Vanessa Norris is a ceramic artist best known for her functional tableware. Central to her work is her interest in what captures the attention of the viewer, purposely incorporating designs and/or textures only visible from closeup. Parallel to her ceramic practice, she writes poetry that often pairs with a body of work or specific piece, allowing the viewer/user to approach her work with a different level of understanding.
Vanessa graduated from Massachusetts College of Art and Design with a BFA in Ceramics in 2016. Since then, she moved to Washington state and took on a year long assistantship for Deb Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios. She is an Artaxis member, has exhibited in many states across the US, and has been featured twice in the Exposure section of Ceramics Monthly. Vanessa currently lives and works in Boston.
At the core of Cloud 9 is perception, and that starts with how the work is viewed from far away versus up close. I make voluminous, buoyant--almost “Seussical”--forms and incorporate white designs on a white clay body. Visually, white does not stand out against gallery walls or amidst colorful pots in the kitchen cupboard; it is a common color for cheap, manufactured ceramic tableware. This perception lends itself nicely to adding unexpected, tactile elements to my pieces--present only for those who choose to stop, to touch, to probe deeper. I am interested in the difference between looking and seeing; the interaction (or lack of interaction) is as much a part of my work as the work itself. Placing meaning within the structure of an object commonly thought of as “purely functional” is my way of elevating the status of pottery to that of an art form and separating the curious from the satisfaction seekers.
Poetry is another important part of how I process. It is a conversation I have with myself--another way of cementing what I cannot yet vocalize, and it acts as the grout that holds the shards of my practice together. Though I do not always show my pots and poetry together, this particular body of work felt incomplete without its poetic counterpart. Paired with the recognizable iconography of the cloud, the verses provide the blueprints to enter the language of my work, allowing space for reflection on the role cloud idioms play in our understanding of the world and our relationships. There is no fast track to understanding the small nuances of the everyday. They are what make a life, after all. For those who take the time, tableware provides an intimate way to experience art.
Experience at Rat City Studios
Freshly graduated from college, I picked up my life and moved to the opposite side of the country to assist Deb at Rat City Studios. It was quite the move, and though I had never been to Seattle, I had my sights set on working for Deb since I heard about her program a year or so prior.
The year put forth many opportunities to grow. I rekindled my love for writing and photography to complement my practice. Though I am neither athletic nor an early riser, I woke up at three in the morning and biked six miles to my part-time job nearly five days of the week. I watched and learned from Deb, soaking up the triumphs and pitfalls that come with being an artist. And I made a home there--in the pages of my sketchbook and in between each line of poetry. My time at Rat City Studios came and went, but the year will echo and reverberate in my brain, pushing forth new ideas long after I’m gone.
I have returned to Boston for the foreseeable future to pursue opportunities here. This summer, I divided my time between teaching at Indigo Fire, instructing a high school summer intensive course at MassArt, and being a teaching assistant for Kyla Toomey at Harvard Ceramics. I had access to those facilities to continue making my work, so I was able to create new pieces for my portfolio and sell through various venues. This fall, I plan to continue making/teaching at local ceramics studios. I am also embarking on a new path with my partner, Gustavo Barceloni. We are in the process of setting up our own ceramics space called Dirty E Studios in Everett, MA. The first step in the process is to raise the funds necessary to hire an electrician and insulate the space, among other things. To accomplish our goal, we will be launching an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign on September 8th (the link will be posted on my website and Instagram on that day).
If you need me, you can find me working on the new studio, at an open mic poetry night, or sitting by the Charles River esplanade--still with clay covered jeans and my head in the clouds.