Rather than present a curatorial statement this month, we would like to emphasize the role Red Lodge Clay Center is proud to play in providing a place for professionally minded ceramic artists to develop their work. In the fall of 2011 Tom Bartel was a resident at the Red Lodge Studios and all of the work in this exhibition was generated in his tenure with us. It was a time for the artist to realize concepts present in his mind, but just out of reach due to the high demands of an academic career. The creative life is one of a constant balancing act and it is a privilege to have artists like Bartel spend time in our studio engaging with our community and modeling individual solutions to the query.
What follows are the artist’s own words regarding the body of work he developed here:
The figure has been a potent symbol and charged subject since antiquity, and continues to be an appropriate vehicle to ask some of life’s most challenging questions. I believe creating images of or depictions about ourselves can be attributed to a primal need to ensure we survive or to simply tell important stories about what it means to be human. As a result, I am confident that this subject will continue to hold our interest for a very long time.
My work takes cues from a “shotgun blast” of influences ranging from antiquity to popular culture and is constructed to refer to both the body and also charged, stylized, surrogates for the body such as dolls, toys, and figurines. The questions that arise from this cultural mishmash fuel my creative practice. I am interested in both the fragmentation and simplification of human form, especially how this decision encourages, if not requires, the viewer to participate with the work. Within this context, I view that which is absent as significant as that which is present. Furthermore, I use the human condition as a point of departure where themes related to gender, rites of passage, fertility and mortality are constant “threads” within my creative practice.
I see our skin as having the same story-telling potential as the ceramic surfaces I develop. Ultimately, I view these “marks” as having the capacity to be both formally beautiful and to suggest changes that have taken place over time. Surface patterns are also used to blur the line between where clothing ends and skin begins, where the concepts of mask, identity, disguise, and transformation are fundamental to my concerns. Throughout our life our appearance slowly and inevitably changes; in the process our skin records this story.