Lauren Mabry’s painterly, abstract, ceramic sculptures have been receiving national attention; featured on the cover of the May 2014 issue of Ceramics Monthly, and receiving in 2014 the Emerging Artist Award from the National Council on Education for Ceramic Arts. Lauren received her BFA from Kansas City Art Institute, and her MFA from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, before attending a residency at The Archie Bray Foundation. Mabry is currently a resident at The Clay Studio of Philadelphia.
On the occasion of her exhibition at Independent Art Projects, we invited Lauren to discuss her interest in clay, working process, and where she’s headed next. Her sculptures at IAP are on view until Sunday, November 16, 2014.
Martina Caruso: How long have you been working in clay? What attracted you to start working with the medium of ceramic?
Lauren Mabry: I started ceramics at the beginning of high school and never stopped. After quickly becoming enamored by the material and process, I decided that I would pursue ceramics as a career. It’s been 15 years since then.
MC: What inspired you most? What artists have been most influential in your creative process?
LM: Lately, I would say Viola Frey, for her 1970s large-scale works. I saw one at the Sheldon Museum (Lincoln, NE) resembling “Man in Abstract Business Suit”. That piece inspired me to make big work without any fear of the size or technical considerations. You can easily see the way its cut into pieces, then re-stacked after the firing to make the 10 foot tall figure. The way the figures are glazed, with her use of color, looks like it would if she had painted on a 2-D surface. I admire the relationship between flat and 3-D works.
MC: There is a strong sense of mystery in the ceramic medium. The process of heating the object, the melt the materials together, always transforms the pieces. How you can calculate the painting surfaces outcome?
LM: The transformation of the material is one of the major factors that drives my work. Through many years of practice and testing, I can approximate how a surface will look in terms of the colors and movement. The most compelling aspect of making ceramic art is that no matter how well calculated, the end piece may always produces a something you can’t anticipate. Sometimes two colors together produce an energy or vibration that could only be possible in that particular passage on that specific piece. In other words, I can calculate the small elements of form, texture, and color but the work is greater than the sum of its parts.
MC: Your work seems essentially paintings on round ceramic forms: can you explain why you pick the cylinders form, and the origin of your cylinder series?
LM: The form originated in my thesis work when I realized that glaze composition was my primary interest. As opposed to a more complex form, the cylinder is elemental and provides a canvas that will amplify the colors rather than creating a distraction. There are infinite compositional viewpoints that amplify the surface making it the ideal hybrid of sculpture and painting. There is a very simple, but genuine fascination about a form with an opening. Any person I know will approach to look inside. I see that place as an opportunity to extend the painting to the interior.
MC: How would you describe your working process, from the first ideas to the end of it, when you see the piece ready to be sale?
LM: Although I consider my work to be highly intuitive, it’s also a heavily technical process. The cylinders are usually wheel thrown and the wall work is built with pounded slabs I make by hand. Since I use rich, dark red clay, I coat it with white slip before beginning the process of layering colored slips and underglazes. I usually have a formal color theme or focal point in mind, but the painting unfolds intuitively. There is one bisque firing, then I apply my own glaze formulas before the final firing.
MC: You said that your work “may be understood in relationship with abstract painting, minimal work, and process art,” and that your aim is to create “work that is scintillating and dramatic”. Can you elucidate these ideas?
LM: While I never consciously sourced my ideas from the Abstract Expressionist movement in painting, I’ve come to see a definite relationship between them. There are certainly similarities in the expressive, sometimes frenetic quality of the marks and movement. Many might have called that style of painting unconscious or automatic, but I prefer to think of it my actions as informed intuition. The ultimately separation between my hand and my work happens during the transformation in the heat of the kiln, not because I am working unconsciously. The meaning of abstract is fulfilled.
MC: Public here at IAP keep stopping in front of your pieces, examining the forms, wondering how they are made. What are you working on that might additionally amazed your viewers?
LM: Earlier this month I was a resident artist at Mission Clay Products in Phoenix, AZ, where the world’s largest clay pipes are manufactured. I composed works on several industrially extruded pipes that are up to 3 feet wide and 8 feet tall. They are the largest pieces I have ever worked on. They are set for exhibition in February 2015 at Belger Crane Yard Studio in Kansas City, Missouri.
Mabry is originally from Madison, Wisconsin. She received her BFA in ceramics from Kansas City Art Institute in 2007 and her MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2012. She has also studied abroad in Kecskemét, Hungary at the International Ceramics Studio. Her recent residencies include The Archie Bray Foundation For Ceramic Arts (Helena, MT), The Clay Studio (Philadelphia, PA), LH Project (Joseph, OR), and Mission Clay Products (Tempe, AZ).
Mabry has work in permanent collections at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park, KS) and The Sheldon Museum of Art (Lincoln, NE). She has recently exhibited at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, The Milwaukee Art Museum, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, and more.