ArtsOctober 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Artist Profile: Jillian Blackwell

Name and Year: Jillian Blackwell, 2012
Hometown: Fort Worth, TX
Major: Fine Arts
Medium of Choice: Ceramics

Street: Do you have any favorite artists? Role models?
Jillian Blackwell: I love Rothko, I could go on for days about how much I love him. More recently, I’ve been thinking about Rachel Whiteread — she’s awesome. In ceramics, I really like Jun Kaneko, who actually came to Penn two years ago. I got to meet him, and he was really amazing. I would consider him a role model. He’s very well–established in the ceramic world and very confident about his work. He doesn’t make concessions or explanations; it just is what it is. I want to reach that point with my own work someday.

Street: Do you listen to music while you work? If so what kind?
JB: I do, generally. Recently I’ve been getting into less lyric–driven music, so that the music doesn’t distract me while I work. I’ve been listening to the new Bon Iver album, Black Moth Super Rainbow and Panda Bear. Panda Bear is great drawing music. Though today was a Thao kind of day. She’s more upbeat.

Street: How did you get started with ceramics?
JB: I actually didn’t start ceramics until I came to college. I’ve always loved art, but before I came to Penn, I was only painting and drawing. I’ve actually continued to paint and draw a lot  in college, but I took a ceramics class freshman year, and really fell in love. It’s something new and challenging for me, something that I definitely haven’t mastered yet, so it’s very exciting. I also really like the tactility of it. And the fact that I get to be dirty all the time.

Street: Do you think it’s harder for a ceramics artist to express themselves through their work than, say, a painter?
JB: I think that ceramics artists, and potters in particular, have to deal with a lot of issues to reach a point of expression. Ceramics is often thought of as more of a craft (while painting is considered a higher form of art), so there’s a social stigma to contend with — the idea that ceramics isn’t really high art. Then there is the actuality that potters start with functionality in their work. I really like the functionality of pottery, that someone could drink a cup of tea from my artwork, but it is a challenge to marry the artistic expression with the functionality, and still be heard. But because there is that tension in ceramics, I feel that there really is an opportunity to say something poignantly, while expression in painting can become automatic and tired.

Street: Why did you start working with text, and what kinds of words and phrases have you played with?
JB: I’ve always been a big reader, and I’m a big fan of poetry. All beautiful things really fall into the same category in my mind. I started pairing my pottery with words and phrases from poems and novels because I was toying with the idea of the two things complementing and intensifying each other, like when you place two complementary colors side by side and they make each other brighter. I’ve put a lot of the poetry of Frank O’Hara on my work. More recently, I did a series this summer with text from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf.

Street: Could you explain the relationship between your drawings and ceramics?
JB: I don’t know if I could. I’ve only really started using drawing to help me think about my ceramics, and I don’t know if I’m at the point of rationalizing what’s happening. I think I draw as a sort of stream of conscious, and that allows me to begin to crystallize ideas. Then, when an idea is more formed, I move into clay and started building on the idea.

Street: What was the transition like between creating functional objects (bowls, cups etc.) and purely artistic sculpture? What do you think was your greatest challenge?
JB: Well, that transition is still happening. I think my greatest challenge is allowing sculptural qualities to really take charge in a piece, and letting go of the functionality of some. I think what is shining through in my move from functional to sculptural is the idea of touch. I really want my viewers to touch my objects and experience them in that way, in addition to looking at the objects.

Street: Tell us about your most recent work with tiles.
JB: The tiles that I’m working on now really come from some abstract contour drawings that I’ve been doing. The tiles have linear patterns incised into them, kind of with the idea of waves in mind. I plan on making enough tiles to tile a floor. Then the viewer would experience the artwork by looking at it, but more importantly, by walking on it.

Street: Do you see yourself experimenting with any new media in the future? Why or why not?
JB: I’m all about new media. I just want to make beautiful things in new and interesting ways. I’ve got the idea wood carving sitting in the back of my mind. I might just try that one day.

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