Craig Clifford: Fragments is on view at the James Watrous Gallery until Sunday, July 5, 2015. The James Watrous Gallery is located on the 3rd floor of Overture Center for the Arts in Madison. Please note the Overture Center will be closed Friday, July 3 and Saturday, July 4. James Watrous Gallery's Exhibition Coordinator sat down with Craig Clifford to ask him some questions about his work.
Rachel Bruya (RB): In your talk at the opening reception you said, “I love objects and I love our relationship to objects.” Can you share some of your thoughts and observations about objects, how you study relationships to objects and how you translate those thoughts and observations in your artwork?
Craig Clifford (CC): To me, objects are a memory or placeholder for people in our lives and places we have visited in our past. Most people have keepsakes, objects from an old vacation or that someone special presented them with. In my own life, a friend gave me a wheel-thrown cup he made. It’s heavy, clunky, and the lip is too thick, so I use it in one of my classes as an example of what not to do, but I keep it and use the cup on a regular basis because it reminds me of my friend Peter. I’ve also kept certain items to remind me of times in my daughter’s life as she grows older. None of these objects have value to anyone but myself, and when I pass on those memories will leave with me. So when I go to a thrift store or estate sale, that is how I see a lot of the disregarded objects on the shelves.
Then it is really just a matter of what speaks to me, either through shape, color, pattern, or representation. If it is the shape that I like, I will make a mold of the object to use over and over again, like the teapots, cups, and some of the bottles from ”Hung.” In a piece like “Nesting” or “Abide” I’ve used the color and pattern from thrift store teacups. I like how a viewer can make their own associations with the objects, and I use found objects and forms to allow for those possibilities.
Detail view from Craig Clifford's "Hung"
RB: “Hung” includes casts of forty-eight different types of bottles which have other objects pressed into them. Can you talk about why you feel the bottle form is important, and why you are using it? How do you choose which objects to press into the form?
CC: I became interested in the bottle form during an artist residency at The Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana. It was the first time in many years that I was around a lot of really good potters, and looking at their work a lot I began to think about pottery forms. Originally, many of these forms came from natural fruits or gourds, but these origins have been lost to us. But if I take a Gatorade or Coke bottle and abstract it with all of the imagery, people can still identify it through its form. The imagery that I press into each bottle is picked either because it’s recognizable, creates an interesting pattern, or has deep grooves to capture and pool glaze. “Hung” is a piece that I plan on ever expanding; ultimately I would like it to take up a whole wall. As the piece grows, teapots, cups, and other objects will become part of it.
Two of Craig Clifford's teapot sets
RB: Lastly, can you talk about your process? How have you come to use so many different elements in your work, and how do the pieces develop?
CC: I may know I am making a ‘teapot set’ and have a general idea of how it might go, but I will also intend to let things happen in the process. In a sense, I use the concept or conceptual framework of the vessel as a format for a kind of improvisation. This is also true of the pieces I place within a bell jar. The concept gives me a set of constraints to work within, but within those constraints I can let things happen with form, surface, image, and shape. While I am working on a piece or just about to finish one, I start thinking “What would happen if I had done it another way? Or added this part instead of that one?” I get excited during the process of making and that is really where my ideas are generated.
The other elements are filtered in from the real world, pop culture, thrift stores, or other artists. All of the imagery in my pieces comes from molds, and while I do make my own, I prefer mass-produced commercial molds. I get most of my molds for free. People have hundreds of them left from old ceramic businesses, or perhaps from a relative; they don’t want to throw the molds away, but they also can’t sell them. The molds are big and take up a lot of space. Either I see an ad on Craigslist or a friend of a friend contacts me. When I get the molds and start to see the objects in them, ideas begin to form.
Craig Clifford working in the studio, several molds are in the foreground