Q&A EXCHANGE WITH Susan Hanft,
Creator of Ceramics, Art Dolls, and Collaborative Collages
SH: My parents were both interested in the arts. They took me and my sister to museums and to the theater for plays, dance performances, the symphony and opera. I’ve known since childhood I would somehow be involved in the arts. I think most people have the creative urge. I tried to learn the violin and won prizes for my early sculptural efforts, but dance was my primary interest as a kid. I moved to New York at age 14 to study at a well-known school and perform with its junior company. When chronic injuries ended that career, I turned to the visual arts.
AC: Who is your favorite artist?
SH: It’s hard to narrow down my favorites to just one. I like the painters Jean-Michel Basquiat, Antoni Tàpies, Cy Twombly and Howard Sherman; the surrealists Paul Klee, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray; photographers Cindy Sherman and Sally Mann: and the sculptor/performance artist Joseph Beuys. Ceramicists I admire include Ron Nagle, Sam Hall, Peter Voulkos, Mary Fischer, Ruan Hoffmann and Roberto Lugo. What artist has most influenced your work? I work along several tracks, sometimes simultaneously, so can’t choose an overarching influence. I’ve borrowed from most of the artists listed.
AC: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not making art?
SH: I like to garden and sew. I also write Wikipedia articles related to dance. I’ve done about 50, so far.
AC: How did you come to work with Princess Butterbean?
SH: Her mom, Nora, and I worked together years ago in a Houston restaurant. When she and I reconnected on Facebook, I was struck by images she shared of her daughter’s artwork. The work was confident and bold, but also wonderfully awkward and mysterious. Initially, I traded a plate with a Butterbean chicken drawing for the use of that image on other pieces. How has she affected your work beyond the obvious of including her images in your pieces? There’s a great Picasso quote, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Art is not about perfect technique, it’s about a novel way of seeing the world. A technically flawless, realistic rendering can be trite and stale. Like all children, Butterbean has an untrained eye that views the world with fresh perspective. She’s also free from adult artistic habits and skills. Because the princess is an Aspie (Asperger’s Syndrome), she has especially unique perceptions. Her process inspires and energizes my work, and complements my aim to make “perfectly imperfect” objects.
AC: Describe your process of working with clay? Is it thrown, poured, slab?
SH: My ceramic work is made from porcelain using slabs, extrusions, and, sometimes, slipcast elements. The imperfections inherent to hand building give even the simplest forms a quirky individuality, and sometimes a distinct personality. I decorate the pieces using a variety of techniques: scrafitto and underglazing at the unfired stage; underglaze drawing, painting and silk-screening on bisque ware; and the addition of overglaze decals and 22k gold luster in a third firing. Where do you get your other inspirational images? The images are derived from mid-century modern design (particularly fabric patterns from the era), cartoons, comic books, Victoriana and typography.
AC: We frequently see images of twins in your work. Is there significance to that?
SH: I grew up with twin stepsisters. Although they didn’t live with us, they were frequent visitors. It was impossible for me to tell them apart. I thought them quite enigmatic, almost like a single organism. My images of twins, one being in two bodies or two beings in a single body, usually refer to some aspect of humankind’s duality.