We love art, we appreciate its beauty and how it makes us feel. With that aesthetic appreciation sometimes we fail to see the process. It is important to acknowledge the precision, patience, timing , technical skill, and craft of the things we experience in the same moment we gaze at the final product. Nicola Vruwink knows all about process, she creates art in her studio and ushers young artists into education at her job.
With degrees from University of Iowa and University of Washington she knows about the importance of education but doesn’t necessarily apply an academic approach to her art. “I never wanted to make art that is unrelatable. I never wanted to make art for the elite. I also wanted to make work for people that had intrinsic value.” said Nicola about her audience. With a father that is a professor and ceramist, she got introduced to crafting things early on an her formal education helped her to identify themes and create context for her work. The result is a cross between sculptural fine art and home goods that appeal to both the art in enthusiast and the home maker.
The practical limitations of functional items like home goods and jewelry actually inform Nicola’s process of creation, “Thinking outside of the box is easy, thinking inside of the box is a hell of a lot harder. Using constraints is a harder problem to solve.” In the ceramics world there is no shortage of constraint as you are working with high temperatures and different materials. The glaze on a round spheres will drip or flatten if they are in contact with a flat surface so the spheres have to be hung on metal rods inside the kiln. These rods though have different heat tolerances than the glaze and clay itself. After the pieces have been fired and sanded, they still have to be worn. Clay isn’t necessarily heavy but the spheres have to be thick enough to survive the firing, and sanding but still light enough to be comfortable.
With the final use in mind the process for creation is dictated by the parameters of the materials and available tools. Some items are slip cast, meaning liquid clay is poured in to a mold, other are hand formed, which yields thicker, more durable, but also heavier pieces. Final products can look very similar from processes that were different simply as a result of these intentions. Nicola’s art and design reinforce each other as she plays with the same theme in both at times. She create ornamental jewelry that considers those practicalities like comfort and weight, but also makes conceptual art that is meant to invoke thought from the gallery wall.
Nicola explains, “I am trying to make functional objects that are also sculptures, walking the line of design, art, and craft.” Which forces us to ask if these distinctions are even significant. Art provides a moment of brevity in our lives, and challenges us to thing differently. Design is function that is answering a need. But why can’t both coexist in one object? If the world around us is constantly reinforcing all of our constraints, Nicola is creating objects that challenge our thinking but still satisfy our needs. That is a very practical expression that harmonizes our personal commentary with the demands of our environment. We don’t have to worry so much about “thinking outside of the box” because we have modified its interior to suit our taste.
Ironically Nicola opens our minds by applying heat to her ceramics, and free’s our thinking with use of rigid forms. Where many are concerned with breaking the mold Nicola Vruwink has become a master at making them.