Havens of Simplicity
Artist Profile — Vicki Hartman
The concept of a home has a simple beauty, and I find myself attracted to objects depicting that. it’s what caught my eye about the art of Rochester, New York ceramicist Vicki Hartman; and I thought you’d enjoy visiting with her, and learning about her work.
HomeWorkshop (HW): Have you always been an artistic person, and when did you realize you could make a living doing art?
Vicki Hartman (VH): I remember being around five and really identifying as an artist. I had a teacher say something to me about being able to draw well. This small mention had a big effect on me. I have kept a journal since then, full of drawings and ideas and I think time spent journaling has been a great exploration for creative ideas. Even recently, I went back to a sketchbook from college, about thirteen years ago, for an image idea that for some reason is relevant again.
I still struggle with the idea of making a living from my art. Sometimes I get such a great response that I am determined to keep going, and other times I feel like I might not have the energy it takes to keep making and keep pushing. So it is a process for me. But this is my first year really giving it a try and I think I am doing quite well when I look at the big picture.
HW: How and why did you come to create ceramic houses?
VH: I started making ceramic houses for my BFA show in 1999. I made them then as an exploration of suburbia and our monotonous, consumerist culture. A decade later, and a family and home of my own, I have a very different reason for making them.
The houses I make now are a celebration of what makes a family and how our home is our haven, a safe place full of the people and things we cherish that bring meaning to our lives. I also love thinking about the little things that everyone, no matter how different we are, appreciates; the same simple parts of life. I want the houses to feel simple like that, and accessible.
HW: When you need inspiration for your designs, where do you most often turn?
VH: I often find myself with forms created and no idea what to put on them. When this happens, the best thing for me to do is to take a walk. I live in a small urban neighborhood that has lots of great parks. So when I go for a walk, I can choose to walk the streets and be inspired by people interacting and working and serving and all the things we do, or I can quickly take myself to a quieter, more inward natural place and look at shapes of leaves and seeds and a landscape.
Living in upstate NY brings four seasons, so each time I take a walk, so much is different. I love looking at the reservoir and the way ice forms and melts on it as much as I love the brick church across the street or the sprinkler watering my neighbor’s lawn. There are forms and colors and themes in all of this that inspire me.
I keep up with contemporary ceramic artists, as well as all the amazing crafters in the handmade world today. I get inspiration from them, but I do try to not look too much, as I want to be influenced by my environment and my own ideas more than other artists. I want my work to look like it could only have come from me.
HW: Talk about the imagery you use on your ceramics:
VH: I choose my imagery for a few reasons; I want viewers to feel a connection to what they see, so I look for things that have some universality to them. The people I use are meant to be ambiguous and not portray any certain gender or type of person; I want them to convey part in all of us that makes us all human beings.
The nature images I use, like the ferns and seed pods, I see as similar to the people in the same way. Although they are from a specific plant originally, I want them to take on a little from all plants. I also love the thought of seemingly unimportant objects we each have in the home and what they do for our lives; why we keep them. This is why, for instance, I use the compact fluorescent light bulb on my work.
HW: Name two to three other artists (past or present) whose work you admire:
VH: I have so many artists I admire so much, this is a hard question. But one ceramic artist that really inspires me is Mary Fisher. Also, the painter and ceramist Mary Frank, although it is her paintings dreamy quality that I am really drawn to. Jun Kaneko and Cy Twombly are also favorites I will always return to. All of these artists so successfully create with layers and depth that I aspire to.
HW: What do you know now, that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
VH: That is a question that will probably have a different answer each year, but right now, I would say that I wish someone had told me to take more risks, do things that don’t feel quite right and comfortable but that I think I might learn something from. I have two kids now, so taking risks is not as easy as it might have been once. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said something like: “Do something each day that scares you.”
I think as an artist, getting myself out of a comfortable place is a great thing to do to keep things fresh and new.