10 Questions with Alice Ballard
Q: Clearly you work is nature-inspired, but take us deeper. What is it that drew you to natural themes?
A: I grew up in an Air Force family and we travelled a good bit, mostly in the South, and in Virginia, especially in Arlington. This meant I had to adjust to periods of time when I was new in many communities and spent a good bit of time alone. Being a natural introvert, this was not a problem…. So I spent most of my time in the wooded areas on the Air Force Bases or communities where we lived for 3 to 4 years at a time. I loved, drawing, reading, collecting natural stuff. My dogs Susie, a wired hair terrier and Trixie, a smooth coat terrier were my constant companions so I loved animals deeply from an early age. This background laid the foundation for my future interests. As soon as I understood there were artist in the world, I knew I wanted to be one….
Q: Your sculptures are so delicate and detailed, how long does it take you to complete your Meditation Bowls and your Large sculpture.
A: The Meditation Bowls I work on in a group as drying time is required in between steps and between as man as 4 firings . I might do 10 or 12 go these and they will take about 3 weeks. On the other hand my Tree Totems might take 4-6 months, again because of drying time at certain stages. My Large Ming Roses can take up to 4-6 months also. With both, I might be working on smaller pieces or Pods. 6 Wall Pods might take 4 to 6 months for a group of 6….
Q: What colors and shapes (forms) most excite you?
A: I love roundish pregnant looking forms in particular. I especially love the form of the Royal Empress tree (an invasive tree from China, seen all along the East Coast. They have lovely clusters of purple flowers in the spring with heart shaped green fussy pod that eventually opens and dark brownish black dry clusters of little joined heart shapes present a form I cannot resist! They still influence me….. But I love smooth river stones, acorns of course, gum balls, all sorts of flower pods … As to color, I love black, white, neutral colors, especially greens, purples, iron red and banana yellow.
Q: You have been a beloved artist and teacher for a long time, but how did you get there and why did clay sculpture become your main medium? Tell us about your journey as a career artist….
A: Now that is a huge question so I will do my best to just hit a few highlights. I knew from the age of 3 or so when I discovered how to make lines with wax crayons that I wanted to pursue everything that would follow line making with passion and curiosity. When I found out what an artist was, I knew that was for me and the only question was what kind of artist shall I be? Sooo, together nature and art became my two Muses!!!!
I was fortunate to have good art teachers and some private adult art classes and ended up with a MA in painting at the University Of Michigan, Ann Arbor. All the while nature, life drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture became my passions. But almost no clay as clay was not to interesting at that time.
It was my last year at Michigan when the new clay movement started, mostly in California. Expressionism in painting was waning but was picked up by an amazing group of artists, mostly males returning from Vietnam and taking advantage of the GI bill to go back to school and where should they end up??? In Clay! There was this explosion of activity taking Ceramics in a whole new expressive and LARGE, direction. One of them was Don Seitz and he became my 1st real clay teacher at a 2 week workshop at Penland! This was followed by a workshop with Wayne Higby, later head of Ceramics at Alfred….. so Penland and workshops became my new passion for clay.
I continued to draw and paint and work in clay until motherhood came along and it was evident I had to choose between clay and painting. Ceramics was coming into its own and I loved the Clay community. Alongside this was my passion for the work and philosophy of the late Paulus Berensohn and his book "Finding Ones way in Clay"…. A true Classic for any artist who wants to discover themselves. We later became close friends when I started teaching at Penland. We were kindred spirits and I am so honored by his friendship and his mentoring through his book before I ever met him.
Now I simply call myself an artist…My message and mission have to do with sharing the message of Light, Love, Nature and how We are all in this together…. The medium is so important but I love painting, drawing and clay and feel totally free to move between two and 3 dimensional mediums… That is part of the fun and the fun part is a must for the artist and the resulting work, even work that has a dark and serious message….
Q: Tell us a bit about your creative process. How do you begin and move through to the completed piece?
A: How do I begin….Lots of looking mostly at nature, my garden, the weather, the light and shadow and how they fall on form. I observe my own work, other people work, Instagram is a great source for ideas. In the end it comes down to looking, seeing more deeply, recognizing whether I feel a connection with the clouds I see, or the flower that opened…..Next I think about medium. Which will help me get my message across? How to I help guide the viewer to my message. Shall that message be subtle or obvious? In the end your decisions must involve you being honest with yourself and authentic in you message. If you are, you will believe in your work and only in what you think of your work. This will give you the courage to continue….Making art is not easy and that is OK because there is nothing more satisfying than coming to the end of the journey and hoping you know when to quit in order to preserve some of the unfinished moments in your work that show your journey, your process.
Q: What does your art say about you?
A: I love nature and I love clay as well as other art making materials
I am quiet and like to be in a peaceful environment.
I may be almost 80 but I am still young at heart…and love to laugh, wonder and discover!
I am observant and constantly noticing light, shadows, colors and textures….
I love what I do and want to connect with others through my work
I am totally OK if other’s don’t like what I do….. I only report to myself in the end but love it when I reach others about the importance of nature and loving, protecting and preserving the earth below our feet for ourselves and others.
Q: What do you admire about other artists? Are there any in particular that really inspire you?
A: Authenticity….I also admire artists who are teachers…
Paulus Berensohn, Isamu Noguchi, Andy Goldsworthy, Brancusi, Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Judy Chicago
Q: What is something collectors might like to know about you.
A: Perhaps that I really appreciate them for so much more than the money we receive that keeps us going. I have so many wonderful friendships with many of the people who purchase my work. I feel so good when I know I have, especially a major piece where it is going to be seen and appreciated as a lifelong part of their household….It matters to my heart and soul. Thank you to those of you show your love and appreciation by having my work in your home or office. Part of making art is sharing what we do and collectors make this possible…..
Q: What has been one of your favorite pieces or projects through the years?
A: My favorite collection of pieces is my 10 Tree Totems. It took about 4 years to complete 9 of them. They were all self portraits that I did as a memorial collection about the loss of my first husband, Charlie Munn in 1983 in a plane crash…. The event of 9/11 brought up my own grief and I began to see images of the after effects of forest fires and how over time they come back with an abundance of new grown that comes back in unlikely places. These were my contribution to a 2 person show at the Blue Spiral 1 Gallery in Asheville, NC The other artist was the late Will Henry Stevens. One of these Tree Totems is in the permanent collection of the Greenville County Museum of Art. A 10th Tree Totem was a recent commission for an all white plant and white flower totem for a client’s home garden in Hawaii and dedicated to her son Palmer. It is my favorite commission and Fia and I have become lifelong friends as a result.
Q: If you were to have dinner with an artist from any time period, who would it be and why?
A: It is a toss up between Monet and lunch in his garden and Noguchi and lunch in his studio in Japan.
I adore Monet because of his love of nature and light and of course, his garden and gardening. I love Noguchi because of is innovation and creativity and sculptural forms in stone, clay, wood. I love how he brought east and west together and the tension added a special life and openness to him and to his work. He was always torn by his heritage of an American mother and Japanese father. I also love his tremendous respect for the wood and stone he worked with. And clay as well I might add, influences by early historical works in clay that were whimsical, simple and fresh. He always said when he died he would return to stone…. You can feel his connection and presence in his work along with his love and respect for the nature of the wood or stone or clay as a living material….
He also has a studio in New York on the outskirts that has been newly renovated along with the Noguchi Museum….. I hear they are well worth seeing… Part of the beauty of his work was the love and tension he felt for his American and Japanese heritage…. He was always torn between the two.
You can enjoy and collect Alice's collection, Life is a Spiral, through our exhibitions page HERE
Catch Alice's work here at the Art & Light Annex by appointment now through the end of October!