Ceramics Monthly: What sparks your creativity?
Giselle Hicks: A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, passages from Virginia Woolf or John Steinbeck novels, or an essay on still life might spark an idea. I look at design magazines, historical ceramics, textiles, architecture, and also try to keep my eye on the contemporary art world.
CM: What is your creative process like for different bodies of work?
GH: The work with still lifes or flowers, tables, and beds, comes from reflection on relationships and intimacy—to friends, family, community—as well as experiences within the domestic space. Making this work often involves more reading and writing around the ideas that drive it. I find that I feel more vulnerable trying to communicate these deeply personal ideas through objects, so these pieces are often more agonizing to make. I don’t make this work on a consistent basis, so it evolves slowly.
The vessels are pure pleasure to make; they feel fresh, direct, and approachable. I enjoy the formal exploration of shape, volume, proportion, and color. I also enjoy the building process, and work toward making forms that are grounded, generous, soft, and sturdy. I don’t agonize over this body of work. The vessels are less personal in terms of narrative, though still deeply personal because they reflect my aesthetic values and interest in handmade objects.
The pillow wall tiles (shown above) were initially driven by ideas about intimate objects, like the quilt or bed, within the domestic space. I still feel connected to the idea that the quilt is traditionally a labored-over, handmade object that we use everyday for warmth and comfort. At this point, I think of the pillow wall tiles as beautiful decorative objects that celebrate pattern, invite touch (due to the honed and soft-looking finish of the porcelain), and are made to enjoy in the home. I love pattern—the labor of making it and the pleasure of looking at it.
CM: How have residency programs informed your work or helped you develop as an artist?
GH: I feel really fortunate to have been welcomed into so many different residency communities. The community aspect of these programs appeals to me most. I lean hard on the support, feedback, and camaraderie of my studio mates. Being surrounded by other artists is incredibly affirming and motivating.
My first residency after undergraduate school was at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado. I was there for three years as a summer intern and winter resident/renter. I met so many artists with a wide variety of studio practices and value systems. It was an incredible supplement to my early education.
Next, at the Kohler factory in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I learned to make molds and learned what working at scale could really mean. That gift of that ARTS/Industry residency, offered by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC), changed everything in my studio practice. As a result, I’ve been working with molds for the last twelve years. As a resident, I had access to brilliant engineers—prototype makers, mold makers, casters, and glaze engineers. It was incredible. I’ve done that residency twice and have been moved by the generosity of the staff and associates.
While a resident at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to be part of an outstanding organization that runs some of the best community classes and innovative outreach programs that I know of.
Arriving at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana, was like walking into a giant family. I felt embraced from the moment I arrived and was lucky to be there with some incredible artists who were focused on how to make a living through a studio practice. The conversations were less about the content of the work and more about how to piece together a living and how we wanted our work to move out into the world. The bonds formed there were deep and those are the colleagues I talk to the most these days.
There are drawbacks to moving around so much, but I feel fortunate to have a network of incredible friends and colleagues all over the world, in addition to a deep well of knowledge about how arts organizations can serve artists and their communities.