01 02 03 Artwork of Terra Fine: I Love Mud: Using Humble Materials to Make Contemporary Art 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

I Love Mud: Using Humble Materials to Make Contemporary Art

There are pivotal moments in your life when you know "everything will change". A settling of the mind occurs, a moment of clarity. Instinctively, you know this is the direction to go. No hesitation. GO!

I have had such a moment recently. Most of my creative energy and time has been funneled in the past three years to raising two young boys. Though at times exhausting me mentally and physically to the point of breaking, the challenge has made me stronger and allowed me to examine my life and the direction I wish to take my art.

I have always been a builder. From small mud villages and tree houses as a child, to various shelters and structures as an adolescent, to choosing sculpture as my fine art emphasis in college, creating environments and building with my hands has always brought me joy. After graduating art school, I had no garage or studio to create large pieces anymore. So, until I had that space I pursued large-scale charcoal drawings with much success. And though charcoal is a fabulous medium, it is not my passion. There has always been this great longing within me to build again. But with what? Metal? No, I found it too cold and distant. Wood? I love working with wood but want a more sustainable material. Clay? Hmm.... I love the feel of clay and the ability to rework details but I'm not very interested in the firing and glazing. So, what then? And more importantly, how do I create artwork that creates social dialogue and introspection (key reasons why I share what I create)?

Enter cob into my life. No, nothing to do with corn. Cob is a mixture of subsoil, straw, and water. Traditionally used in buildings in cultures around the world, it is also a fabulous artistic medium, allowing for various colors, textures, and thickness. Best part is: no special tools or kilns needed! It uses materials that are easy to find and harvest yourself, inexpensive, and user-friendly. If you make a mistake, no problem! Incredible reworkability! In addition, this material represents so many things, socially and environmentally. Oh, the possibilities! But, can these humble materials be used to make contemporary art? Yes indeed. Here are just a few of the artists and designers I've found who are making a statement with mud.

The Canelo Project, artists/natural builders Athena and Bill Steen, based in Arizona, USA. Last month with my family in tow, I had the opportunity to visit the Canelo Project property where the Steens conduct workshops on straw bale building and earth plasters. Seeing these beautiful structures in person, feeling their warmth and substance under my hand, changed my life. I had been interested in sustainability, permaculture, and natural building for some time now and had read every book our library had on these subjects. But this was my first in person experience and I was moved deeply. My moment of clarity. This was the sculptural medium I had been searching for!

From the Canelo Project's website, "The Canelo Project is a small non-profit organization, that we, Bill and Athena Steen founded in 1989 and whose work centers on the theme – Connecting People, Culture and Nature.

We have also become increasingly involved in museum art projects that include the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C., the National Botanical Gardens – Washington D.C., the Denver Art Museum, the Ceramic Research Center – Arizona State University and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum".
Athena Steen, working on "Native Confluence: Sustaining Cultures" installation, Ceramic Research Center, ASU.

Canelo Project, "Native Confluence: Sustaining Cultures" installation, Ceramic Research Center, ASU.

Canelo Project, "Clayhouse" installation, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Canelo Project, "Clayground" installation, Denver Art Museum.

WORKSHOP based in the UK, is a non-profit collective of architects and engineers. From their website, "The ambition of the studio is to use the design and construction process as a tool for positive social change, and to create beautiful buildings that are modest, practical and meaningful. We value the dialogue generated by the work, and produce books and exhibitions alongside the buildings in order to open the conversation to a wider audience".
Copyright © 2015 WORKSHOP, "Building Community" exhibition.

Copyright © 2015 WORKSHOP, "Building Community" exhibition, visitor listening to pot set in hollow wall.

Andy Goldsworthy, artist based in UK. His "Alderney Stones" are a series of pressed earth mixture (essentially cob) formed into these massive boulders. He then documents the stones as the effects of time and weather play out.
"Breakwater" stone by Andy Goldsworthy

Abey Smallcombe, UK-based artist collaborative made up of Jackie Abey and Jill Smallcombe. "Our craft is working with cob, earth plasters and other natural beautiful, sustainable materials".
"Folly" by Abey Smallcombe.

"Seat/Spiral" by Abey Smallcombe.

Lisa Kaplan, California, USA artist. Kaplan spent her formative years growing up in Israel. I find her figurative works powerful and slightly haunting. She says in her artist's statement, "Earth clay is a primordial medium has been used by peoples and cultures past and present to make things of both beauty and utility. The material immediately taps into to our common humanity, our interconnectedness to one another and to the myriad organisms, natural resources and elements shared on Planet Earth."
Lisa Kaplan, "Who Will Be Our Leaders?".

Lisa Kaplan, "Thirsty".
And so, I will harness this new inspiration and begin creating and experimenting. I will keep posting on my successes and failures! May you be inspired as well! I'm off to play in the mud...
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