Nicole Cherubini is an artist based in Brooklyn. For her exhibition with the Pérez Art Museum Miami last year, 500, the show’s curators called her work “the architecture of the space.” For her objects, Cherubini was working with new shapes and materials, including clay and wooden support panels. The museum states:
Cherubini mines the history and formal possibilities of clay to create works that range from spare, tense minimalism to exuberant and brash decadence. This material has been her primary vehicle for 20 years and she employs a specific constellation of forms and techniques that recur throughout her practice and which have come to constitute her unique vocabulary.
Around the same time, Cherubini sat down with Bomb Magazine’s Sarah Braman to discuss her sculpture. The duo dive into things immediately with a discussion of Cherubini’s Red Pot (2014), which is pictured above. We’re reposting that piece of the interview here, but we recommend that you read the entire work for yourself, as it contains many insights into Cherubini’s practice.
NC: (laughter) How about this piece? It’s one of my big earth pots. I’ve been working with the vessel for so long … How far should I go back?
SB: Go back.
NC: Okay. As an undergrad, I went to RISD for ceramics. Then I lived in Mexico for a year with a NEA travel grant; I studied figurative folk ceramics and I spent some time in Mexico City’s contemporary art scene. Then I came back to New York and I started making big sculptures—it was the ’90s. I was using a lot of fabric and paper, and doing a lot of photography. I started researching the history of the decorative within a feminist context and was spending much time at the Met. I kept coming back to all these pots there and actually realized that they were this incredible signifier of historical precedence. They held the presence and concerns of their time period—through both surface and form.
At the time, I was also taking photographs of my grandmother’s house. She has a beautiful home full of beautiful objects, much in the style of the Italian-American—it’s a mini-Versailles of sorts, if that makes sense. She was a bridal and ball-gown designer, and is still living alone at 101. I was trying to understand her aesthetic and, at the same time, challenge it. It was during this time that I became aware of grappling with my love of lavish material, yet also of minimalism. As I was documenting her home, I began archiving and writing about the images. It was then that I started making these little pots to go with each photograph. I was doing that for about a year, when I realized that the pots were more interesting than the photographs. So I started focusing on them.
I had also spent time in Turkey, where I was looking at Hittite pots, studying their use and function—they have big handles to tie them to horses, or pointed bottoms for standing in sand, for instance. I was putting all this information together, and I came to the questions of: What is the function of a pot in contemporary society? In the fine arts? And what is function? That’s when I started the crazy pots with all the chains and furs—about nine years ago. Using clay, I’ve always had this idea that I have to reference the history of the material. It has so much fertile cultural meaning; this had to be addressed. That’s where all the pots have come from; through the years they’ve gone in and out of the work. Now there’s always a pot in my studio, being made along with other works. My earth pots are grounding for me; they’re a reference point to everything else going on in the room. Without the pot, everything loses its meaning somehow.
SB: So will this be the only pot you’ll have in the show?
NC: Yes, there will just be one, Red Pot. Over the years, I’ve become a devoted materialist. I divide clay and glaze, and think of them as two different materials. I use more and more raw clay in the work, to show that glaze is a separate material.
Working with pots, I’ve learned that if they’re completely glazed, people see them as fetishized objects. When I break them up, with some parts glazed and some not, then they are viewed as sculptures whose parts and constructed details can be seen.
SB: So the pot’s probably four feet tall? I love the base under it.
NC: About that. Yeah.
SB: The top three quarters are unglazed white clay and then the bottom quarter looks like a flowerpot under which is a thin slab of clay that’s glazed yellow. I can feel how fragile that is. And that tiniest bit of yellow is very powerful.
NC: Without the glaze you can actually see the hand marks so much more, too. When it’s glazed, the making of it—the most interesting part to me—just disappears. Clay records everything. Another one of my favorite things about clay is that you’re always traveling between two and three dimensions.
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