1 The Last Nice Day, earthenware and mixed media, 36 in. (91 cm) in length, 2019. 2 Mr. & Mrs. Chesterfield Abstraction Cup, terra cotta, 5½ in. (14 cm) in height, 2021. 3 Winnipeg Whips Cup, 5 in. (13 cm) in length, terra cotta, 2021. 4 Thingamies, 5 ft. 2 in. (1.6 m) in length, earthenware.
Ceramics Monthly: How does narrative inform your work, and how does it manifest in the different bodies of work you produce?
Pattie Chalmers: My work can be separated into three main types: pottery, figures/tableaux, and objects/collections. These categories, although visually distinct, are for me linked by a connection in each to narrative. How I think about narrative fluctuates as I move between ideas and approaches to making. But the result, whether a vessel, sculpture, or installation, starts with the accumulation of ideas that ultimately suggest a story.
- Pottery: The pottery I make serves as a canvas for the images and patterns I cull from sources such as four-for-a dollar comic books, arcade video games, and family photo albums. The drawings are personal but chosen for their familiar language: true loves, devoted siblings, or best friends, for example. By connecting such images to functional objects, I become part of a tradition of narrative ceramic vessel makers that appeals to my interest in history and my desire to understand how we arrived at where we are now.
- Figures/Tableaux: The ceramic figures I make evolved from images I carved on my pottery; when I removed them from their drawn environments and placed them next to each other, I found unplanned narratives emerged. These chance stories joined with my own experiences to form semi-fictional vignettes. And as is the way with recounted stories, fragments became exaggerated and diminished. These splinters are twisted together with added imagined elements in an order that corresponds with the flux of how things are remembered: accounts from a parent, a movie-of-the-week, or a dream may result in a portrait, a reflection of my past, or a love note to the future.
- Objects/Collections: I began grouping fabricated objects into arrangements resembling something like a cabinet of curiosities or maybe an aunt’s china hutch. The specific things in these compositions give clues to a tangle of narrative possibilities, ultimately translating into stories that, for the viewer, can become simultaneously familiar and strange. Through shifts in scale, a rejection of naturalistic rendering, and a disregard for the traditional hierarchy of value, I am able to coax new fictions out of haphazard bonds. I imagine this work as a poem more than a novel, with the objects functioning as conduits to memory and imagination. The connection to others through a thing’s capacity to hold a memory and our ability to condense such a variety of experiences into seemingly mundane mementos is what continues to grab my interest in this work.
I used to think of myself very definitely as a storyteller, but my certainty has waned. I imagined I had a boat, inviting the viewer to take a paddle. I get us to the middle of the body of water and then let them suggest a further destination. Now I understand the importance of letting go of my control of the narrative journey, but still, as always, I will provide a boat.