ProjectArt Teaching Residency Project
Toward the end of my one-year residency teaching online with the non-profit ProjectArt, I created sculptures after ten of my students’ self-portraits. At a basic level this allowed me to bring the work I’d been doing with my students in dialogue with my own, in my corner of a shared ceramic studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Within my painting and drawing practice, I have a background in figurative work, including portraiture, but my practice in clay is largely abstract. Translating these students’ portraits into three dimensions convinced me that it’s still possible to create clay portraits that are fresh and surprising; portraits that visualize something of human character beyond the literal.
Of the many qualities that drew me to my students’ self-portraits -- their instinctive expressions of character, their effortless formal integrity -- the one which made the strongest impression was each portrait’s gaze. Each set of eyes demanded a different approach in sculpting. In some I carved in the pupils; with others, like Caitlin's, they stick out. And more than my sculptural interpretation of the eyes, the gaze ultimately hinged upon my ability to express how the features joined together to form a whole.
As well as introducing new possibilities into my existing practice, the act of producing sculptures after student drawings meant affirming their expressions. Amid all that I had imparted to them about the value scale and spatial relationships, about the interaction of colors and lines, I didn’t want it to be lost on any of them that they already possessed the spirit with in themselves to create art that is worthy of our attention. I gave each student their sculpted portrait, which I hope will serve as a reminder to them as they mature, moving from instinct to knowledge, that so much of what they seek they already have.
A final aspect of this project involved building the alcoves to house some of the portraits. On a basic level, the alcoves were a sculptural answer to the space of the page in which students situated their drawings/paintings of their faces and upper bodies. These alcoves also recalled the Zoom squares through which I these encountered students. Only while the Zoom squares felt incidental, the alcoves, with their arched tops and facades incised with patterns, lend the portraits within them a certain reverence.
These sculptures were exhibited as part of the ProjectArt NYC Virtual Show, “Inspired: Communal Creative Works” as well as part of a house show in collaboration with a friend, the musician Miles Hewitt. The sculptures were shared and handed off to the many of the students at Forest Hills Library in Queens, NY, in mid-June, 2022.