Bonnie Marie Smith Mud’ra

Fall 2014
Residency at Project Art in Cummington, MA, creating a collaborative dinnerware set and dinner party.

Bonnie Marie Smith artKamp 2014

Spring 2014
Mythology Meets Archetype exhibit at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Bonnie Marie Smith Northern Clay Center

My work was featured in Taiwanese magazine DPI.
A transcript of the interview is below. 

DPI Magazine Bonnie Marie Smith

Interview with DPI Magazine, Taiwan, Spring 2014

DPI: Would you share something about yourself with us? Like your education background, your homeland, your career, or anything you want to say.

BMS: When most people hear of an "artist from New York" I think they imagine something very different from my experience, yet I am an artist, and I have lived in the state of New York for most of my life. I grew up on a farm in western New York with hundreds of pigs, and also hundreds of acres of crops and a small orchard of fruit trees. I spent a lot of time by myself when I was young, wandering in nature, reading, writing, and drawing.

In my late teens and early twenties I fell in love with ceramics and studied at the New York State School of Ceramics at Alfred University, where I got my BFA. I loved being a student at Alfred! It is known as one of the best schools in the world for ceramic arts, and I learned so much from the tremendous creative energy, skill and talent there. 

Now I live in the Hudson River valley of New York. I really enjoy living here as I am close to beautiful places in nature, where I can work in a garden and walk with my dog in the woods, but also I am nearby to a lot of culture and creative people from all over the world, and can be in NYC in just a few hours by bus. Historically, this area has been long associated with artists and musicians, and I enjoy being connected to that.

Bonnie Marie Smith DPI Magazine

DPI: How does ceramics appeal to you?

BMS: I fell in love with ceramics primarily because I love how clay feels, and I love the vast possibilities clay has as a material. Clay responds immediately and sensitively to touch, and working with clay for me is often like a conversation.  I touch the clay, notice the expression that has formed, and then I respond back with another touch or movement, and so on. The work starts out very rough, but then as the "conversation" progresses, things become more refined.  I work primarily with the human figure, and often the figure begins to feel alive to me at a certain point in the work. Though I start out with general ideas, it is always unpredictable where the clay will lead, and I like that exploration and unpredictability. Clay is such a primal material. It is literally of the earth, and I like that intimate connection I can have in working with it. Ceramics is for me a "till death do us part" kind of relationship. There is so much to explore with this material, I feel I am still just scratching the surface in my work with it.

DPI: Besides ceramics, you work in the field of decorative painting and develop collage, drawing and painting. How could you have so much energy to handle these at same time? To you, how are these categories of art different?

BMS:  For me, the same creativity goes into using any medium, and I enjoy using a variety of materials. Drawing and painting are very good for getting down an idea or image quickly, and I enjoy the more immediate satisfaction of that. Ceramics is a longer process. To create an actual figure is a much more involved task, though it is very rewarding to create an object in three dimensions.  I flow between these different mediums depending on what is happening.  If I have an exhibition I am working a lot on my sculpture primarily, but also at times take breaks to play with watercolors, inks and sketches on the floor to get creativity flowing in a different way or to take a break from the clay.  If an idea for a series of collages or drawings is most compelling I will work on that. It really depends where my interest is in the moment. Other times I will be making hand painted wallpaper or painting a geometric design on a floor and I will work on that project until it is finished. I don't like to have too many outer deadlines at the same time, so I try to space those out and just focus primarily on one project at a time. When there is nothing particular happening with deadlines or shows, I experiment with my little ceramic figures, I do more sketching and also sometimes play with sewing or making toys. 

Bonnie Marie Smith DPI 2

DPI: What do you want to show or tell by your ceramics art?

BMS:  I want to show in my ceramic art the beauty of the material. There's a lot I want to find and show in the clay and glazes themselves.

I work primarily with the human figure, because this is the form I am most familiar and intimate with.  In my sculptures I  am exploring my own experiences, but I also want to convey a universal human experience, especially from a feminine point of view.  I make things in a very spontaneous, unconscious way and often I will not know what the work is about until after it is made, but I do often find myself  looking to create a presence, a quietness and inner reflection in my work. When I work, I am looking for a movement or expression in the clay that holds some sort of mystery and speaks to me at a deep level, and I  hope it will speak to others who see my work, too.

DPI: What is the theme of your ceramics art generally? Does the choice relate to your childhood? Or where does your inspiration come from? 

BMS: When I was little I had a collection of ceramic figurines, tiny people, babies, birds and animals of all kinds. I played with them and arranged them daily on my dresser where they were kept.  When I started working with clay and discovered I could make my own figurines I found that pretty exciting!

I am inspired by a lot of things. Ideas come to me through dreams and images that appear spontaneously in my mind. I'm inspired by myths and fairytales, by things I see out of the corner of my eye, by objects and colors I encounter in my day, by nature, and by my collection of tiny toys. 

I have a few general themes but one thing that comes up again and again in my work is the child figure.  To me the child represents the essential self, and I'm interested in the authenticity and innocence of the child. There may be a sense of sadness in some of my child figures, and I think this has to do with the experiences of loss that are part of life and growing up.  Often there is an authenticity and freedom that is sacrificed in order to conform to the wishes and standards of our families and society, and I feel a certain tragedy in that for most modern humans.  Freedom is very important to me and I often dream about what a happier world this could be if all beings - men, women, children - and  also the plants and animals! -  had the complete freedom to be as they are, and as they enjoy being, without the force and control our economically driven world often imposes.

DPI: Could you also talk about your collage works? When do you start to create college works and why? What materials do you use? What do the scissors symbolize?

BMS: I have always been interested in collage. It's a very playful way to experiment with bits and pieces of things, colors, images, textures. When my grandmother died I inherited many of her sewing tools. She was a seamstress and I kept a collection of her old scissors. Even though they didn't work very well anymore, they were beautiful objects to me, and I began drawing them. After a series of vivid dreams involving scissors, I began to create collages of them using old newspapers. I like how the scissors have a very alive, somewhat figurative quality. They seem to have eyes and legs, or mouth, which they can open or close. They move, and they can look as though they are dancing. The scissors represent to me a duel nature of creation and destruction. They are used to cut things apart, and in breaking down one thing, they are an agent to create something new. 

Bonnie Marie Smith DPI Magazine

DPI: Could you show us your studio? Could you describe your typical day as a versatile artist? How do you balance your work and life as a freelancer? 

BMS: I live and work in an old building that used to be a department store. My studio is on the third floor above where I live. The building is over 100 years old. It has a terrific view of the mountains but it is an unrefined space. There is no running water or heat, so it can be quite chilly up there on cold winter days. I am also part of a ceramic cooperative, where I share kilns, wheels, and other ceramic equipment with a small group of people, and that is where I glaze and fire my work.

In my typical day I wake up quite early, often making notes or sketches of ideas or dreams that have come to me. My mornings are very quiet and I usually spend time in meditation, journal writing, doing simple yoga. After I walk my dog, have breakfast, and do some small household chores, I head to the studio. Later in the afternoon, I take a break and walk with my dog again, work in the kitchen, have a meal.  If I have an exhibition or project happening I may work into the night. There are times I work a lot and times when very little happens – it really varies, but the most important thing is to show up regularly in the studio and work with what arises. For my creativity to flourish best, I find I need the right balance of activity and also quiet "nothing" time. I tend to be a person who goes with the flow of what is happening or what I feel like doing, so I still struggle at times with self-discipline, or with balancing work and life in the way I would find ideal, but I am growing more and more in synch with the process and rhythms of my creative work. 

DPI: What is your favorite part when it comes to your jobs? How does that improve your life? Could you describe your ideal life as an artist?

BMS: There are many parts I enjoy when it comes to my work.  Its exciting to feel that first flash of an idea or inspiration that comes, unexpected, usually in the moments I am waking up in the morning, during a walk, or in the midst of working.  In my ceramics I love best working with the clay in its wet, raw state.  But there is also the fun of experimenting with a new glaze or surface, and opening the kiln to see what has happened.  There are rewarding moments for me when someone else gains enjoyment or inspiration from my work.  I think of creative work as offering a sort of nourishment and there is satisfaction in seeing others fed by something in my work.  

Doing creative work enriches my life because there is a sense of limitless exploration and discovery happening, of myself, of my ideas, and of the materials I work with.  There is always more to explore and experiment with, and life can be very rich and meaningful as an artist.  

In my ideal life as an artist I am simply in the flow of my work.  I am an explorer and an adventurer through my work, and I move with my ideas wherever they take me. My obstacles do not stop me. I neither resist nor force my work, but allow whatever arises to come. I am in a good balance of activity and stillness. I play. I give myself through my work and in turn I am supported with all that I need to continue doing it. And last, but not least, I enjoy the process.