Visual artist Undine Brod is using objects as a primary inspiration point for her artworks. Whether it is a plush elongated Teddy Bear statue or a brick clay horse with bunny features, Undine seems to have no shortage of clever ideas. In this interview for the Art Sprinter Blog an award-winning artist Undine Brod is sharing her thoughts about her creative process and provides some ideas on how to turn a thrift store find into an artifact.
Please introduce yourself to The Art Sprinter Blog readers. What is your background in art?
Art has been a part of my life since before I was born. Both my parents were active artists and all my childhood homes (of which there were many in a trifecta of cities: Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City) had studios. Early memories include being taken to gallery openings and museums regularly and working in the various home studios as an extension of play. Art was the driving force within which I was brought-up—it was around me everywhere.
Formally, I earned a BFA in Ceramics and a BA in Interdisciplinary Art from the University of Washington in 1998 and an MFA from The Ohio State University in 2011. I also attended New York University and the New York College of Ceramics at Alfred University. I studied under prominent artists including: Tre Arenz, Mary Jo Bole, Doug Jeck, Matt Nolen, Judith Schwartz, Akio Takamori, Jamie Walker, and Patti Warashina.
Now, as a way to continue to learn, I am constantly in conversations and regularly collaborating with other artists. These experiences are what influence and educate me today.
Kindly tell us more about installations that you are creating. Why did you choose this medium and format?
My ideas develop fluidly without material limitations. A professor once commented that I didn’t seem afraid of materials, which I took as a compliment. I believe it is true and comes out of my curiosity and desires to explore and experiment.
However, I do include clay as a primary material often. I am drawn to it because of the vast ways it can be transformed and when it is manipulated by hand every created item is unique. Clay is a humble material; it isn’t anything but mud until it is formed. I also value its universality and history. It is a material that unifies all cultures as is evidenced through history and archeology. Clay has been used since the beginning of time to make domestic and sacramental objects and, in some cultures, even architectural elements. I am further drawn to using clay because of the material’s connection to domesticity and I want my work to conceptually “fit” into life. Clay’s humble qualities help ground my work in the nitty-gritty rather than revered on a pedestal separated from the audience.
I also work with what I call laymen’s supplies—common, readily available, domestic materials (tape, paper, fabric, house paint, fingernail polish, etc.) along with discarded items from thrift stores. I look for discarded items such as: photographs, books, clothing, household items, and manufactured objects to use as material. The simplicity of these materials aligns my work within the everyday realm thus increasing the works’ accessibility by connecting it more directly to the daily aspect of life experiences. Utilizing pre-existing objects, images, and materials provides a layer of history and narrative from which I am able to react to, with or against.
Do you have formal art education? In your opinion, is education important for artists (and why)?
As explained earlier, I do have a formal art education. I ended up with two undergraduate degrees because I took so many art classes. Education is important for artists, however I believe education can come through many different avenues other than academia. Staying open, observant, and self-reflecting are important qualities that help an artist, or anyone for that matter, develop and grow. I believe education is a life-long process. What academia can help with is developing a person’s critical thinking, historical knowledge, and technical abilities, but, again, an academic setting is not the only place to get an education.
How can you describe your art? What do you expect viewers to explore in your installations?
My recent work consists of hand-built clay and mixed media animal sculptures adorned with non-traditional ceramic surfaces. The composite animals are not individual portraits nor true to any original source; rather they embody elements from several species into distinct forms. The animals function as representations of emotional states not fixed to time, place, or specific experiences.
Ultimately though, my works are physical representations of my thinking. Through my work I attempt to find ways to decipher and locate myself in the context of what surrounds me. I am raising questions about and creating conflicts with the regular order of life and the rational mind. I want to challenge people’s relationships with the familiar. Themes of alteration, fragmentation, manipulation, and transformation inform my work. Looking at, reflecting upon, and working with what surrounds me and encroaches into my existence, literally and figuratively, gives me a better understanding of my psyche and helps me place myself in the world. I anticipate viewers will connect with the universality of my work and be driven to think and, hopefully, explore their own ideas and experiences after viewing my work.
What is the message that you are trying to present through your works?
There is never one message that I am trying to present. Generally, each piece I create stands independent from previous artworks. Overall though, I am expressing ideas of humanity, connection, and responsibility.
What inspires you as an artist? How do you choose the subject of your installations?
Human interactions and observations of interpersonal relationships inspire me. My subjects have primarily been animal forms as stand-ins for humans. I do not create realistic representational figures. I steer away from specific identity in order to present a universal and anonymous expression that can be claimed, owned, or felt by anyone.
How has your style changed over the years of working as a professional artist?
I often don’t think my style has changed that much until I look back at older works. I see a deeper sophistication in content and I have better technical skills now.
What is the most comfortable environment for you to work in?
I prefer my own space within a community of artists rather than working solitarily. I get energy being around others that are actively making and thinking about art. I tend to not judge myself as harshly for pursuing an artist’s path (which can be seen and felt as very ego-centric) when I am around others who also value the making of art. Being in a community setting provides opportunities to observe and share ideas with others. Impromptu conversations that happen in community settings often lead to growth in my work and myself. I prefer to work amongst a focused and driven group of artists that will challenge me intellectually and artistically rather than being in an isolated single person studio.
What is your connection to Jewish culture and art? What are some of the Jewish artists that inspire you?
I am Jewish and, no matter a person’s [religious] denomination, when I’m around another Jew I feel a deep connection that isn’t necessarily explainable or even personally understood.
A few artists that have inspired me, who also happen to be Jewish, are: Christian Boltansky, Eva Hesse, George Segal, Barbara Krueger, Louise Nevelson, Lucian Freud, and Meret Oppenheim. I admit though that I know them first as artists and their Jewish identity is a secondary interest that can help me understand and connect to their work.
Do you find art contests helpful for the artists? What kind of artworks would you recommend submitting?
I find art contests can be helpful, but are often cost prohibitive for many artists. Entry fees continue to rise, but artists still don’t receive realistic compensation for their work. Competitions can be helpful when they require written components to their application process as this helps one figure out a way to verbally communicate what their visual language is attempting to express. Taking time to write about one’s work and way of thinking helps a person better understand what it is they are doing. However, I often find many of the questions are rote and not creative thus multiple artists’ answers would sound very similar and it is annoying to have to waste time expressing something that is obvious.
Contests are also a way to get work out there and perhaps be awarded monetarily, which are two crucial aspects to most artists’ careers. Unfortunately, there are more artists working than can be supported under our current cultural systems. The need to be proactive in this way to develop one’s career takes time away from one’s studio, which is one of my main frustrations with the process. Ultimately though, I continue to apply to exhibitions, grants, awards, and residencies, and will do so until I and my work are sought out on a regular basis. I do not create work for my own benefit alone thus I spend a significant amount of time trying to get it in exhibitions. I am grateful that The Art Sprinter was established as I believe supporting the arts is crucial to society.