Every once in a while I find artwork that stops me in my tracks. I love it when that happens–it’s a moment when I really feel inspired, full of questions and yet I just want to look and look and look at the artwork. Lori Field’s work stopped me in my tracks a few months ago. I am thrilled to share our interview. (Please note: if you click on an image you can see it full size!)
Creative Fire: How long have you worked in metal clay? How did you find out about it? Which clays do you work in?
Lori Field: I began working in metal clay about 10 years ago. I had been teaching a class in mixed media and collage at the Montclair Art Museum and one of my students came in wearing silver pieces she’d made. I thought they were works created with traditional jewelry techniques. When she told me they were made from something called PMC and described the process to me…it blew my mind. I had studied traditional metal smithing, and enameling at the 92nd St. Y in NYC and knew just how difficult it was to realize a detailed metal piece with those methods of working, casting, piercing and sawing metal, chasing and repousse. The idea that the process could be so much simpler and direct, from concept to execution was a revelation to me. I went home that night and started researching PMC immediately. I took a two day workshop offered at the Montclair Art Museum awhile after that and I was hooked.
CF: Do you have a favorite type of metal clay? And any favorite tools for working in metal clay?
LF: I work a lot in PMC® Flex™ and especially love to create pieces combining copper and white copper in the same piece to achieve a nice contrast since they can be fired together. My go-to tool for metal clay is my metal palette knife…I use it for everything.
CF: With so many metal clays on the market, and so many different firing schedules, have you run into any trouble or obstacles while working in metal clay?
LF: I have run into lots of challenges when working with metal clay but they’ve all been exciting challenges to engage with and overcome. When I bought my kiln I was determined to try to fire all kinds of metal clay in it. I decided to make prototype pieces out of the base metals rather than start right away with the more expensive silver clays. This proved challenging until I figured out that a two stage firing was the most successful way to achieve sintering with most base metal clays. Firing silver PMC® clay is always a simpler process for initial firing and repairs but I’ve really learned from trial and error how to achieve special pieces in copper, white copper, and bronze as well. I’ve even mastered repairs in those metals…I have a secret method for repairing fired copper and white copper pieces. I have worked with metals other than metal clay in the past…mostly sheet silver and sheet nickel and champ levee and cloisonné enameling.
CF: Could you tell us more about your current metal clay work? What are your inspirations? Do you have any favourite techniques?
LF: My current metal clay work is really extension of the work I do in two dimensions. Most of my other work is narrative and drawing based, and features my own reoccurring cast of characters, a demimonde of creatures interacting with each other in the picture plane. I wanted to make these same characters I create in my other mediums out of metal. The metal figures are amulets, talismans and fetishes for contemporary use. They reflect my interest in creating mythological narratives imbued with anthropomorphic symbolism and meaning. I refer to these sculptures as my Lost Civilization. I’m fascinated by the archaeology of lost worlds and concerned about my own known world eventually becoming lost so I’m compelled to create these figures that evoke pre-history and appear to have survived buried and unknown for centuries. These little sculptures are a way for me to process my hopes, fears, and emotions into physical, spiritual objects that speak their own peculiar, endearing or perhaps prophetic language. The technique I use to make these is usually to sculpt a figure out of polymer clay first and then make a mold to use with the metal clay from the original sculpture. I often make an assortment of sculptures of various bodies and heads so I can mix and match and collage different pieces together, a little like Dr. Frankenstein might be in his workshop. This is similar to the way I create the figures for my 2-D work.
CF: You mentioned that you also word in 2-d. What other mediums do you work in? Do you have a favorite? What are you currently working on? Do you work in series or themes?
LF: My other bodies of work are in mixed media encaustic painting and silverpoint drawing. I’m currently working on a series of large colored pencil drawings on rice paper, a smaller series of drawings that will be cut out and applied to watercolor backgrounds with beeswax ironed into the paper afterwards, and a series of drawings on vintage ledger paper. I often work in series or in themes. Right now, all of these drawings are being done for my solo exhibition in Berlin this November which will be entitled “Tyger Tyger”and will have tiger imagery throughout. The last one person show I did in New York City was entitled “Wild Horses and Wallflowers” and I exhibited 111 unframed silverpoint drawings with lush botanicals and human/animal figures on one expansive wall of the gallery. I work somewhat obsessively and enjoy getting into the details…so a theme helps focus my obsessiveness. Often when I am going to begin a new metal clay sculpture, I will reference the figure I’m going to sculpt directly from one of my two dimensional pieces. With this current series, I plan on making sculptural versions of many of the figures in the drawings.
LF: The imagery in my drawings is referenced from a myriad of influences, sources, passions, and obsessions. I draw from references in ancient mythology, vintage Chinese acupuncture drawings, Native American Myth, Spanish colonial religious imagery, antique medical drawings,exotic flower catalogs, vintage film noir posters and photographs. I love combining different cultural references in each of my figures…to begin to synthesize and invent my own Mount Olympus or demimonde of figural symbols. The figures in my metal work are the next progression, outtakes of the figures in the two dimensional work. I’d like to take at least one figure from each finished 2-D piece and realize it in sculptural form…and to constantly have the two bodies of work inform each other and evolve together.
CF: What is your training? How did you perfect your style and technique?
LF: I am primarily self-taught having had only two semesters of art school many years ago. I moved to NYC and became a textile designer and an illustrator. In 1996 a series of life altering events inspired me to get back into creating ‘fine art’. I started out making collages because they were the simplest to make when my youngest child was a baby and taking a nap. I then began to do drawing based work using my collage compositions as references or jumping off points. I love to draw, and I consider myself a draughtsman first…the techniques I’ve developed always involve drawing in some sense….even the metal pieces…I’m kind of drawing with the clay as well as sculpting. I also make pieces that I call “wearable drawings” out of colored pencil and shrink film.
CF: And now my favorite question to ask a working artist. Are you influenced by any other artists past and present?
LF: I’ve been influenced by so many other artists. Some of my favorite influences are Hans Holbein, Henry Darger, Frida Kahlo, Kiki Smith, Hieronymus Bosch, Henry Rousseau. I’m also alway searching for references for my drawings and sculptures in nature photographs and catalogues, antique acupuncture pictures, vintage HIndu lithography, ancient symbol and illuminated manuscripts, antique anatomy books, turn of the century circus images, African masks, the sources of what fascinates me seem to be endless..
CF: That is quite a diverse list of artists. Can you pick one as a favorite artist?
LF: I would have to say that Henry Darger is my favorite artist. He was a troubled, marginalized person but his work is obsessive and mad and I think overwhelmingly beautiful…in composition, color, content, strange and wonderful and really inspiring to me.
CF: After working in metal clay for a decade, can you give advice for someone just starting out in metal clay?
LF: I would suggest practicing with a less costly clay first and learning to work with the materials until you are comfortable. Be aware that the firing of the base metal clays is a more time consuming and complex process however. If you are a visual artist like myself who hasn’t got a really substantial background in metal smithing or jewelry skills it’s a good idea to watch a lot of tutorials online and take some metal clay workshops to learn or update needed skill sets. When working with precious metal clays, I recommend starting out with PMC® Flex™. It is much less stressful working with a metal clay that has more flexibility and extended work time. There are still techniques to master but they are easier to get right if you have a longer work time and a more forgiving material. Another tip, learn to design the back of your piece so it’s just as interesting and exciting (or almost) as the front. Take the time to carefully construct your art pieces so that they will be really well constructed. Visual artists making metal clay will soon realize that it is a very different process than painting and drawing, the expressionistic abandon that accompanies some painting styles will not translate well into jewelry making without the underlying construction being meticulous. I also recommend learning early on how to reconstitute your dried out clay…it is so amazing to bring it back to life and have your scraps saved up turn back into special pieces.
CF: Looking back from this moment, what would you like to tell yourself as a beginning young artist? What do you wish you knew when you were starting out?
LF: I would tell any beginning young artist to be true to their own vision. Don’t make work that is the same as what’s out there and getting noticed just because it’s what’s in vogue at the moment. Also, allow artistic influences to inspire you but don’t make work that looks exactly like those influences. Develop a look and tone to your work that is unique and recognizable as your own. The most important thing to realize is that art making is a job. Your work ethic has to be very strong. Develop the discipline to get into the studio everyday to make work and then also find time to concentrate on the other skills you’ll need to survive as an artist…the maybe not so fun stuff, like marketing and advertising what you do. For myself, I wish I’d known to finish my art degree program. I also wish I had known how much more difficult it was going to be to have a professional art practice without the networking and connections and information and opportunities that formal training and a degree would have offered. I still managed but it would have been a head start in many ways.
CF: Now looking ahead…Any shows or exhibitions coming up?
LF: Coming up this fall I have a solo show in Berlin at Janine Bean Gallery. I will have one small room among the three rooms of the gallery devoted to my metal clay creatures installed in one of their narrative installations. I have also started selling the wearable sculpture through my website’s Lost Civilization store, and various other locations online and in galleries. My silverpoint work will be featured in two museum traveling exhibitions this year and next.
Thank you Lori for taking the time to talk to us, to share your experiences and your work. You are an artist to keep an eye on! I can’t wait to see what you do next!
Watch Lori create one of her wall pieces: (This link will take you to the video series. HINT–click PREVIOUS once the first video loads and then you can watch all six videos!)