2021 Emerging Artist: Paige O’Toole

Paige O’Toole, Hudson Valley, New York

Ceramics Monthly: What techniques do you use to make your work and why?

Paige O’Toole: I handbuild my work in terra cotta because of its historical relation to the decorative arts—from its use in ancient pottery, to architectural facades, to red clay bole used in Medieval and Renaissance gilding. I don’t start with a specific outcome in mind. I prefer to build progressively, intuitively responding to the material. I construct using only my hands, both working simultaneously to create symmetry. I am fascinated by the way clay responds to touch and how a quick gesture of the hand could be so abstract while also retaining a sense of clarity. My process begins with a loose rendering of a frame, and from there each layer is built through the addition of coils that then morph and adapt to fit the movement of the sculpture. It is a repetitive process that transforms in rhythm with every pinch. I create dichotomies of surface within the work—smooth and rough, matte and satin—through both the use of mark making and terra sigillata.

1 Frame Composition VII, 30 in. (76 cm) in height, terra cotta, terra sigillata, fired to cone 01 in oxidation, 2020.

The works sit on their own clay pedestals, created by flipping an initial sculpture upside down. From that point, I build off of the footprint to begin the larger portion of the work. Considering the ideas behind the work, display is important. I want to address our assumptions of primary versus secondary content established in fine art, asking the viewer to see the pedestal as a part of the work, while also understanding its independent function. Pieces created for the wall speak the language of the freestanding sculptures, while occupying a very different space. They recall the world of painting, as they possess the elements of a frame and the movement painting might suggest, all the while confronting the viewer with the absence of containment. This question of containment speaks to the very nature of what it is to be a craft object.

2 Frame Composition XVIII, 3 ft. 3 in. (1 m) in height, terra cotta, terra sigillata, fired to cone 01 in oxidation, 2020.

CM: Who is your ideal audience?

PO: I would say my ideal audience includes those who appreciate the infinite expression of finger marks, symmetry, and the decorative. Symmetry lends an intrinsic appeal to each object. Further rumination on each piece highlights our assumption that decoration is rooted in display of wealth and our ingrained desire to obtain it. My work as a whole is about frames and their position in the art world, and I am interested in the way a frame commands attention while at the same time we’re conditioned to ignore it. I’ve always wondered why frames aren’t a part of the mainstream conversation when studying histories of Western painting; for me, their presence is not only undeniable, but fundamental. My work is most effective within the context of a museum or gallery, where the questions I investigate are most prevalent, but I hope the work draws in any viewer, no matter the context.

To learn more, visit www.paigeotoole.com.

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