Artist Q&A: Denise Irwin

Ungrounded 1-Amphora - 3 Irwin.jpg

How did you find out about this exhibition?
I personally discovered the show when we moved to Wichita in 2008, but of course the juried show had been a part of the art scene for a long time before that.

How did you decide which pieces of work to submit? 
I chose my most recent, fresh out of the kiln pieces.  I always like the most recent works as each newly completed piece shows what I have learned from past works.

Why did you want to participate in this exhibition?
I feel that this juried exhibition is an important segment of the Kansas art calendar.

What inspired these pieces of work?
Travels to Roman ruins in southern France as well as indigenous cultures of the American Southwest have informed my recent work.  Vessels have depicted the feminine throughout history and I have been exploring their depiction in art and culture.

What message/ meaning do you hope to convey?
Whether seen as the human body or a man-made artifact, vessels accept, hold and preserve. As a classic symbol of the feminine, the vessel has been revered across cultures and time. Showing in the rituals and traditions of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and ancient cultures, the vessel symbolizes nurturing and potential.

When speaking about a clay vessel we talk about it as if it were a person. We use terms such as its foot, neck, belly, lip, shoulder and body.  My vessels take this anthropomorphism and accentuate the feminine form without overtly depicting it. I work to emphasize this beauty in the volume and movement of my forms.

But vessels also constrain and limit. Constrained by the family and the culture in which we live, our ability to see the possibilities in front of us is limited. We are shaped and misshapen by the expectations of those near us, our cultural beliefs, and our personal fears and aspirations.  With this in mind, my vessels reflect this constraint in their limited utilitarian functionality to hold liquids or solids.

Would you describe your process?
I live with line, shape, form, pattern, rhythm, and color.  These elements are how I experience a room, the outdoors, and people I know and meet.  While in my studio, I will often go hours without a word thought in my head, just colors and shapes. I do rough sketches of the line that will speak to the form and its movement. Though these sketches seldom look like the finished form they provide a direction to precede. I love the problem solving process of transforming what is inside my head into the clay forms. Which is why I find no challenge in making the same forms again and again, and also why it often takes me several attempts before I am successful.

What would you say you struggle with the most as an artist? ..or.. What is your biggest struggle as an artist?
Art comes from struggle. We all struggle, some more openly than others. My greatest struggle is to be open without giving myself up.  Born on the plains of Kansas and into a ‘shut up and soldier on’ family, I have been too cautious.  I have been too concerned with and bound by the expectations of others to my own detriment. I work on this and explore this every day in my studio.

Clay is a good medium for me because it has multiple ways it can and will fail.  These many ways require me to relinquish control.  And I hate glazing.  It is one of processes that I have the least control over.

Was there a goal in mind when thinking about these pieces of work? Was it changed during the process?
I have many goals that go into the creative making process.  I want to expand my abilities to know and manipulate the clay. To explore what makes a form beautiful, graceful, and feminine. To investigate why we are compelled to touch and hold a vessel.  To show within these forms a freedom and constraint at the same time. Every finished work leads to the next unfinished one. What I learned from making a piece informs and changes how I approach the next one.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
Tomorrow isn’t promised.

I live with line, shape, form, pattern, rhythm, and color.
— Denise Irwin