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Front Window Spotlight: Margaret MacLean

We’ve got an all-new front window display featuring the work of ceramicist Margaret MacLean. Margaret’s work is clearly inspired by tactile elements of our natural world, and every piece is a complex assemblage of texture and detail. Her work is on display until March 5th, and more of her work is available in our retail gallery. Images shown here are courtesy of the artist.

Margaret MacLean Front Window

Finding Inspiration

How does your art influence what you see? What do you notice that most people do not?

I tend to hone in on textural patterns and colors that I see in nature. If I’m walking in the woods, I’m drawn to things that are reflective, colorful and textural. Of course those things are pretty abundant in the woods, but if something encompasses all of those elements I’m compelled to stop and pick it up. I’m particularly drawn to wet, dead leaves, lichen on rocks, succulents, and all things found in a tide pool. I’m also attracted to rusted metal or decaying wood. I love the patinas found on rusted metal. The beach and tide pools are an endless source of exploration for me. Being near the ocean, or in the woods, are my two most happy places. I also find myself seeing images in unexpected and unusual places, like when you see an image in a cloud – I tend to see them on lots of different things, wherever there are patterns. There is a wonderful little image of a hummingbird on the wall of my shower stall that I’m not sure my husband has noticed.

How do you collect inspiration?

I think I absorb it through experience. I grew up on the West Coast and spent most of my childhood on and around the ocean, and it wasn’t until I started exploring clay that I saw it come through in my making. This is also true of the botanical influence that comes through: being in nature was a huge part of my upbringing. As a family we spent a lot of time camping and hiking, and my father’s idea of hiking was to not always follow the designated trail, but to forge our own. This approach definitely cultivated a comfort and affinity with nature for me. I see inspiration everywhere in nature, art, and life in general, and I collect it and bring into my studio when appropriate. I also follow artists’ blogs to get those creative juices flowing.Margaret MacLean in her studio

Crafting a Voice

When did you realize that you could trust your creative voice?

I’d say that happened at the very end of art school when I really started paying attention to what I was interested in creatively, and it’s grown over the years. It’s really been about honoring my form of expression and feeding it through daily practice and exploration. It was at that time also, that my art was starting to get noticed and I was getting opportunities to exhibit. That validation helped to make me feel I was on the right track.

If you could go back in time to when you were a beginning art student, what’s a piece of advice you would give yourself?

To be easy on myself, to ignore my internal critic and the self-doubt, to focus and validate my own process, and to create to please my own aesthetic and expression, not someone else’s. I’d also say enjoy the process and the gift that it is to fully immerse in your art exploration with other artists and like-minded people. Looking back it was the best time, and I learned so much about myself.

Compared to your early work as an emerging artist, where have you really developed and refined your work? What’s something you can do now that you couldn’t do then?

I feel like I can sum that up by reflecting on the images that I used to carry around in my head, but felt I couldn’t manifest at that time because I didn’t have the skill or inclination. It seemed unattainable, but I realize now that I have since brought those ideas to life through my sculptures.  I’ve learned to trust what the clay can do and push it.

What still surprises you about being an artist?

How things grow and change. How much more I can learn and explore, and how I feel like I’m just getting started.

Who are your creative mentors (whether they know it or not)?

I’m inspired by people who are leading creative lives. Not all of them are artists, but they’re following their true passions and living life with gusto.

Margaret MacLean work space

Doing the Work

There is an incredible variety of textures in your work and a painstaking level of detail in each finished piece. How long does the process take?

That’s a good question. When I begin a new piece, I always make a mental note to record how long it takes to make, and I can never do it. I think it’s because it’s such a movable process for me. I start one, I pause, I start another, I go back to first one, etc. Some come fast and easy (relatively speaking) and others I have to take a lot of breaks from, and they’re slower to manifest. So safe to say they take a pretty long time, especially when you consider firings, and at times, multiple glazings.

When you were installing your front window pieces, you used the word “torturous” to describe making them. What keeps drawing you into this work? What is it about them that fascinates you?

Interesting that I said it’s torturous. I do recall saying that, but I don’t really feel that way. I’m always excited when I sit down to a new and ‘naked’ form, searching in my head, or around my studio for inspiration on what to experiment with texture wise. It’s such an intuitive process for me, and I’ve learned over the years of working with clay to really trust it. I may have an idea of what I want the clay to do and be, but if it doesn’t go my way I’ve learned to follow where it wants to lead me. I enjoy that process a lot; it seems magical to me. I’ll experiment with some different textures, and when I find the one that works, it’s extremely satisfying. The “torturous” part may come to play when I realize how long it’s going to take to execute. It never stops me from starting a piece, because once the idea is set I have to do it no matter how crazy it may seem, or how long I think it will take. Once I get into the actual making it can be very relaxing and meditative.

I think what keeps drawing me to this particular exploration is the desire to emulate all things tactile. I’m also fascinated by the repetitive patterns that I see in nature, and enjoy creating and repeating patterns in my work. Repetition is definitely key to my process.

Work in process, Margaret MacLean

Do you work on a single sculpture beginning to end, or do you have several in process at the same time?

I have a number of forms ready to go, so that I can be working on a few pieces at any given time. Because finding and experimenting with different textures is one of the most satisfying parts of my process, I sometimes need to interrupt the repetitive making part. If working on a particular texture becomes tedious to me, I have to take a break and move on to another one. If it’s not fun, and I’m not enjoying the process, then it’s likely not going to turn out the way I envisioned, and it won’t have integrity. Each one comes to be in its own time. I’ve learned that. Don’t rush the tide!

Is there something you’re experimenting with that hasn’t shown up in your finished art yet?

Yes, I have images and ideas in my head that I haven’t had time to play with yet. They’re more about form, and the concept of what attracts and repels us. I also envision creating larger pieces, in whatever exploration comes next. I look forward to seeing what evolves.

Do you have creative outlets outside of ceramics?

I like to paint and mess around with mixed media. Painting was my first passion when I began art school, until I caught the clay bug. A couple of years ago, I was challenged by a friend to make art every day for a year. My studio is in my house, and at that particular moment it might as well have been in another city, it was hard to get in there. I tend to need deadlines, and a good challenge for a kick-start, so this really worked for me. I did make art every day for a year (give or take), whether it was a scribble or a piece that felt finished. The product wasn’t really important, but cultivating the daily art practice was amazing and has definitely influenced my ceramics. I like intuitive, fast, free-form, process-based painting, which is a nice deviation from some of the detailed clay work I do.

Margaret MacLean, kiln view

This question relates to this year’s theme for Swirl, our annual gala and auction. What does “wildly creative” mean to you and does that show up in your work?

To me, “wildly creative” means to express your true nature, and to manifest your soul’s desire. It’s the practice of following one’s creative impulses, to have a daily practice, and to approach life as a creative endeavor, no matter what you do or what your expression is. Do the work and don’t obsess on the results. Accept the successful outcomes, and the not-so-successful ones. Just don’t worry about it, and be true to self.

This approach is a work in progress for me, but I definitely feel like I’m on the “wildly creative” path.

Story by Andrea Lewicki.

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Permanent link to this article: http://arteast.org/2017/02/front-window-margaret-maclean/