A few words about my work

Susan Nowogrodzki, Ceramic ArtistI came to work with clay by accident, obliquely and unwillingly. I was in a Painting program at the University of Oregon in Eugene and was obliged to take a ceramics course. I tried to get out of it but was persuaded by Bob James, the Chair of Fine Arts at the time, and David Nechak, a ceramics instructor, to give it a try. Within a few months my paintings had become more about process and movement and at the end of the spring semester I had shifted my focus to the clay studio and an MFA in Ceramics. My teachers there were unconventional and provocative: George Kokis, David Stannard, Robert James and David Nechak, and the emphasis in the studio was on being aware and conscious about the use of materials and where they came from.

While I was in Eugene artists from outside the university came for residencies and to present workshops, among them M.C. Richards (Centering, The Crossing Point, Inventing Yellow, other works) and Paulus Berensohn (Finding One’s Way With Clay, other writings, performances, etc). These two luminaries influenced me profoundly: M.C. brought poetry, wisdom and affirmation of my work and way of working; Paulus Berensohn generously shared many insights into clay and life, and taught me to be open to chance and surprise in my work. Many students and graduate students also helped me learn about life and craft. I credit this unusual Ceramics program with teaching me skills involving forming, glaze formulation, material gathering, and firing in different kilns using a variety of fuels. I was also encouraged and sometimes required to question my own intentions and those of others in the making of objects, both functional and sculptural.

The concept of duality has always puzzled me—
Why can’t an object exist in space as both, or as all? I like work with a bit of mystery about it!

So I’m interested in the surface, how the design meets itself on the other side of the pot and how the image rhymes with the outline of the form. I also make designs that are non-directional, so that if you eat from a plate or a bowl or sit at a table there’s no “right-side up” or “wrong-side down”. In this way I am continuing the movement used in creating a piece, through the transformation of fire and into the finished form. I aim for a painterly approach rather than decorative, and choose my materials—kind of clay, glaze quality, method of firing—in relation to the idea and content of a piece rather than as an afterthought.

I very much missed having a woman mentor, someone akin to my sensibilities and experiences. I consider my work in the tradition of women artists, those who lived with distraction, interruption, who were able to integrate their art into their lives (as well as the other way round) and to persevere through many obstacles and difficulties. In this elemental of all activities, forming earth by hand into shapes with content, I am connecting to our planet and am inspired by the animals, plants and life that reside here. Clay has always been my best teacher.