We live on a small island by the shores of the Salish Sea, a scenic 20-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. Our home is at a high point on the island about 880 feet from sea level. I love living up here because you feel you are a part of the sky as it is always changing. The weather moves in and out quickly; thick fog will be burnt away by the sun, which can move to a torrential downpour within hours. The dramatic light and big sky is why I love having my home and studio here. My husband installed over-height French glass doors along an entire wall in my studio, which gives me fantastic light. Here, the sun warms my back and washes over my sculptures in the afternoon. The isolation enables me to escape the mundanity of reality and elevate me to a magical, creative sphere wherein everything is possible through the medium of sculpture.
I’m fascinated with imperfect beauty and impermanence of decaying objects found in nature.
I was born in Scotland, where my grandfather and aunt both had weird and wonderful antique shops. When I was little my parents, two brothers, myself and our family dog left our home in Scotland aboard a cargo ship called the M.S. Simba and sailed to Vancouver, British Columbia to start a new life. My parents brought crateloads of antiques with us to fill our home, so we were always surrounded by beautiful things. I attended a Catholic school for girls. I loved the biblical stories, which were read to us every morning by our headmistress. We sat cross-legged, in rows on the cold concrete floor; a straight back was mandatory and uncomfortable. Today, there is a lot of Catholic symbolism that
permeates my work.
For my eerily beautiful ceramic sculptures I use bone white ceramic and porcelain as the skeleton and skin of my sculptures, which are then bursting in a display of floral blooms. Butterflies, bones and babies evoke dreamy, fairy-tale connotations, but with a dark underbelly. My work revisits fine ceramic sculptures and refers to my love of art history and its lessons. I endeavour to capture the beauty of a forgotten art medium. The delicate and unique ivory material is matured and tempered into highly detailed figures of love, despair and adventure. What I love about porcelain/clay is not its translucency or fragility, but its beauty when used in thicker sections to portray and resemble the most delicate forms.
The way porcelain changes in the making and firing process from a sticky and stubborn plasticine into the toughest, most brittle and beautiful shades of stoney white has inspired me to push it to its max. I have recently been dripping gold and liquid porcelain down over a piece or have soaked a robin’s nest in liquid porcelain and placed it dripping wet onto the top of the head of a sculpture and fired and glazed that. Under pressure from my creative curiosity, my baby models bloom with porcelain wreaths, telling a journey of growth and life. The stages of human life are highlighted with addition of Vanitas symbolism hidden within my works. I feel like these pieces know much more than they let on. Life, death and renewal become a single entity.
There is a precarious balance in my work between life and death, creation and destruction, innocence and corruption.
Art is my life and I live my art…I feel like my mind is on ceramic sculpture all the time. Having my studio next to my house enables me to be in my studio creating every day if I wish. There is a fine line between my art and my life; for example, I have taken body castings of my twins and used them to create the Ghost sculptures in my summer solo show Of Things I Can’t Unthink. Even the title for that show came from the idea that my inspiration often comes from things in my life that have startled me, shocked me or made me cry. I have sculpted my daughter’s hands and feet and used them in my recent collaboration with the ocean.
My work is a rethinking of the classical porcelain objects.
Before I submerge the sculptures, including a ceramic vintage blue and white Delftware doll carrying a skull, my daughter’s foot cast in clay and her hand cast in clay with 22 karat gold fingertips, I attach a sign to the traps so that other islanders can contact me if the traps are getting loose. After months of waiting patiently, amazing barnacle growth has taken place; I even love the worn off gold on the wings of the tiny skull. This is very slow art but worth the wait.
I secure my sculptures into either old metal crab trap or vintage wooden lobster traps in the intertidal zone, where the waves rise and fall on the beach. I allow the sculptures to soak for several months where sea life will grow on them, and then I retrieve them. The two different traps do the same thing; protect the sculptures from the debris carried in on powerful stormy waves, such as logs or rocks, which can smash the sculptures. There is no particular reason to use either type of trap over the other, they both work well. I make sure to place the sculptures in areas amongst preexisting colonies of barnacle growth. Barnacles, though a tiny humble sea creature, are super choosy about where they want to live and, like ourselves, spend a lot of time picking the perfect environment to raise a family. They do not like sites that are overcrowded or, conversely, have too few barnacle “neighbours.”
“Drag your Heart to the Sea—Soak it”
— Indigo Sparke
I have realized how much the process of getting the barnacles to grow on the ceramic sculptures is similar to the long fertility process I went through to eventually have my twins. The endless waiting, creating the perfect environment (the womb could be considered the same as the ceramic piece and lobster trap), timing and cycles of the moon (the barnacles grow in the spring “bloom”) and the risk of devastation and loss and persevering anyway. I consider how patient one has to be to get the end result for both and to believe in the almighty forces of nature while using “science” to aid these two similar processes along. I am presently contemplating the sea, plant structure, colours, light and the miracle of life cycle. The mix of beauty and decay, birth, death and renewal.
I also discovered that intentionally leaving surface areas on my ceramic sculptures unglazed encourages barnacle growth on these sites because the barnacle finds smooth surfaces (glazed) unsuitable and also surfaces that are too textured are rejected by the larvae. After much experimentation, I have found that the barnacles are attracted to rougher surfaces that offer a micro-environment of grooves and crevices. To achieve these barnacle-encrusted sculptures, I have embarked on an ongoing learning process in order to meet the barnacle’s tough criteria for growth. I stay curious and persevere because I believe that today’s lost porcelain limb could be tomorrow’s wondrous relic.
Life, death, and renewal become a single entity.
In all my work, I draw on my deeply personal history to reference fertility and childbirth, using babies, blastocysts and Vanitas symbolism from 17th-century Dutch still life paintings. Vanitas symbolism traditionally deals with the transient nature of life using fading flowers, butterflies, skulls and bubbles to convey a frenetic celebration of the divine comedy of existence. For me, the symbolism explores an awareness of death and opens a doorway into a way of being. It offers us an insight into the preciousness of life and encourages us to enjoy the now.
Far from being morbid, it is an invitation to treasure in humbleness every instant of our precious lives.