I portray people’s emotions, expressions, and human nature through clay. Through clay busts, I evoke the human experience of smugness, carelessness, drunkenness, joy, sadness, melancholy, or sullenness, and shape them into caricatures. My intention is for the observer to find humor in my work, while recognizing the truth of the emotions expressed. To me, emotions are what makes us human, and facial expressions are the voices of those emotions. I use clay to express my observations on the basic humanistic qualities that surround me and that surround us all.
I was born and raised in Novosibirsk, Russia….what Americans know as “Siberia”. When I was growing up in my small town, I didn’t have access to the type of resources and opportunities my children now have, and so never had a formal way of pursuing my passion for art. But I was always involved in some kind of art project for my own enjoyment… whether it was a painting, collage, dolls, photography, digital art, knitting, sewing. I loved it all.
I moved to the United States in 1998 to pursue a career in architecture. But in 2009, with a small child and another baby on the way, and a husband who was self-employed, I was laid off. This was devastating to me and my family.
I took it as a sign that I needed to change my path in life, so I took a clay class near at the art center my house.
I had never worked with clay before, and as I began working with this new substance I found faces just started popping out my hand… faces that were happy, sad, silly, excited, nervous… all kinds of human emotions. I loved it!
Desperately craving more training, I sought out and began taking classes by well-established artists. The more classes I took, the more I wanted. I just loved this substance, and the way it allowed all these emotions to flow through my fingers and create wonderful snapshots of human expression.
The day I received notice that two of my sculptures had been accepted by “500 Figures in Clay” was one of the most joyous and emotional days of my life. I could not believe it. Here I was, a girl from a small town in Russia, being mentioned next to some of the greatest ceramic artists in the world. It was such a tremendous feeling of recognition and validation. Since then I was published in numerous magazines and won awards.
My work focuses on the emotions that make us all human…….and centers on facial expressions as the representation of those emotions. My ideas typically come from a phrase I heard (Americans say funny things!), or a picture I saw, or a “moment” I observed.
And for as much as I enjoy creating these facial expressions in clay, I also enjoy seeing the emotions and expressions brought out in people when they see my work for the first time. Especially laughter. I love it when one of my sculptures makes someone laugh!
— Zhanna Martin