Cheryl Ann Thomas

Cheryl Ann Thomas: Coiling together thin, serpentine ropes of porcelain, American artist Cheryl Ann Thomas begins her sculptures with one of the most traditional techniques of pottery. Used by Pre-Columbian, Native American and West African peoples to hand-build large storage jars, coiling has a rich history in the ceramic world. Traditionally the coils were smoothed together and integrated, but Thomas leaves the twists of clay exposed, and imprinted with the mark of her hand. Speaking about her work, Thomas asserts that “relics or artifacts are the remains of a human intervention. These sculptures form a permanent record of my interaction with the material.”

Once she has constructed tall, thin vessels of coiled porcelain, Thomas fires them, and the weight of the clay causes the works to collapse and fold in on themselves unpredictably. Her early works were the outcomes of this process, while more recently the artist has begun combining these forms and firing them for a second time, creating assembled sculptures of greater scale and power. After firing her pieces and leaving the results to chance, “the resulting forms are exquisite and very delicate, richly open-ended in their associations,” according to Constance Mallinson for Art in America.

Thomas’ work is frequently noted for its allusions to the transience and delicacy of existence. Although the heat of the kiln is what causes the collapse of her forms, it also gives the porcelain she uses its durability and strength. In this way, the artist notes that her work “is not a metaphor, but a real and distinct experience of creation and loss.” Thomas has recently expanded her output to include works in bronze and stainless steel, which continue her meditations on fragility.

Cheryl Ann Thomas graduated from the Art Center College of Design in 1982, and has emerged as a ceramic sculptor within the past 13 years. She has been featured in solo and group shows in New York and Los Angeles and her work is included in the collections of the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Gardiner Museum in Toronto.

My practice is inquiry based.
My current investigation in porcelain clay began with a question, "How thin and how tall can I make a column using the coiling method and what will the results be?" I found that the columns were too thin and too tall to hold their form and would collapse during the firing. I chose to limit my colors to black, white and gray.

Five years later, another question arose, "What will happen if I combine two or more fired columns and re-fire them?" I found that the forms would continue to reshape and enfold one another.

In another five years the next question arose. "What will happen if I add white to my black clay." I assumed I would get another variety of gray. Instead, I got blue. Then I wondered what other colors I could develop. I assumed that my investigation of process would not be personal but merely academic. In hindsight, I realize the purely objective pursuit is impossible. Looking at my work as it surrounds me in the studio, I learn that I an drawn to fragility, accident or chance and reconciliation. The intuitive grows stronger as I continue my exploration.