Spotlight: Struggle and Triumph

Ceramics Monthly: What led to the shift in your work from vessels to sculpture?

Wesley Brown: I act upon the clay to create works that embody struggle and triumph. I came to this way of thinking and making in graduate school. I started out in ceramics making vessels on the potter’s wheel. The wheel had been my home, its predictable rotation matched the cyclical movement of my life. And, I was very happy with my life. I had work to make in my studio and a job I loved, but things slowly turned from the familiar to the unknown. Despite my many fulfilling endeavors, I slowly began to have a hard time eating, then sleeping, and eventually making work. Some months later, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. My studio practice, once constant and expanding, slowed to almost nothing and I found myself pacing my studio for hours, unable to create for weeks.

My life was in disarray and I was no longer the constant maker I thought myself to be. I was devastated as I slowly felt myself become divorced from my love to make work. My identity was shattering. I sought help and through the numbness I moved to relearn making work even without that joy. The forms and methods I had used before no longer fit who I was. So, I began to make changes. I moved away from the wheel and eventually left the vessel altogether to build sculpture.

CM: How did your work change to integrate the ways you were experiencing, addressing, and acknowledging your depressive disorder?

WB: In this time of relearning, I was blessed to be taking a textiles class. I learned a process of screen printing, tearing, and rearranging fabric to make a quilt. This process spoke to me and my current struggle. It matched where I was; picking up the pieces of who I was and trying to patch them into something new yet familiar. I had to take this way of making in textiles back to my studio. I made slabs and tore them to pieces and slammed them together. This process was cathartic, and I called it clay quilting. I took those slabs and slumped them over forms to stiffen before assembling them into large sculptures. What I made came out unfiltered, an extension of myself.

I continue to experience major depressive disorder, but I have learned to live and work with it. My life has changed and therefore my work has changed with it. I create as an extension of myself; my works carry both the difficulties and triumphs.   

Photo: Trent Haines-Hopper.

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