Liz Whipple

Workexchange Artist - Past

My sculptures, although begun from an initial visual idea, take form through a physical, experimental and reactive process. As an artist, my materials guide me as much or more as I guide them. My work is always the result of an intentional negotiation, and of a process that is attentive to the behaviors of clay, as well as to the growing presence of the sculpture itself. Using stoneware allows me to work with my materials instead of against them. I use very few tools, primarily water, a knife or needle tool, a rolling pin, and newspaper. I do not want to manipulate the clay strictly in accordance with my vision; rather, I want clay’s own mechanisms to be central to the work I produce. My approach to clay is less about control and more about experimentation or trial and error.

Because I work with a vocabulary of organic forms, clay allows the very forces I seek to represent to be embodied in my sculptures. Water is an important element of my process, just as it is crucial to growth in nature. Gravity, the tension between fragility and flexibility, adhesion and cohesion, and other forces are all highly present in my process and my final products, just as they are key in the growth and destruction of organic material.

Although my process is largely physical, I approach clay with a vocabulary and aesthetic sense that is built on a deep appreciation for and attentiveness to nature. No artist will ever be able to create a work that has the tiny details, the broad colors, the varying light, the feeling of place, and the many sensory stimuli that being outdoors in the woods or even in a natural history museum stirs up for me. So while I am inspired by nature, I am certainly not trying to copy nature. The thought process is never ‘how can I make this look more like a leaf,’ but rather ‘what is visually appealing about a leaf, and how can I use that to make this piece of clay more interesting?’

I have found that although there is a diversity of forms that arise organically, there are many shapes and textures that I see repeated across environments. My pieces seek to capture moments of nature that are entirely unique, yet can also be found in varied forms across the organic world. These allusions are meant to be both familiar and ambiguous, and depending on the viewer can evoke folding fungus, internal organs, muscle tissue, climbing vines, branching capillaries, fragile bones or splintered logs. In many cases I think about the evocation of movement through a piece, just as I consider how water or blood might move through their environments. Because of my physical and experimental ways of working, I have developed a set of criteria for success that are as flexible as my process. First, I must find a piece interesting, and enjoy looking at it. If it is in the round, I must feel the urge to walk and to explore it, as I would in nature. Second, I want my pieces to evoke ambiguous organic matter. Finally, they must visually display my physical effort. I want the hand-made quality of my sculptures to be visible: I love clay’s ability to capture the work I put into forming it, and the attention and intention with which I approach my practice.