New piece at River Gallery Sculpture Garden will make you smile
The Bluff View Arts District has welcomed a new piece to its River Gallery Sculpture Garden. The monumental clay sculpture “Big Hair” is every bit as interesting as the man who made it, Michigan-based ceramicist Mark Chatterley.
While the texture of the work resembles igneous rock, the forms are smooth and feminine, causing the piece to resemble an ancient Venus.The interlocking forms of the hair transcend their figurative quality, giving the sculpture an overall look that is pleasing in its simplicity.
The Pulse: How did you get your start?
Mark Chatterley: I’ve been playing in the mud forever. I remember playing in a local stream, making mud pies and letting them air dry. High school was a good influence…we had a good ceramics program. They used to leave the windows open for us on the weekend so we could go and play in the mud.
TP: How did you start making large ceramic sculptures?
MC: I think of my larger-scale sculptures as large pots that are deformed. What I found out as a thrower, throwing on a wheel, was that everything was round or distorted round, so I went to hand building. I still use the concept of hollow forms, like they are giant pots. That way they don’t blow up in the kiln so easily. I make rules for myself. I make my own clay body, I make my own glazes.That’s half the fun for me, figuring things out.
TP: How do you create the textures on the surface of your pots?
MC: I add things to my glazes. It bubbles like lava when you fire it, and then when it cools down it leaves scales. I’m trying for that dug-up look, like from a weird civilization that hasn’t come yet. Timeless pieces aren’t the easiest things to do when being affected by local stuff all the time. I try not to do clothes, not to do hair—except for the woman with big hair.
TP: What is the premise behind your “Big Hair” sculpture?
MC: I was making big heads, doing these forms that turned into hair. The girl is figurative for me; her hair could be like dreadlocks. All of a sudden these strands of hair started stacking on top of this head. As it was growing, it was fun to do—it almost looked like the hair could be alive, as if it could get up and walk away. When I build these things, I build them six-to-eight inches a day, and have several pieces going at once. I really don’t know how it’s going to end up and it sometimes takes a couple of months to finish one. It doesn’t seem like a long time because I work on maybe 12 pieces a day. It keeps me from overworking something. I keep adding those eight inches every day, and after a while I have 12 finished pieces.
TP: How do you construct your sculptures? Do you have a studio assistant?
MC: Nah, it’s just me. The older I get, the better I get at moving things without actually lifting—but they’re not that heavy. The walls are about 1/4-to-3/8-inches thick. The metal bases probably weigh more than the clay does. The “Big Hair” weighs around 500 pounds altogether, and each piece comes apart. In order for me to transport these things, I have to be able to take them apart, put them in my van, and then assemble them by myself.
TP: Who are some of your influences?
MC: I liked a lot of the California clay artists, like Stephen Distabler and Manuel Neri. Going to school you find your heroes, and then you research them until you knock them off their pedestal. Then you move on. I think that’s what artwork is about…building upon people that you like, accumulating knowledge. Working by yourself in studio day after day, you get a little weirder, and sometimes you start running out of ideas, so when you get an idea going, it gets really good. That idea leads to the next one, and time just flies by.
TP: What is beauty?
MC: I don’t even know if I can answer that. It’s all “in the eyes of the beholder,” which is an old term. What one person finds to be beautiful, another person doesn’t. In art, I think it is past experiences made in a visual form that we find pleasing.