Artists need creative space in more ways than one.
This discussion came up when Catherine Coulter Lloyd was in Greenville a couple of weeks ago and we had lunch at Dale’s Indian Cusine on Evans Street. Catherine (Cat) and I are old friends who met in art school and instantly created a bond over our mutual love of ceramics and craft- or basically anything handmade. We are also both mountain girls with deep Appalachian roots, and we have spent much time bemoaning the swampy, flat and humid eastern North Carolina farmland and lamenting about our mutual homesickness for the hills.
Like many women who get together, a lunch date is an opportunity to have a “hen party”, venting and chatting about the ebb and flow of our lives. What husbands are doing, our careers, books we have read, her two cats, my arsenal of animals, step children, nephews and the health of our parents. One topic that almost always creeps up in our conversations is our need to create and the frustration of not having enough time in the day. Catherine calls it her dichotomy, the way she has to split herself in two, which she literally did with the February opening of her exhibition of new ceramic work entitled, Entwined.
Clay seems to be the glue that binds Cat’s many worlds together. She has told me on more than one occasion that working in clay connects her with a long and broad family chronicle that includes generations of gardeners, cultivators, landscape architects and creative workers. The eloquent shapes and pathways of the flowers and leaves embedded onto Cat’s clay boxes and carved on tile murals are images that materialized from her love of nature and her experience of being raised among gardens, rivers and mountains. It is through these images she is creating an ancestral and family narrative.
Cat’s day job is as the Visual Art Specialist at the Maria V. Howard Art Center in Rocky Mount, NC and like most art administrators, her work schedule is demanding and erratic which leaves little room for down time, so working after hours in her studio can go as late as 2:00 am. Most of us who are driven by a creative force can understand the dichotomy of balancing art, work and family. There is a determination to have something to say no matter how minuet or profound it may be, but finding a way to quiet our minds in a world that is loud and chaotic is not an easy chore and inspiration does not come spontaneously.
I recently read an essay by Silas House entitled The Art of Being Still. In this essay he writes about what this is like for writers and their process of writing: “We writers must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called “next” at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.”
The same is true for visual artists. We must carve out creative time the best way we can. We imagine and design in our heads- even while dropping our kids off at school or changing out the the laundry. In addition, visual artists also have the challenge of designing a working space that fits their artistic medium. My clay studio is in my garage. It is not exactly fancy and I do have to maneuver around the shop vac, air compressor and some gardening tools to work, but this is my place to create. I guess you could call my garage studio the artistic version of the “Man Cave” except no ESPN.
Cat and I have talked about where this struggle and accomplishment of our creative work is really going to eventually lead us. I can see good things for Cat down the road as she continues to create these poignant works of art. We become who we are, as my mother says, through a series of the choices we make throughout our lives.
The world would be better if we taught our children those types of things. Not how to wipe your mouth with a napkin so much as how to become someone worthwhile.
Catherine’s exhibition is on view at Strickland Art Gallery: http://www.stricklandartgallery.com/