Alabama Gulf Coast eco-artist Kathleen Nowak Tucci was featured on the cover of the controversial oil-spill issue of Italian Vogue magazine in August 2010. It was the first time an eco-artist’s work had been featured on the cover of a mainstream fashion magazine.
Kathleen has been creating art for 25 years and recently has begun working with recycled bicycle inner tubes. This work with recycled rubber has brought her to the attention of a number of prestigious magazines, such as Vogue Italia (cover!), Marie Claire, Elle Decor, Ornament, and Interior Design, and high-end boutiques and galleries across America. “My work was also recently included in the Smithsonian Craft Show 2011,” she said. “There were 1300 entries and only 120 juried artists.”
Kathleen has always been creative. “I have no choice but to be creative,” she explained. “Even as a child, I always had some art project going. On both sides of my family there were very creative women.”
I asked her to talk about her introduction to metal clay. “I had worked in polymer clay and ceramic clay so I must have read about metal clay soon after it came out on the market. Kathleen and her long-time friend Jeannette Froese LeBlanc (Metal Clay Artist Magazine) took a metal clay class together in 2001. “We made all the usual beginner projects, which we found very unsatisfying because both of us knew the great potential of metal clay as soon as we touched it. I love rings, so shortly after that I made my first ring out of silver metal clay.”
Kathleen has continued to develop her skills as a jeweller since her initial introduction to metal clay. “I went to college to study Computer Science and didn’t take any college art classes until recently,” she said. “Since my first metal clay class, I’ve taken college classes in silversmithing and jewellery. I’ve learned that working in metal is hard, dirty and that metal is often difficult to form. To be able to manipulate it like clay is amazing.” I asked her what she feels is particularly important for people working in metal clay, based on her personal experience. “To take full advantage of metal clay, you should learn everything that you can about metalsmithing; riveting, bezel setting, soldering, torch firing and enamelling can all be used with metal clay.”
She cites several influences on her work. “I have always liked ‘C’ and ‘S’ curves juxtaposed with geometric shapes. Art Deco furniture, jewellery and architecture have been an influence in much of my artwork.” Her creative process is very immediate. “I have never been a sketcher. I get an idea and then work directly with the materials. Because of the way I work, I may begin in one direction and quickly move in another. I love that freedom to change. I have always made my work in components – smaller parts of a whole work. I like to have many parts pre-cut out ready for whatever combination strikes my fancy.”
I asked Kathleen about her working environment. “I have a studio in the middle of my home. I’ve learned that I’m most happy creating at home and not at a remote location. I often wake up and go immediately into my studio and spend most of the day there.” When I wondered if her studio were an oasis of calm, she laughed. “I’m terribly messy. My studio is large but I seem to always be working in a 10-inch by 10-inch space that I clean by pushing any of my messes to the sides. I get to a point where I have to straighten it up (usually when I can’t find something), but it’s a mess again in no time!”
I asked Kathleen what her favourite tool is. “A good idea! For most mediums you can improvise after you have the basic tools, but having a creative vision is more important than any tool.”
With the incredible rise in her profile this year, I asked how she relaxes. “Hmmmm, I’ve had such a busy year with my eco jewellery line that I’ve had very little time to relax. I watch very little TV, but I do listen to books on CD as I work. Listening to the books is one of my biggest pleasures. I am an unabridged book snob when it comes to audio books and I listen to at least three a week. I have been known to listen to a book several times if I don’t have time to get to the library to check out a new one.”
Kathleen still likes to attend classes regularly. “I take classes whenever I’m able. So much has happened in the world of metal clay, I think it may be time to take another metal clay class,” she said. “I’ve learned something in every class that I’ve ever taken. My favourite teachers have been the ones that have been flexible and free with information. I like when a teacher will move faster or slower depending on the students’ experience.”
I asked her what tips she’d give to someone looking for a class. “Make sure you know exactly what will be taught, how much experience the teacher has and if the teacher’s work reflects good technique and understanding of the medium. Find out how many people will be in the class and talk to previous students and get recommendations if you can.” Good advice. She also offered specific suggestions for artists who are new to metal clay. “Right now start off with some of the less expensive metal clays so you’re not so worried about experimenting. Take a class with a good teacher; you’ll save money and frustration in the long run. Believe me I know! I’ve learned many things the hard way, with trial and much error!” she laughed.
Kathleen’s work has been featured in prestigious venues. I asked her what else she wanted to achieve going forward. “The most important thing to me as an artist is to be able to continue to create,” she replied. “I like the option of working in many mediums and also being able to combine mediums. Recognition is nice but not the reason that I am an artist.” She shared a favourite quote from 1938 Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck that sums up her own feelings about creativity: “By some strange, unknown, inward urgency, they are not really alive unless they are creating.”
(Note: Photo information for photos of model at Pensacola Beach, Camille Dauchez-model. James Amerson- Photography.)
Artist Profile Author: JULIA RAI is a teacher and artist working in a variety of media. She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.