By Alyssa Long
In a Thursday evening installment of the Spring 2019 Arts Colloquium, Los Angeles ceramicist Lauren Gallaspy spoke to a captivated audience of art students about her practice. “My work is about vulnerability, desire, and fear,” she said. “I’m interested in the recolonization of the territory of our minds and our bodies.”
Gallaspy’s ceramic vessels and sculptures reference the human body as both grotesque and beautiful, inspired by the mundane and mythic properties of the medium.
Self-expression through art is inherently embarrassing, Gallaspy said. Talking about her art, devoting hours to it, and letting it speak for itself are intimate acts, each full of uncertainty. But to her, embarrassment is not equivalent to shame. “Embarrassment is the recognition of the self,” she said. She forges her identity through the creative process.
Much of Gallaspy’s work is spontaneous, and she tends to start drawings with no clear end goal in mind. “The studio is a place where I hope to be surprised as much as comfortable,” she explained, adding that ceramic art makes her feel like an amateur, and that she enjoys the serendipitous freedom of her process.
Gallaspy takes inspiration from ancient female ceramicists who created pottery with both mundane functionality and beautifully mythic properties. She showed the audience photographs of memory pots from Africa, used to commemorate the dead in the form of adorned containers.
Gallaspy’s more modern artistic influences include surrealist artist Alan Glass, visionary artist Howard Finster, and members of the representational artists’ group Chicago Imagists Jim Nutt and Christina Ramberg—creators whose works explore various dualities of the human condition.
Emily Dickinson, who wrote many of her poems on scrap pieces of paper, also influenced many of Gallaspy’s vessels. Dickinson expressed intimacy through nonphysical means by writing about the body, and Gallaspy seeks to create tangible poetry with the same goal through her ceramic vessels. She described her fascination with the timeless connection between creators and observers saying “I want to tell stories that might outlive me.”
Gallaspy said her work explores the transitional state that separates life from death, and creatures from objects. When Hurricane Katrina hit, she studied crumbling structures and felt sympathy for them in a similar way to how she mourned the destruction of living beings.
Inspired by the landscape’s demolition, she sought to communicate wholeness and brokenness in her ceramic pieces. To accomplish this, she often had to break the rules of ceramics, building from the top down or completing the firing process in unorthodox ways.
The art world often pressures Gallaspy to increase the scale of her artwork, but she feels that the small size and portability of her ceramic pieces are integral to her art’s relationship with the human body.
“The materials of clay and the human experience of trauma are linked,” Gallaspy said. After she had her thyroid removed, she wanted to convey the preciousness of miniscule internal organs. Gallaspy works specifically in this scale of vulnerability, creating organ-sized pieces that could potentially fit inside a person. “Tiny and tedious is its own kind of monumental,” she said.
The Spring 2019 Arts Colloquium is open to students, staff, and the public to glean inspiration from a different local or visiting artist every Thursday in Embarcadero Hall. The next artist in the series, Daniel Small, will speak on May 2nd about his storytelling through cinematic, archaeological, and technological artifacts.
Alyssa Long is a second-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Communication. She is a Web and Social Media Intern with UC Santa Barbara’s Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.