SchoolArts Magazine

JAN 2019

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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24 JANUARY 2019 SchoolArts L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G ARTIST Q&A SchoolArts: When did you realize that art was what you were born to do? John Brickels: When I was in second grade, I became enamored with automobiles. I started drawing them incessantly. I would project what Fords, Chevrolets, and Chryslers would look like in the future. One day, I was caught drawing cars during class. As punishment I had to fill the whole blackboard with car drawings. I was in heaven. My classmates ended up watching me draw instead of paying attention to Sister Cecelia. Drawing cars eventually morphed into drawing other subjects. I became acutely aware of the shapes and forms of things that made up my life, how things looked. SA: What are some of the biggest influences on your work, including other artists, events, or things outside of the arts? JB: I am influenced by where I live. In Akron, Ohio, I was inspired by factories. In Vermont I was inspired by barns. Presently, living in Lowell, Massachusetts, I am inspired by mill buildings and the machinery that ran them. Although my art is exclusively ceramic sculpture, I am heavily influenced by paintings that have a visceral effect on me. SA: What is a typical workday like for you? JB: A three-mile walk along the canals in Lowell, Mas- sachusetts, starts my day. Then I read The Boston Globe newspaper in all of its inky analog glory with breakfast. Next, I look at images in books or online that relate to what I'm currently working on. Then I walk to my fifth- floor studio, where I recycle clay scraps, make slabs, extrude shapes, look out the window, work my magic, [and] knock off around 5 p.m. SA: What is the role of your support community? Assistants, art dealers, collectors, art critics/journalists? How do you develop this network of support? JB: I live in a building that is exclusively for working art- ists. Fifty work/live lofts. My community is made up of painters, dancers, tattoo artists, writers, actors, photog- raphers, and twenty-five rescue dogs. We have an outside fire pit that a number of us gather around and hash out our ideas. In my studio building we have 250 studios filled with artists with 250 different levels of skill. I'm lucky to not be working in isolation. For some of us, the social aspect of being around fellow artists is very helpful. SA: How do you recreate the textures of wood and metal so precisely in clay? JB: Wood textures are made by pressing the clay onto weathered pieces of wood, then manipulated and enhanced with tools like stiff brushes, knives, and pin tools. When replicating metal pieces, one has to be very precise or the whole illusion is thrown off. I will place real nuts on top of the clay slab and trace around it and then cut out the clay nut. Washers are made by using small biscuit cutters cutting into very thin slabs. Some - times I use paint to treat the surfaces of my machines to look oily and worn out. SA: It appears that you almost never glaze your ceramic work. Is this a purely aesthetic decision, or are there other reasons? JB: I usually don't use any surface treatment like glazes or paint because I want the sculpture to work as a form by itself without any outside help. I have happily discovered that a sculpture of a row house, for example, that is left monochromatic can represent other row houses that you might have seen or lived in. If the row house sculpture is painted or glazed, it becomes specific to itself. It limits the viewer to considering only that specific row house sculpture. However...lately I've enjoyed enhancing the look of my machine sculptures with paint. The process of creating the illusion of dirty, oily surfaces is just too much fun to pass up. DISCUSSION Conduct a quick online search for photos of crumbling factories, barns, or old cars. Share these images with students, asking them to identify them and how they became old and dilapidated. Next, share images of John Brickels's sculptures. Display them side by side, if pos - sible. Ask students to guess what materials he used to create them. After some discussion, reveal that they are made from clay. Ask: • What kinds of techniques do you think Brickels uses to create these realistic shapes and textures? • Why do you think he is interested in sculpting old build- ings and cars? • Are there any old objects that you find fascinating? STUDIO EXPLORATIONS • Use clay slabs and hand-building techniques to create a realistic sculpture of an object in the room. • Experiment with a variety of clay loop and knife tools, cookie cutters, and geometrically shaped objects to create realistic textures and hard geometric shapes from leather- hard clay slabs. Use your discoveries to create a new sculpture. • Work in a group to create an architectural sculpture of an imagined city. Work together to plan what kinds of shapes to use and how your buildings will work together. Display your finished sculpture in a public place. • Create a sculpture or multimedia work of art inspired by the theme of nostalgia. What objects from the past inter - est you? How can you recreate or reference them in inter- esting ways? Written by Karl Cole, Art Historian and Curator of Images at Davis Publications and Robb Sandagata, Digital Curriculum Director and Editor at Davis Publications.

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