Tabbatha Henry Interview Question/Answer
I love the tactility of clay, first and foremost, and that it has a personality of its own. There is really no other medium which is worked in a similar way. Clay requires a dialogue between maker and material, and because each clay is different, there is always a “getting to know you” phase during which one learns about things like plasticity and tolerance…technical things. But after that it becomes, for me, about learning how to express my ideas THROUGH the medium, in partnership with it, rather than imposing myself upon it. I also love love the process of ceramics. There many different types of clay and even more ways to build things with it, fire it, color it. You can be very simple about it, or get very technical about it depending on your personality or how you feel on a given day. For this reason it has held my attention for over 20 years. I cannot claim that about many things…
In my production work I use many techniques specifically to help speed up the process of making in a uniform manner. We slipcast our pieces, which is an industrial method for manufacturing used historically by larger companies (Wedgewood et al), and more recently adopted by artists and small batch manufacturers such as myself. My assistants and I have also designed and built a few custom machines to speed up the more mundane and time consuming processes such as trimming and drilling holes. We also designed and built in-house a CNC machine (computer numeric control) that does some of the work that I used to do by hand. I do still paint and carve most of the designs by hand, and finish every piece by hand, but the physicality of making started to take its toll on my body, and subsequently, my mind. We are on track to make about 2,000 pieces this year for my production line. Without these machines we would not be able to produce at that level.
Porcelain and china are the only clay bodies that have the ability to be translucent, and of those there are many different colors, just like there are a thousand variations of white house paint. Because my goal is to bring warmth and comfort to the home, I chose this color precisely because it has a cool, pearlescent look to it when its not lit, but magically transforms to emanate a warm glow when lit. While it is fragile, it also has a sturdiness and density that reflects the hearty nature of New Englanders.
For my black pieces, I use two different methods to get the color. Depending on the design, I either paint a black glaze on the pieces, or layer black porcelain over the white. We color our clay in-house, and the black porcelain, though not as black as the glaze, offers a subtle depth and has a light-reflective quality not achievable with the glaze. It’s a more complicated process than painting glaze, but I think its worth it.
I love doing the installations for several reasons. Most of my installations consist of multiples of a simple design, repeated over and over which gives me the ability to experiment with pattern and light on a whole different scale. The artistry really comes with the act of installing. Each piece can be hung in so many different ways, depending on the space and available light, (which I like to exploit), so that as the daylight shifts so do the shadows of the work. I also really enjoy the technicality of making this work; the creating and building; the engineering of the design, and figuring out how it will attach to the wall or get fired. Usually I’m adapting an already designed piece into a new space, but when I get to design something for a specific space it presents new possibilities and new design “problems” that I love to solve. Its quite different than my production work in that way.
I find inspiration everywhere! Mostly, I go directly to the source: nature. I can find the seeds of a new design in the smallest little detail of the landscape. When I look to other artists, though, I am particularly drawn to Scandinavian designers as a whole. Their clean, simple lines have an elegance that is powerful, yet calming. The ceramics of Eva Zeisel, Ruth Duckworth, and Hans Coper never fail to amaze me, so I guess that’s a bit of a Mid-Century Modern influence. For sculptural inspiration I look to Maya Lin and Tara Donovan for their ability to transform simple materials into elegant and profound statements. Lately I have been looking at fabric design patterns from the likes of Marimekko, Trina Turk and Pucci. Who knows how that will manifest…
The seasons absolutely influence my work, but winter by far has the most impact. The grayscale color palette and quality of light really speak to my soul. It is the reason why my work is all black and white. The long, cold season ignites my desire for warmth and comfort, hence the candleholders. While summer has its beauty, its winter that has my heart and I love how the landscape reveals itself when its covered in white. The texture of everything becomes so much more visible with a coating of snow: the crags of the rocks, the patterns of trees and branches against the grey sky, the exact undulations of the hills with bare trees. When the wind blows the snow it creates beautiful sparkly sculptures and patterns. There is nothing like being in the quiet woods on a snowy day. I try to reflect this in my work.
I feel an intimacy with the Vermont landscape that I have not found elsewhere. It is diverse and everchanging, and has always felt like home. When I am away I long to be back. I have so far successfully avoided moving to a city, though if my studio was in Manhattan I would find beauty there, too. I think I’d end up infusing even more nature into the work because I would feel its loss so profoundly.
I truly cannot imagine not working with clay. I have somehow always managed to make it a part of my life, squeezing it in wherever I could. (ha…a little clay joke!) I do love textiles though, and have always wanted to design a line of fabric and clothing influenced by my ceramic designs.
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