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A Conversation with Rebecca Zweibel

CG: How were you introduced to clay and what about it drew you in?

RZ: I was first introduced to clay via a community college course that I took after my two children were in school. As so many others have said before, it was initially the feel of the clay that drew me in and then the realization that clay could be almost anything; not only as form, but as a blank slate upon which  limitless marks can be made.

CG: Could you talk about your decision making while applying color and developing compositions?

RZ: Questions about my decision making of design and composition are difficult ones for me. Maybe I’m easily bored, but I am constantly in search of ideas for new forms and color combinations. I have a large number of jars of colored terra sigillata combined with slip made up in my studio, which I frequently add to or subtract from, although I have a few shades which I always find useful. The availability of a lot of colors is important to me and seems to free something up and open my mind. I open the jars and think over what appeals at the moment and then often add a discordant note or two so things don’t get too sweet. Different days equal different colors and configurations, and the reason for the choice is obscure. Thinking too much causes me to feel stiff and awkward in my strokes and the shapes I make not pleasing to me. I do some underpainting and texture before adding larger, more sharply defined blocks and lines of color. Additional smaller shapes and sgraffito marks are applied at the end. Texture and layering are crucial design elements for my work, adding depth and underlying intensity.

CG: After studying these vessels I’m intrigued by your use of ‘almost images’. I see a ladder… or a DNA strand. I see a submarine… or a bath toy, a mitten, a queen’s crown, a motorcylce, a cactus…  almost. Describe where your thoughts are while creating imagery. 

RZ: Your mention of ‘almost images’ is interesting to me. People often talk to me about what they see in my imagery. It’s amazing how many various things they see—one man was sure I had made a map of Paris.  When I’m doing the sgraffito part of the surface decoration I try to detach myself from my thoughts as much as I can and just let my hand go where it will. I consciously tell myself to not think and force myself not to stop even if I’m not sure what I want to do next. It doesn’t work perfectly, but its the only way I’ve found to free up my brain/hand connection. My belief is that I’m revealing experiences and yearnings derived from a not-ideal childhood. It feels right to me when my lines encircle or attach to each other and I’m not sure why. 

CG: I can imagine these vessels unfolded and the compositions existing successfully on a canvas. Why is the vessel important to you? 

RZ:  I’m always searching new and ancient artworks for fresh ideas on vessels.  A sense of enclosure and containment are what is appealing to me. Working the surface in 3 dimensions presents a host of problems, not least of which is handling a leather hard pot deftly enough to be able to cover the inside and bottom without damage to the vessel. Developing a cohesive composition around all sides of a pot can be daunting, but I try to combat this by not ending my surface decorations at the edges or ends or bottoms of the pot, so that one can pick the vessel up and turn it any way and still understand the design elements. I’ve recently been considering a detour into experimenting with my designs on a 2D canvas, but my feeling is that I will always continue my exploration of the 3D surface.