay it was game over for drawing.

I don’t like to make functional ceramics due to a strong dislike of time spent in the kitchen, although I do like to eat well. I do not like to think about the relationship between food and the ware it is served on. Making tiles for a fireplace is as functional as I go. I love the design aspect of it, I love playing with colours and I like to incorporate my craft into my home. And, I am thinking about making tiles like these commercially as one does have to make a living.

It seems that I really like mosaics! This piece is called The Bark Archive. The tiles are 10.5” x 10.5” and vary in thickness, so the installation is quite large. It comprises 100 different tree barks from all over the world, sculpted in clay. As a former biologist, I felt it necessary for each to be identified with their English and Latin name; I wanted to stress that these species really exist.

The concept of archiving them in stoneware arose from my concern about climate change and the possible annihilation of a lot of the featured species due to deforestation. All this wealth might no longer be available for future generations to enjoy and learn from. I feel this piece is an example of a beautiful sadness I tend to be drawn towards. 

Because I focus on larger installations as opposed to individual pieces, it takes a lot of time to complete the story I want to tell using ceramics. This photo is a small part of ‘Damaged Goods’, a work in progress, but near completion. It is based on the current global refugee crisis told through shards of pottery, made from wheel turned pots that I cut up when the clay is leather dry.  

Refugees are damaged by the experiences they had in their countries of origin. I saw a parallel between boat refugees rescued from the sea, and centuries old shipwreck ceramics brought to the surface. Damaged goods, damaged people; they are beautiful too and deserve to find a new life. 

This is a series I just started - ‘Wall of Grief’ is the working title. There might be a section for tears of joy too. I don’t know about you, but I am so alarmed by the daily news nowadays. Terrorist attacks everywhere, hunger, natural disasters, one large economy withdrawing from the Paris Accord on climate change. Where to stop?

On a brighter note, there is ‘Populace’, a project of the Ottawa Guild of Potters to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. It is a large outdoor ceramic garden at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. With 3000 roses, 3000 fleurs de lys and 3000 feathers, mounted on planted steel rods, this installation recognizes the three main populations that were in Ottawa 150 years ago, that being the English, the French and the Indigenous peoples.  

Populace is financed through grants from the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario, as well as through private sponsorships. It is made by the many hands of today’s populace, guided by three project directors, Kirstin Davidson, Kim Lulashnyk, and myself.

As the designer of the project, I have made around 1,600 pieces myself including the 150 numbered gold-rimmed special edition roses, fleurs de lys and feathers to make this remarkable day extra festive.

Every country has some dark pages in their history books, but Canadians now are proud to be striving for peace, harmony and tolerance, hence the colour white is the key to the maintenance of our cultural mosaic.

When I walk through the Populace garden, which opened on June 17, 2017, I reflect on my role as a recent Canadian and think of those who stood at the foundation of this country I live in so happily. 

This is Week 25 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Hilde’s story today. To connect with Hilde and see more of her work, please visit the following links:


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Veronica Szalus, Industrial Design, Sculptor, Tells Her Story

My path to creating installation art has been influenced by my studies in industrial design and a deep interest in creating environmental pieces that explore the both the conceptual and physical phenomenon transition. I am fascinated by the fact that everything, at all times, is in a state of evolution. From the macro to the micro, nothing is permanent, and as a result we have created a framework in our lives that revolves around consistency.


Consistency is what we hold on to, even have to hold onto, but nothing is ever the same. You wake up every morning, and everything might seem the same, but much has changed - cells in your body have been created and cells in your body have died. The sun has risen, but at a slightly different time each day and cloud cover can vary greatly from moment to moment – and so on.

Newsprint in Transition

I have always gravitated toward art and design. Starting out on a smaller scale I studied jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Technology immediately after graduating high school. My work in jewelry quickly became very sculptural and soon I felt confined by the scale of the works and started create site specific sculptures and structures including crawling insects, clothing racks and small display systems made from spare parts. Then I went back to school to study industrial design at Pratt Institute. This changed everything, whole new ideas, concepts and ways of thinking unfolded.

Permeable Intersections

While studying industrial designs. I became fascinated with materials, and in particular pushing the boundaries of materials. What if I could make a single piece of paper, 1/8” thick, 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide stand in an upright vertical position, on its own, without an armature or any visible external support. And then what would this paper look like in a day, week, month, etc. This is where my influence in industrial design began merging with concepts for experimental installations driven by a desire to try out any idea that crossed my mind. I often create mockups testing a concept and I am convinced my neighbors think I am crazy.

Tilted Soul

I am continuously seeking to develop my work through volume and scale, new forms, and observation of the intersection of natural and manufactured materials that can be new or reused. Through the use of material I embrace fragility, balance and porosity; I am mesmerized by subtle and overt shifts caused by the impact of time. For inspiration I often take long walks in wooded areas along the Potomac River and then mill around hardware stores and salvage centers such as Community Forklift. When I can I visit the ocean for clarity and perspective. Currently I am excited about increasing the use of natural materials in my work.

Twisted Wall

Observing and interacting with new concepts, forms, and space layouts by artists, designers and architects, are major drivers for me. I was transfixed by the installations at the Renwick Gallery Wonder exhibition, and in particular the works of Chakaia Booker, Tara Donovan, and Patrick Dougherty.  I am inspired by the vision, architecture and engineering of many individuals, including but not limited to Santiago Calatrava, Renzo Piano, and the recently deceased Zaha Hadid. And, I am constantly reminded that new concepts and expressions of creativity evolve every day by all types of people, right here in the Washington DC metro area, as well as everywhere throughout the world. This is very compelling to me.

Soul of a Tributary

To me an artist is an individual who seeks creative outlets to explore and express observations, influences, and ideas. It is an exciting and very enriching state of mind that embraces the freedom to experiment and take risks.

This is Week 24 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Veronica’s story today. To connect with Veronica and see more of her work, please visit her website.

At Work in the Studio

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jim Pastor, Singer/Songwriter & Musician, Tells His Story

"Art is not meant to feel good," he said. "It's a way of life."

And then I woke up. I'd been dreaming I was hanging out with a classmate from high school. He was one of those prodigies, the one in a thousand, the kid with freakish vision and command of technique belying his age. I hadn't thought about him in 25 years, yet there he was in my dream doling out advice. And sagely advice at that: pointing out that art is a way, a path, a discipline, a manner in which to engage life and view the world.

In the years since that dream, I've wrestled somewhat with the bit about art not being meant to feel good. Here's this memory of someone I'd known who had achieved a level of mastery. If characters in our dreams can be regarded as aspects of our own consciousness revealing themselves, it would seem that I thought there might be an element of suffering involved with acquiring great skill. But upon final analysis, I understand the message to mean something akin to delayed gratification. That is, to forego the pleasurable to gain the beneficial.

The more exponents I meet and dialogue with, the more it becomes clear that the core to mastery in the arts, much less any endevour, is to make it a part of a regular day-to-day routine. Something that I just do, no big deal, with no ostentation, as natural and essential as eating and sleeping. As Aristotle said "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit."

Speaking of quotes, here's the one that first opened my eyes to the whole daily discipline thing: "If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it." -- Ignacy Paderewski, Pianist

"Humor is your winning formula."

So said an encouraging friend after listening to my album Welcome to Purgatory.

From the get go, I have not shied from including humor in my work. I was regularly recording improvised comedy skits as a kid, and the first song I put together, at age eleven, was as much a parody as it was a song. 40 years later I'm often playing in the same sandbox.

When I look back on the influences that have shaped my sensibilities, I include titans in comedy at the top of the list: Monty Python, the Goodies, Steve Martin, as well as the many artists with veins of humor -- or it's more subdued cousin, playfulness -- in their work. Visual artists like Marcel Duchamp, Renee Magritte, Paul Klee, Salvador Dali; writer and raconteur Garrison Keillor; composers like Carl Stalling (Looney Tunes) and Michael Torke; musicians like Beck Hanson, Tom Waits, Dean Wareham, and Frank Zappa.

Regarding the influence of Steve Martin: one rainy day during the summer I turned 16, I walked to a bookstore and found his book of shorts, Cruel Shoes. This collection of half page vignettes had a mock enigmatic quality to them, at once celebrating and chiding artistic high mindedness. I immediately began to write -- having never considered doing so previously -- looking to get a piece of the tone he'd laid out. Immediately I was drawn into the meditative space that the act of writing can generate. That you could write with a broad stroke and not be limited to linear storytelling! I recall the excitement of this very liberating discovery.

Humor is not only the ends but often the means, a cornerstone of the artistic process for me. I'll be working through a piece and will get jammed up on a choice of word, groove, chord or style. The piece will be in the neighborhood of "there" but not quite "there" -- usually during that part of the editing process when the initial kernel of inspiration and improvisation is long past. And I'll start throwing stuff at the wall, trying to get out of editor mind and back into inspired mind. Backing off mentation usually yields a good result, given time. Walking away to do an unrelated activity like a simple chore or taking a shower is great for this. Somehow a space is created for inspired mind to reboot. Then a sound byte, usually playful or humorous in nature, will pop up in non-sequitur fashion and I'll laugh. A eureka moment. So these days my benchmark for the right edit is: "does it make me laugh?" -- sometimes simply the kind of laugh that comes when a couple of things come together in an unexpected way.

"You're one of us now," said Stevie.

I really didn't start thinking of myself as a musician until my thirties, having focused more on visual art and poetry in the years previous, and it wasn't until my early forties that I pushed through enough barriers to be able to craft solid, finished songs. There was no end to my catalog of minute-long improvised riffs. I could hear the song in them struggling to emerge, yet …

And bringing together score and verse -- a whole separate matter -- took years to resolve. As the protagonist in my song A Killing Joke pines:

I'm just trying to find the pieces of the puzzle
Trying to scream my language through a muzzle

And I got no coffee in my coffee pot again

But caffeine deprivation aside, I kept at it. And in 2006, without much effort, came the song Naysayer, which at the time seemed like such an aberration in the ease with which it came to fruition. Fueled by that success, I kept plugging away, and within a few years I had enough command of the process to be able to bring a song together at will. Around that time I had a series of dreams where I visited with a few of the heavyweights in the music industry.

In one dream I'm hanging out with Billy Joel in his all white, double height living room while he noodles around on the piano.

In another dream, I'm eating lunch in a cafeteria when Mick Jagger walks up to my table and asks "What about the band?" and then proceeds to sit and talk with me like we're old friends. By the end of the conversation I've bought into that, and we're sharing jokes and stories. Then I say to him, "You know, I think most people think of you as more of a performer than anything else. But I can see you are really passionate about the music as well." He seems moved and thanks me for recognizing that about him. Later in the day, while telling my wife about the dream, it occurred to me: "He was a lot shorter than I expected."

Finally, there was this dream with Stevie Wonder. To give some backstory to its significance, I spent most of my life singing like I was sitting in a wooden pew in church. To be more specific, singing like my father did in church, which was sort of an obligatory mumble, because somewhere along the line, Italian-American men decided that singing was not a manly endeavour. How that became a thing is beyond me, because one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard in my life was a Sicilian man singing opera while riding a Vespa. It was during a visit to the ruin of a 4th century BC fort in Syracuse, Sicily. I was listening to my history professor describe a fierce battle that had taken place there and meanwhile caught wind of this dude navigating the windy road through the valley below. He had the bike and his voice at full throttle, bringing alive the surrounding travertine like it was some ancient Greek hillside theatre.

Anyway, it was through my wife, Patty, that I came to appreciate Stevie Wonder -- our wedding dance was to his Ribbon in the Sky -- and R&B at large. And at some point I opened up the vocal throttle and traded in my mumble for an R&B rumble. I remember the visceral experience of connecting my voice to emotion. It was like that movie Pleasantville when the characters go from living in a world of black and white to living in one of color.

But back to the dream with Stevie: I'm visiting my parent's house on some holiday like Easter. The doorbell rings and in walks Stevie, with his signature shades, but able to navigate around on his own as if his blindness is of no hindrance. He walks over and greets me like I'm a long lost friend, then gives me a bear hug and declares: "You're one of us now."

You're one of us now. I don't think it gets any cooler than that. All in all these dreams left me with a sense of having been initiated into an inner circle of sorts. Bottom line, they were an expression of a sense of accomplishment at having worked through barriers and having acquired new skills.

Thank you for reading. As per Garrison Keillor, in his series the Writer's Almanac: "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."

This is Week 23 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Jim’s story today. To connect with him and listen to his music, please visit the following links:

Photo credits: Angelica Pastor, Steve Walsh, Joe Gioglio, Paul Middleton