Angela Cunningham first took a ceramics class at the suggestion of a high school teacher during Saturday detention. After receiving her BA in Philosophy from the College of William and Mary, she decided to put her degree on a shelf and pursue her love for art and ceramics. She continued her art education in a post-baccalaureate program at U-Mass Dartmouth, and soon after received an MFA from Penn State University in 2004. She is currently a full-time studio artist working at Mudflat Studio in the Boston area.
I make objects that beg to be touched. Through exquisite detailing, seductive surfaces, and provocative imagery, my pieces draw viewers near, desiring to touch and explore. As much as I want to seduce, though, I equally want to push away. The beauty of the object is often tempered by bits of the grotesque.
The imagery in my pieces is drawn largely from forms in nature. I am inspired by the seductive textures, elegant lines, and fertile energy of flowers. Fruits and vegetables fascinate me with their tantalizing colors, dense seed structure, and grotesque beauty. The human body enters here and there – the curve of a hip, the softness of belly.
More and more, my obsessive process feeds the content of my work. I have given myself over to investment. Every part is sensitively considered, well-loved; details are rendered with an attentiveness that borders on obsession. I strive to capture a sense of exquisiteness in its richest definition
Writing by Canne Holladay about Angela's Visiting Artist Stay at RCS
Angela Cunningham was a visiting artist at Rat City Studios during February and March 2017. She currently resides in Somerville, MA where she maintains a studio practice at Mudflat Studios. The tactile, sensual, delicate, and grotesque beauty in patterns and forms found in nature influence her ceramic sculptures. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of William and Mary in 1999 and a Masters of Fine Arts in Ceramics from Pennsylvania State University in 2004.
During her stay at Rat City Studios, Angela created a number of small scale sculptures. That scale allowed her to explore a number of ideas. She bisqued her sculptures here at the studio and we are looking forward to photos of them in their finished finery from Mudflat.
Angela is inspired by the seductive textures, elegant lines, and fertile energy of flowers. “Fruits and vegetables fascinate me with their tantalizing colors, dense seed structure, and grotesque beauty. The human body enters here and there--the curve of a hip, the softness of belly.” While she does not aim to render specific natural objects, she does draw qualities from them, hoping to form a connection with the viewer.
Angela’s work is intertwined with her personality. She is kind and caring; she treats her work the way she treats people--with patience, care, and thoughtfulness. Her attention to detail is ingrained in her mentality. She obsessively looks closer to uncover nuances and patterns. “A white flower is never just a white flower. When you get closer it reveals more detail. And that exquisiteness is something that I aspire to in my work,” says Angela.
Her process is intuitive in the way she toggles between building, texturing, and retouching her works in progress to create a seamless piece that appears to have naturally grown into its final form. Her building process underlines her ability to decide and respond to the outcome with openness and clarity.
Angela’s background in philosophy comes out in her ability to untangles difficult ideas or complex scenarios. She often lends an objective ear to problems and seeks to provide advice or comfort. In the same way, she sees patterns in her environment and identifies qualities from them to draw into her work. The layers of information she builds up communicate depth, clarity, and the utmost sensitivity. There is a tension in the push and pull of her work. The obsessive surfaces beckon and the scale or fragility may call for distance. She hopes to bring reactions of seduction, repulsion, curiosity and wonder from her viewers.
Angela thinks of her work as compositions on theme and variation: theme as melody and variation as exploring ideas within certain parameters. Each piece develops as a unique object, but exists as part of one family. She is responsive to the work as it progresses and pays close attention to details, especially at the end of the project. “I think of the physicality of my pieces. If this were a real piece in the world what would it look like… that helps me relate the believability of something that it might be natural in the world or in the real world.” She is interested in the viewer’s reaction to the believability of her work, as some viewers are drawn in, while some recoil at the sight. She is excited that her details can lead viewers to different conclusions, as that is an element of her own inspiration.
It was a pleasure to have Angela in the studio. She brought amazing energy to the studio and we grew from having her presence here, watching her explore her ideas, and instigated thoughtful conversations! We encourage you to further investigate her work and practice through @cunninghamceramics and www.cunninghamceramics.com.
Questions from Canne Holladay to Angela Cunningham:
Q: Do you ever sculpt something you find, or more often synthesize the curves and textures with other ideas about form and display?
A: “Ever since I was little imagery from nature has filled my brain.” Angela finds patterns from nature a good source of inspiration but doesn’t take a peach pit, for example, and sculpt it. She is attracted to and inspired by natural textures, but led by intuition.
Q: Do you have any writings or comments about your process?
A: She uses the technique that suits the goal, and rather than working in multiples she thinks of her process as working in theme and variations. She views theme as melody, and variation as idea exploration within certain parameters. She works critically and intuitively at the same time, as she is responsive to the work as it progresses. She considers the importance of play in the studio, but is also obsessive over detail, especially at the end of the project. On the need for such obsessive detailing she says “I think of the physicality of my pieces. If this were a real piece in the world what would it look like? Considering that helps me relate the believability of something - that it might be natural in the world or real in the world.”
Q: Do you encourage touch for your finished work or do you think of it more like forbidden fruit? Look but don’t touch?
A: “I welcome touch.” Angela creates a tension in the work that both calls for and rejects touch, and in some cases the viewer can imagine how the touch might feel. She is interested in different reactions from viewers – some recoil and some are drawn in by the natural patterns visible in the work. “But I lean more toward beauty than repulsion, though uncanny may be a better term than repulsion – like a curiosity or eroticism in the piece.” Details can serve to amplify the beauty of the pieces.
Q: Do you combine throwing and coiling in your process?
A: Yes. “I use throwing as a tool, but coiling allows me to make anything I imagine. I have been exploring asymmetry a lot more lately.” In this exploration throwing parts and assembling them lends to freedom in idea development. Angela believes in risk taking, stating, “you have to be willing to not have something work and push it, and having lots of parts is a good way to not have such attachment to something.”
Q: Do you ever look at water for inspiration?
A: “I find patterns in a lot of things, but not water specifically.” She mentioned that viewers often suggest that elements of her work remind them of water or things in the water, but she might be more likely to think of the way water makes lines on sand.
Q: Do you create drawings of your ideas or of your finished pieces?
A: In the beginning she sketches freely and initial sketches allow exploration of proportions, but she doesn’t work out an idea through sketches. More often “I look at the work from different orientations or stacked together. So, work comes from the work. I draw quite a bit in the glazing phase. I may use crayons or colored pencils” to think about glazing.
Q: Do you think of each piece as a unique representation or do you often revisit certain trinkets?
A: Both – Angela considers each piece as a unique object, but often revisits ideas and explores them in different directions. “They’re like family members. They have the same genes but they’re a little different.” Work spurns work, and she finds that she has more ideas than she is able to follow through on.
Q: How does scale play into your work? Do you think of how scale will relate to photos?
A: “If I want a piece to confront someone’s body more it is bigger, smaller pieces invite greater inspection. Larger work tends to require standing back at first.” Angela thinks about how the scale will affect the viewing process and reflects on choices made when scaling up. “Inevitably, some work does not photograph well. I do try to take great photographs, though it doesn’t enter into the making process.”
Q: How do titles reflect your thoughts? Do you use them to inform?
A: “I use titles that are evocative and not specific. I like them to speak to certain emotion or make a suggestion about the piece.” She mentioned that she often keeps a list of words and then assigns them to work as the two are associated. “I like the titles to be abstracted enough that people can see different imagery. And I tend not to be drawn to science terminology, rather I want to leave room for emotion. I hope for viewers to draw their own conclusions and see fluctuating imagery in the pieces.”
Q: How has your perspective on this idea evolved since you started working with it?
A: “When it comes to growth and expansion nature doesn’t come to mind as often as ideas about asymmetry, form, and building around a center or core. My work used to be more precious and my texture more stylized. I’m now working more vigorously… instead of carving a line I might smack something. It’s very easy to be controlled, so I intentionally work in a way that prevents that control to keep myself going in new directions.”