Q & A with Megan Vossler – Terra Firma

What lessons did you take from Dante’s Inferno, and how do those themes play throughout your artwork in this show?

I read Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Inferno (Graywolf Press: 2013), and I was struck by how she brought the narrative into the present day. Her translation is full of references to current events and popular culture. This really brought the story to life and emphasized the timelessness of the human behaviors that Dante classified as “sins” — even the specific characters in his story (especially certain politicians and the like) have their counterparts in today’s world. But what interested me even more than the characters and their transgressions were the landscapes that Dante invented for each of the nine circles of Hell. Each circle has its own distinct terrain, climate, and weather that is perfectly tailored to the punishments that occur there. For example, the second circle is characterized by a ferocious wind that tosses about the bodies of those who are punished for sins related to “Lust”: the way that their bodies were out of control in real life is re-created eternally in the afterlife.

So each circle is a different microcosm and a different landscape. In the narrative, the circles are loosely connected by a network of rivers, swamps and waterfalls. In the large drawing, titled Geothermia, I tried to stay faithful to these different landscapes, while avoiding directly illustrating very many literal scenes from the text. I think, in the end, that piece becomes less about divine punishment and more about the earth itself — the earth is buckling under the weight of human transgression. It’s almost as if the earth is being punished.

Water is a strong theme within your show; could you tell us more about what it means to you and its influence in this work?

Water functions as a connective element between the circles of Hell in Inferno, but it is also treacherous: at the fifth circle, for example, Dante and Virgil are ferried safely across the river Acheron, but it is filled with the souls of the sullen, who are choking on mud. Bodies of water in both the narrative and in real life have a dual nature as both conduits of passage and a source of danger, and this informs all of the work in the show.

Could you tell us more about the life jackets? What is the symbolism behind them and the paper, bronze, or moss that they are made of?

The life jacket is a small object with very large connotations and symbolism. Their inclusion in this show came initially from the conflation of water and danger in Dante’s narrative. But the forms of life vests and rescue boats take on a more immediate urgency with the refugee crisis in Syria, which has left more than 10 million people displaced. Almost half of those have fled across the Mediterranean in often deadly conditions. The lack of safe passage across the sea is only the beginning of their dangerous journey.

The cast paper and the bronze are each extreme examples of materials that cause the life vest to lose its ability to function. The arrangement of the paper life vests on the floor is meant to have a certain immediacy, as though they just washed ashore — and the translucent paper makes them almost ghostlike. The moss life vest is titled “Ruin,” evoking a sense that it has been abandoned and eventually overgrown.

What are some of your biggest challenges to overcome during the creation process?

In general, I would say my biggest challenges usually center around the question of what to include and what to leave out. In Geothermia, I had to continue to remind myself that I was not illustrating the book. There are so many vividly detailed scenes in Inferno that would be so great to draw, but I had a goal to make a piece that would stand on its own, so I had to scale back on the direct references. I also found the composition pretty challenging, to figure out a way to link the different scenes together without resorting to a simple cone shape with concentric circles in it. Then, there are always technical challenges — in this case, this is the first time that I’ve made works in bronze and cast paper, so there was a steep learning curve there.

What words of wisdom would you pass along to aspiring artists?

Just to start. Beginning is the hardest part. If you have an idea that nags at you, no matter how ridiculous it might seem, you should try it. I talk a lot about the importance of failure with students, and it’s just a fact that not everything you attempt will succeed — and that can feel very intimidating at first. And failure is incredibly uncomfortable at times. It sucks. But if you get good at starting things, you’ll always have another project to jump into. It’s easy to finish something that’s going well — it’s a lot harder to start something new that is a risk. So I think cultivating the ability to start is almost more important than cultivating the ability to finish.

 

Questions by Gallery Assistant Katie Smith

 

Megan Vossler – Artist Statement & Bio

 

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Artist statement

Dante’s epic poem Inferno is an allegorical account of the weight of human transgression, and its complex metaphorical richness has enduring resonance. Nine “circles” of hell are described, each corresponding with sins of escalating consequence. In Dante’s story, the circles occupy distinct physical terrain, and the landscape itself is presented as vividly as the human and mythical characters are. Physical forces—the effects of rain, wind, and sleet, the perilous nature of mud and ice, and the pull of gravity—all become part of the narrative. Water, especially, functions as both a connective element and a source of mortal danger, exemplified by the treacherous swamps, marshes and depths of the river Styx. My work in Terra Firma explores these metaphors and dissonances through a contemporary lens.

 

Bio
Megan Vossler received her BA from Brown University and her MFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Her work has been exhibited nationwide, including shows at the Minneapolis Institue of Art and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Megan has been a recipient of several prestigious awards, including a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, a McKnight Artists Fellowship for Visual Artists, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study grant, and two Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grants. She currently serves on the curatorial panel at Soo Visual Arts Center, and teaches drawing at Macalester College.

TERRA FIRMA by Megan Vossler

Vossler Postcard Image

TErra Firma
Megan Vossler

August 29 – October 27, 2016
Reception: September 16, 6-8 p.m.

In this exhibition of new drawings and sculpture, Vossler reflects on the narrative of Dante’s Inferno, specifically exploring how the metaphor of water functions as both a connective element and a source of danger.

Gage Family Art Gallery

 

Artist statement: Dante’s epic poem Inferno is an allegorical account of the weight of human transgression, and its complex metaphorical richness has enduring resonance. Nine “circles” of hell are described, each corresponding with sins of escalating consequence. In Dante’s story, the circles occupy distinct physical terrain, and the landscape itself is presented as vividly as the human and mythical characters are. Physical forces—the effects of rain, wind, and sleet, the perilous nature of mud and ice, and the pull of gravity—all become part of the narrative. Water, especially, functions as both a connective element and a source of mortal danger, exemplified by the treacherous swamps, marshes and depths of the river Styx. My work in Terra Firma explores these metaphors and dissonances through a contemporary lens.

Bio: Megan Vossler received her BA from Brown University and her MFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Her work has been exhibited nationwide, including shows at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Megan has been a recipient of several prestigious awards, including a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, a McKnight Artists Fellowship for Visual Artists, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study grant, and two Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grants. She currently serves on the curatorial panel at Soo Visual Arts Center, and teaches drawing at Macalester College.

Q & A with Kimberlee Roth – What We Have to Lose

Could you briefly explain your process for us?

The end goal is to have work with curvilinear edges and interiors having singular, or multiple, distinct concave sections. The outside edge of the work is drawn onto paper and then transferred to either Styrofoam or clay. The interior and sides are then carved. If the piece is clay, it is fired to cone 022. I then make a plaster multipart mold and use that to make the final slip cast porcelain forms.

How do the ideas and creation process start and how do you know when you’re done?

I look at a lot of artwork, keep up with current events and try to learn from what I think are successful art forms as to how their political and environmental issues are represented, distilled and communicated successfully. As an artist I’m never done; each previous installation supports the next and sparks more ideas.

What originally inspired you to bridge the gap between utilitarian ware and wall sculpture?

It evolved over a number of years. I initially wanted to move away from round forms made on the potter’s wheel and started slip casting. Slip casting naturally led to making a large number of the same form, and then it again came naturally to place the work into repetitive patterns. The negative spaces created between the pieces are quite lovely, so I experimented and played with making forms whose negative and positive spaces looked balanced and made an interesting composition.

Kimberlee Roth Studio 

Who are some of your major artistic influences?

Eva Zeisel and Richard Notkin

I noticed that you include some glaze recipes on your website. What tips might you have for people looking to experiment with creating their own original glaze recipes but aren’t quite sure where to start?

Go to the library and look at glaze books or look on-line for a glaze you like, and then make a 500 gram batch. Glaze a small cup and bowl with it. Test it in both oxidation and reduction. Then, take out the oxide colorant and see what the base glaze is like. If the base glaze seems promising, that is you like the way it feels or looks, then test the base with a variety of different oxides and percentages of oxides. An example would be to make a 200 gram batch and add 1% of an oxide, dip in a test tile, label it, then add another 1% for a 2% test, then another 2% for a 4% test, and then another 4% for an 8% test and see what the glaze looks like on these 4 test tiles. I’ve made hundreds of glaze tests, but the best glazes I have are from trying new oxide blends in tried and true base glazes.

 

What is your favorite part of the ceramic process?

Designing the forms and laying out the finished work into a pattern.

Could you tell us a bit about your educational experiences? What led you to originally pursue a science degree and then later pursue an art degree?

Everyone has choices to make throughout their life; each choice leads to a different path. I made a choice during high school to pursue a Math and Physics degree because it came easy to me and it was safe. I knew I would be able to get a teaching job after college and be secure and self-reliant as a single woman in the 1990s. But teaching high school became redundant and I needed to challenge myself. At first I was planning to get my PhD in Physics, but a few key choices and a hard look at what made me content and happy led me back to school for art. I always had the peace of mind that if things did not work out I had my Physics and Math degree to fall back on. I know I made the right choice because of how happy and challenged I am when I am in my studio.

Kimberlee Roth Studio

How does your math and science background come into play with your artwork?

My science and math training taught me perseverance to solve problems. I am used to getting things wrong the first few times and working through ideas to find a reasonable solution. I think to myself – we humans have created a variety of complex and amazing inventions, I can figure out how to solve this or that problem within my ceramics – it’s not as if I’m making a rocket to go to the moon or an integrated circuit from square one. Along with this tenacious attitude, my science background has taught me confidence and experimental skills, both of which I use while pushing the boundaries of the ceramics medium to its physical limitations and in glaze calculation. I consider my ceramics studio a chemistry and engineering lab.

Kimberlee Roth Studio

What else can you tell us about your exhibition What We Have To Lose that we might not get from your artist statement or simply by viewing the work?

It’s harder to make small turtles and snails then it is to make the larger tiles and top pieces. 🙂

 

What tips do you have for artists trying to minimize their environmental impact while still being able to effectively create work and get a message across?

Try not to use plastic, synthetic fabric or other materials refined from crude oil. Then use whatever is the best material to get your ideas across.

Kimberlee Roth Studio 

What is next for you?

I am developing new forms and glaze colors, and working simultaneously with another slip body. I also have ideas for other tile forms with incised imagery. I work best if I follow ideas down varying and multiple paths, keep experimenting and allow every kiln to be a sort of test.

Kimberlee Roth Studio

Questions by Gallery Assistant Katie Smith

 

What We Have to Lose – Exhibition Essay by Robert Silberman

Kimberlee Roth Ceramic TilesWhat We Have to Lose by Kimberlee Roth

Exhibition Essay by Robert Silberman

Robert Silberman is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches courses on the history of cinema and other subjects. He received his Ph.D. in English Literature from Columbia University. He was senior advisor for the 1999 PBS series American Photography: A Century of Images and, with Vicki Goldberg, co-author of the companion volume. A regular contributor to the Burlington Magazine, he has curated exhibitions on art, photography, and ceramics, including six exhibitions at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, most recently Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics. The many ceramic artists he has written about include Warren MacKenzie, Gail Kendall, Ken Price, Amy Sabrina, and Randy Johnston.

 

Kimberlee Joy Roth – Artist Statement & Bio

Kimberlee Roth Ceramic Tiles

 

Artist Statement

A marriage of embellishment and utilitarian object is the inspiration behind my oeuvre: that is to create utilitarian non-traditionally shaped ceramic serving platters that maintain a curvilinear edge throughout the form and which reference historical decorative motifs. Today’s contemporary ceramics include figurative forms and abstract sculpture, utilitarian ware and architectural and decorative tile. My work is wall sculpture that is still functional; it can be used to also contain and serve food. Continue reading “Kimberlee Joy Roth – Artist Statement & Bio”

WHAT WE HAVE TO LOSE by Kimberlee Joy Roth

Roth

WHAT WE HAVE TO LOSE
Kimberlee Joy Roth

August 29 – October 27, 2016
Reception: September 16, 6-8 p.m.

Christensen Center Art Gallery

Artist Statement & Bio

In What We Have to Lose, Roth’s tessellated wall installation romanticizes the flora and very small fauna found in meticulously manicured gardens. Concerned with water availability and quality, pesticide use and the earth’s ecosystem, this large installation is Roth’s second solo exhibition to address awareness to the importance of unpolluted water.

Kimberlee Joy Roth is a fiscal year 2016 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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