Graphite on tracing paper . Image 10 x 10″ 2013 Stoneware and paint . Individual pieces approximately 6 x 6 x 6” 2013-2015
An Interview with the American artist, ANNE HIRONDELLE
I first met Anne Hirondelle in the early 1980s, very soon after I’d moved to Port Townsend, Washington. We’ve developed a strong friendship over the last thirty-five years, sharing an eclectic passion for art, gardens, quiet living, and even similar birthdays and birth years. I’ve long admired her remarkable visionary trajectory, her quiet passion, and focused dedication. Below, along with a few samples of her more recent work, is an interview we began several months ago and a short documentary I produced ten years ago of Anne working in her studio.
GG: When did you realize that you were an ambassador for art?
AEH: The summer of 1973, as a reprieve from my first year of Law School, I enrolled in a beginning pottery class at the Factory of Visual Art in Seattle. I had little knowledge of art in general and even less about ceramics. But in my wanderings around Seattle, I frequently came upon the work of Robert Sperry, who would eventually become my professor and mentor. Art spoke to me.
What began as a summer diversion stretched into an entire of year of classes. I decided not to return to Law School. I was falling in love with creating and spent every possible moment at the school working with clay.
In the fall of 1974, I enrolled as a fifth-year student in the BFA program in Ceramics at the University of Washington. That year was my introduction to the world of ART.
I never imaged that I would one day call myself an “artist”. As a farm girl from Salem Oregon, I had no exposure to galleries, or museums, or even the existence of “art.” I am grateful that at 29 years of age, I stumbled upon my true calling.
GG: I recall vividly the work you were creating when we first met back in the early 1980s. Even then I would say that your interest in shape and form was married much more to ritual than to function and perhaps this was the beginning of a transition when you began to express pure form and color. The works began to move off of the table and onto the wall, so to speak, as a sculptural voice, and clearly part of that articulation comes from shadows cast by the forms from ambient light sources. The creations become both sculpture and painting. And because of this, I tend to think you not so much as a ceramist, but as a sculptor and painter. In your mind, how have you made this transition? In a world where humans tend to put everything is specific categories, has it ever been difficult to make this leap?
AEH: I want to begin by saying/ wondering what my work as an artist might look like had I know earlier that I wanted to be an artist and began studying with that in mind?
Because I started with a pottery class, clay became my vehicle. The initial work was functional, but within a few years I felt its limitations and found myself trying to address more formal ideas. Raku firing allowed me to let go of function and address the vessel as pure form. The following transition back to high-fired vessels with their exaggerated scale and my signature soda ash glazes in the mid-eighties through 2001 brought me national recognition, significant sales, and put me in the “Gallery Vessel” camp. I found a niche and a sense of belonging.
But I was restless and wanted more. The winter of 2002, following my September 2001 exhibit at the Foster/White Gallery in Seattle, I knew I had to make a change: I moved the forms from the pedestal to the wall and left them beautifully white. A couple of years later, I painted them. No more glazing. No more referencing function. No more belonging. It was scary and often still is. I lost much of my audience and had to start over.
So, yes. I guess I am a sculptor and a painter with a new following. I’m experimenting with other materials in collaboration with the clay. Drawing (with graphite and prisma color on layers of tracing paper) has become an integral and important part of my practice. I have remained true to my roots, but do wonder what the work would be if I didn’t use clay?
GG: It’s always a bit scary when pushing against the enclosures we construct for ourselves or those others build for us. I, for one, am grateful you’ve stayed within the medium of clay.
A few days ago, I was watching the short documentary, Anne Hirondelle, I created some years ago. One of the things that fascinated me in capturing the digital footage was the extraordinary relationship the human hand has with clay in its malleable state. The act of turning clay seems so much more than the manipulation of a medium. I suspect that long before early humans began drawing on stone walls in dark caves, we knelt at the edge of some containment of water—rivers, ponds, bogs—scooped up and shaped clay. And it is of course the inherent water in which the clay (mineral and organic matter) lived and which allows the medium to respond to such tender human touch. Watching those images of your ‘making love’ to the clay, if I might phrase it so, as it spirals outward, is extraordinarily meditative, even hypnotic.
How much of the process of turning the clay do you still use in creating your current sculpture?
AEH: There is, indeed, “magic” in throwing clay: How can a lump of earth spin into an upright or flat form– or any form in between–in response to my touch and the wheel’s turning? A marriage of sorts after all these years.
The important lesson for me was learning to set the “magic” (which took me two years to master) aside and realize that the wheel is just a tool, like a palette knife, or paint brush, or chisel.
Whenever I begin a new cycle of work I find that I have to begin in the clay and virtually all my clay beginnings are at the wheel. Don’t know where, but here I go turning again.
GG: One of the questions I’ve been asking, one, in fact, that has inspired these interviews with other artists, has to do with the broader concept of why art matters. As a creative spirit, do you find art as something sacred, immutable?
AEH: While pondering this last question I remembered a couple things: a conversation some years ago with my husband, Bob Schwiesow, and an interview with the northwest painter, Robert C. Jones, in the catalog for his exhibit, An Update, at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle in 2014.
While discussing the plight of the universe, Bob Schwiesow said he believed that “art” is the only positive thing humans have contributed. Bob Jones said, “I believe in painting without thinking about it day after day. But it’s more than just a set of beliefs. I think it’s a faith. I’m not religious, I believe in luck as much as anything else, but I have faith in painting.”
Both of these comments ring true for me.
Life without art would be a life without breathing. Art is essential; thus it is worthy of reverence and respect.
‘PARTNERS’ 2016 Stoneware, paint and birch wood Approximately 16 x 21 x 5”
Re:Coils 2010 Stoneware and paint 14 to 16″ tall
Tumbles: Stoneware and paint
Various approximately 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 7″ 2014
Graphite on tracing paper
Image 10 x 10″ 2013
Stoneware and paint
Individual pieces approximately 6 x 6 x 6” 2013-2015