Fiona Ross, an artist from Richmond, VA, participates in the Artists Interview Artists Project. Below Fiona responds to another artist's five questions (Susan Constanse from Pittsburgh, PA). In order to participate, Fiona had to provide me with five questions for some other artist to answer. The assigning of questions to artists is completely random. If you're an artist and interested in participating, let me know.
1. How many mediums have you tried before you found your current preferred medium?
In regards to my sculpture, I have been working in ceramic materials of all kinds for 13 years, and in my current medium of powdered ceramic minerals for 6 years. I like to use gypsum cements and concrete too, but prefer the versatility, ferocious heat and high drama of ceramic processes. I love all of the contradictions and particularities of ceramic - it is confounding and rewarding stuff. For drawing and painting, I’ve mostly used black Sumi ink on a variety of papers. I re-ink areas of my paintings several times and this makes the paper ripple and buckle tectonically. Of all the inks I’ve tested I like Sumi the best because it’s a medium for mark making that transforms the surface of paper from two to three dimensions. I go back and forth between calling these works painting and drawing because I use both processes for making them, but they can accurately be called ink paintings on paper.
2. What process do you use to develop a series or a concept?
I like to look at self-ordering systems (bubble rafts, crystals, foams, etc.) and to build systems or objects that both exemplify and defy those systems. The way the paper ripples in my paintings upsets the visual order of the structure, while the way the ceramic reacts to intense heat over the course of 2-5 firings makes the ceramic materials reorganize molecularly, which then leads to the desired formal properties of the sculpture. Other times I start with a specific material problem in mind and that problem becomes a quest for resolution and yields unusual information and results. Sometimes I ask “what if?” questions about how I can create something. Questions such as “What if I can use only use one line to make this drawing?” or “What if don’t utilize water in this ceramic process?” set up a situation where I am in an oppositional relationship to the ceramic or ink and paper and the dialogue that ensues with the materials is new and intense. A unicursal (one line) labyrinthine drawing was the result of the first question and most of my ceramic sculpture during the past 6 years comes from the second question!
3. In what way has your location affected the art that you make?
I usually drive around with a couple of empty buckets in my car so that I can collect clay samples from different areas around Richmond, VA. There is a direct physical influence on the sculptures that way, since I often incorporate those clays into the work. I teach sculpture at the University of Richmond, and being involved in dialogue with my students and colleagues is very inspiring. Also, there are a lot of excellent artists in town, so there is active dialogue and plenty of opportunities for interaction.
4. Do you practice any art forms that are not visual art and how does that affect what you create as a visual artist?
I’ve played the violin since I was seven years old, although I don’t play as much now as I did in the past. Studying and playing classical music gave me an insight into the human- made structures behind the sounds, both in the musical scores (maybe that’s why I like black ink on cream colored paper so much!) and in the instrument. I think that having an instrument such as a violin to care for, an exquisite thing that is meant to be held close to and become an extension of the body, mind and spirit definitely influences my ideas about art-making. There is nothing on a violin that is not essential to the way it works. I don’t want there to be anything in my sculpture or paintings that is not essential to the way they work. I define essentiality as giving each component of an artwork a very specific and necessary job to do in communicating the content of the work.
5. In what way has mentoring affected your development as an artist?
Mentoring can be both wonderful and dangerous. Like any human relationship it is fraught with opportunities for insight as well as misunderstanding. The people who mentored me helped me focus my research and ideas so that I could sustain and nourish myself and my art and for that I am grateful. I currently participate in critiques and studio visits with a tight-knit and smart group of colleagues, artists, art historians and curators - it’s great to be part of a community of peers without the teacher/student hierarchy.
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