A young emerging artist from small-town Arkansas, Lane Chapman wants to change the world. At first glance, Chapman’s handbuilt, red stoneware pots are luscious narratives that incorporate moths, birds, and other delicate creatures. Upon closer inspection, you will see that her pots are a platform to comment on weighty environmental concerns, the politics behind fossil fuels, and the importance of all living organisms. For Chapman, making pots for everyday use is an opportunity to tell us all to pay attention, make change, and take action. She has a powerful touch.
Despite being dissuaded from pursuing art school by her conservative religious family, Chapman dug in and after experimenting with painting and other media, earned a BFA degree in applied design with a concentration in ceramics from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2017. Subsequent residencies at Flower City Art Center in Rochester, New York, and The Clay Studio of Missoula in Montana gave her the opportunity to explore new clays and approaches to making and firing. While she started out as a porcelain-throwing, soda-firing potter, she became a handbuilder working in an iron-rich, red clay body and firing to cone 6.
Chapman’s switch from high-temperature, soda-fired porcelain to working at mid-range temperatures was necessary, instigated by her new studio environment, which did not have a soda kiln. But the transitions to handbuilding and a new clay body resulted from being in an artist residency and having the space and time to explore and try new things. She states, “I switched to handbuilding because I really enjoy it more than throwing and I didn’t really care for how clean thrown work looked unless I altered it. I also like how the texture shows my touch, and I think the texture and look of handbuilt work goes well with my illustrations. As for the clay switch, I just decided to give it a try one day because I had never tried darker clays before. I use a lot of underglazes and colored slips, and I love how layering techniques look on red clay rather than white. There’s a lot of depth with the red clay that I wasn’t getting with the porcelain. Also, for handbuilding, a stoneware body made more sense.”
Developing a Voice
Despite these changes, Chapman’s weighty content and desire to make pots for use has not wavered. “While I’ve found my voice, I’m still developing my methods,” she explains. “But my content is consistent. It’s always been there. As a kid, I spent hours outdoors making make mud villages. My grandma loved flowers and taught me all their names. It was all so fascinating to me. I could live in a tent and be content. Being outdoors is where I restart my brain, where I reset . . . . But our environment is dying, and I need to get that point across.”
She makes her point by telling the stories of the living things that have the smallest voices—moths, birds, rodents, and the like; the creatures we often are happy to ignore. In her artist statement, Chapman states: “I illustrate handmade utilitarian vessels not only to comment on humans’ relationships with objects, but also the relationships between humans and the natural world. My illustrations speak to the beauty of the ‘small world’ and their importance within our ecosystem. I direct viewers to see the disgust amongst the beautiful, to see the disgusting as beautiful. Humans can be disturbed by what they see around them, insects, rodents, and dead animals. While the interconnectivity of life goes unnoticed, humans are affecting the environment now more than ever. Insects and other animals are endangered due to pollution or the destruction of their habitats, while humans go on tearing down forests to erect new buildings. Humans can’t live without the ‘small world’ so why are we destroying it? Is this juice really worth the squeeze?”
Developing the Surface and Form
Chapman’s pots are handbuilt using mostly coiling and pinching methods. Making utilitarian forms she can repeat, such as cylindrical mugs and cups as well as shallow plates and platters, she creates nice surfaces for drawing and depicting her narratives. Adorned with cicadas, moths, and even a dik dik dwarf antelope, Chapman is sharing her passion “in their life cycles, their symbiotic relationships, their role within the ecosystem, and the parallels of these concepts found within human life.” Cigarette butts also appear often on her pots. At first glance, they are simply an element of design and a pop of color, and then you realize what they are. She explains: “I watch birds all the time when I’m outside and I’ve seen them pick up or try to eat so much trash, especially on this one street in Rochester, New York, when I was living there. It was littered with cigarette butts, fast-food trash, and chicken bones. But also, the cigarette butts are fun to draw. I love the golden yellow color and I think they just became a symbol for birds hanging around the litter. It is not about anti-smoking but about anti-littering.”
More complex, less functional forms like watering cans, large ewers, and urns are used as statement pieces, often incorporated into larger installations with sculptural elements. And just in case her drawn narratives are not enough to get her point across, her titles bring it home. Her plastic-oil-can-inspired ewer Don’t Think About How Much Oil it Takes to Make Plastic tells us what not to think, so hopefully we will do the opposite. Trying another method, her platter Don’t Throw Your Trash on the Ground #3, reminds us about a lesson that we hopefully all learned in kindergarten. Similarly, Don’t Forget to Cut Your 6-Pack Rings, a large urn encircled by ceramic bones hung from the ceiling, reminds us that animals are easily killed by human objects, like marine animals who ingest plastic found in the ocean or birds who get caught in plastic 6-pack rings. She is instructing us on what we can do to make a difference.
The forms have a loose freshness to them, but they are also tight and well constructed. There is an appropriate tension there. The edges and surfaces are unrefined, with her handbuilding methods telling part of the story. It seems as if the pot were constructed quickly so she could get to the important part—the surface.
Chapman layers her narrative on a blanket of leather-hard slips, starting with an inlay technique. Using drawings that have been sketched on tracing paper, she traces her imagery onto the pot, covers them with wax, incises the lines with an X-Acto knife, and then wipes black underglaze into the lines. She accents the intricate drawings with loose flowers around the pot, which are often applied with slip transfers—leather-hard slip drawings on newsprint that are applied like stickers. The delicate drawings and bold, fine lines created by the mishima inlay technique contrast with the loose slip-transfer drawings, a juxtaposition that mirrors her tight-yet-loose handbuilding approach.
The pots are then bisque fired, wet sanded, and enhanced with underglaze and overglaze to add pops of color. Chapman uses a clear glaze to add textural accents where needed, and cups and mugs are finished with a pinkish-white liner glaze and fired to cone six.
As to what’s next for Lane Chapman, there might be another residency in her future, or perhaps a graduate degree in order to keep up her momentum and hone her direction. Chapman is also exploring opportunities for collaboration with environmental and conservation groups in order to bring her message to a broader audience. “Overall, I want to be a better artist, but mostly as I get older and see the damage to the earth, it breaks my heart,” she says. “I am passionate about it and there is a lot to do. I don’t know if my voice will be heard, but I’m trying.”
the author Leigh Taylor Mickelson is an artist, writer, curator, and independent consultant working with arts businesses and nonprofits to help them develop and grow. Visit her website at www.leightaylormickelson.com to learn more.