It is, but it isn’t… It is reality, or is it a representation of reality?
To a casual observer, my sculptural pieces may appear for example, as a cardboard box of spilled trash including a partially completed crossword puzzle, old newspaper clippings, paintbrushes, a book, some nails, buttons, a walnut, etc. In reality, I created the box and it’s contents with porcelain clay slabs – manipulated, molded, printed upon, and assembled into a still life to represent a stolen moment in time.
If you were to touch the sculpture of a hand-built box, you would feel three delicate layers of clay slabs I assembled to make the corrugation. I created the illusion of each of the paper objects by using antique blocks and handmade stamps to place images onto wet porcelain slabs. Color is applied using under glaze velvets, watercolors, under glaze pencils, and under glaze ink.
I love the challenge of making clay objects appear real. It constantly forces me to question how can I make the viewer believe that the pieces are real when they are instead made of clay. Another challenge I face is to determine what objects will represent what I am tying to convey in a theme. The last challenge I face is how to technically construct and fire the pieces I am producing. This part comes from experience, trial and error.
Trompe l’oeil is the art of illusion. It is a game artists play with spectators to raise questions about the nature of art and perception. I want the viewer to interact with the pieces – to touch them, to feel their texture, to look a second time.
What you feel if you dare to touch… It is not what you see…
-- Suzanne Sidebottom
As a Peabody College undergraduate studying with artist, Sylvia Hyman, I started working with clay primarily as a sculptural form. The early works were whimsical pieces referred to as Pop Art. I realized early on after having my first piece exhibited at the J. B. Speed Art Museum as a junior that I wanted not only to teach art, but I wanted to make it as well.
The next thirty years would be a delicate balancing act between sculpting, making functional art works, showing my artwork, raising a family, and teaching art. During this time I managed to start a visual art magnet program for high school students in Louisville, KY (DuPont Manual). That program has produced art teachers/ professors, graphic designers, filmmakers, art illustrators, professional artists, and creative thinkers in many other fields.
After receiving a SURDNA Fellowship to attend the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, my balance shifted more towards making art. I began to experiment in earnest with different clay forms, trying to determine my interests. I returned to my first love, trompe l’oeil sculpture.
In 2011 Leo art editor, Jo Anne Triplett wrote, “Suzanne Sidebottom is in a state of flux, spreading her art wings but not quite ready to soar. Yet she’s showing all the signs that she’s about to leap off that cliff and fly. Her specialization is ceramic trompe l’oeil. French for “deceive the eye,” it calls for highly detailed and realistic work that fools the viewer into thinking something is when it really isn’t. Her work needs yellow caution tape around it, stamped with the warning: ‘This object is not as it appears.’
In 2012 I took that leap and retired from Manual to become a full time artist. Today my work features everyday objects realistically crafted from porcelain clay, many are printed upon with antique printing blocks and other techniques. I have exhibited in 45 juried and invitational exhibitions across the US in the past 5 years, have work included in the book 500 Prints on Clay and in numerous private collections. Coming Home, All Fired Up (solo show, 2017) was a special opportunity for me to return to Nashville, where my clay interests started.
My work offers a chance to raise questions about the nature of art and perception. It is but it isn’t. It is reality, or is it a representation of reality? What you feel if you dare to touch… It is not what you see.
-- Suzanne Sidebottom