Jacqueline Shatz – Overcoming Gravity

Photo courtesy of Michael Zansky

Jacqueline Shatz‘s ceramic based wall sculptures depict biomorphic forms, mostly referring to animals and humans as a single entity. An abstracted silhouette of an agile swimmer, a whimsical hybrid of horse and baby snake, a queen’s bent head fully covered by flowing hair spilling downward – each evokes a mystery associated with ancient civilizations, archetypes, and mythologies or what the artist describes as “states of being and permeable nature of time.” Jacqueline Shatz shares with Art Spiel some thoughts on her work and work process.

Giddy-Up – 2020, ceramic, paint and plaster, 8” x 8” x 4”

AS: You got your BFA in painting and MFA in sculpture. What led to you there?

Jacqueline Shatz: I always loved going to museums, afterwards my fingers itch to make something. I fell into painting because it seemed like the natural way to make art and I probably wasn’t sure about how to go about making sculpture. I did take a sculpture class with Isaac Witkin at Bennington but that didn’t teach any techniques. I lived around the corner from a glass company on Canal St. and started picking up scraps of glass and making found sculptures. For a while I did one painting a week and then one sculpture, then just sculpture as it felt more natural. I still think about my work as shaped paintings.

AS: You describe your work as “wall sculptures”. Why do you choose to mount your sculptures on the wall and why at this intimate scale?

Jacqueline Shatz: I like to look at art on walls. I have a fear of making tchotchkes. Since I came out of painting it seemed like the best of both worlds. My fascination with small probably originated with walks I took with my mother when we peered into a shop window that had intricate miniature doll house rooms — all magically enchanting. The scale of my sculptures asks you to enter their space rather than them entering ours – it is within our field of vision. I also spent a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum looking at archaic sculptures and Medieval paintings.

Other Minds – 2018, ceramic and paint, 9” x 13” x 6”

AS: Your sculptures often depict figures swimming, floating, or just on the verge of motion. You say that you do not set out to express specific qualities but rather emerge from the creation process. Can you elaborate on that?

Jacqueline Shatz: I often draw a figure I extract from a painting — not my own. Then I start a sculpture based on the drawing. It can change considerably in the process. I try to let it evolve organically, just concentrating on the sculptural form. The content comes out of that process and is a surprise, although it also comes out of previous work and I am aware of that. I try not to be too literal.

AS: Let’s look at Slice. What was your source material, thought process, and approach to sculpting and painting that figure?

Jacqueline Shatz: I can’t remember the exact source of Slice. It was either a photo of someone swimming or a painting with a swimmer, possibly a Katharine Bradford painting. I was attracted to the shape and the streamlined figure. Subconsciously I must have been drawn to the implication of overcoming gravity in water and on the wall. I was struggling at that time with finding a less literal way to paint the figures.

I am attracted to figures that are suspended in space — thus the images of swimming and floating. The wall is the medium the figures exists in: the space can imply water, time, forest. It is extracted from it’s literal environment, the way the original figure is extracted from the painting. In my more recent work this has evolved to beings or creatures suspended in time as in the process of transitioning from human forms to animal or vegetable forms. The combining of forms seems to indicate a implied fluidity as much as any concrete object can.

“ These aren’t invisible spirits that they are seeing. They are entities that take on the shape of things in the environment”

—Daniel Everett – “ Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes”

Slice – 2016, ceramic and paint, 13” x 2” x 3”

AS: In your series Vegetable you seem to shift from the figure to more biomorphic forms. What can you tell me about this transition?

Jacqueline Shatz: It was a logical and intuitive transition — the forms seemed similar and compatible. I think sources from fairy tales and mythology were percolating in my reservoir. I’ve been influenced by literature — around that time I read “Other Minds – The Octopus and The Evolution of Consciousness” by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I made the sculpture Other Minds, one of my first transitional beings. I also did some tree sculptures and then I started to combine them with figures. I’ve always been fascinated by geology, plants and animals. Everyday I read my book on reptiles and amphibians.

AS: Animal seems to combine elements from your earlier figurative work and Vegetable. Does that observation make sense to you and what led you to this series?

Jacqueline Shatz: I did an animal head of my Dachshund when she died. I was a little reluctant to do animals as they are so specific but I did some animal sculptures in response to the Beasts Of Brooklyn show Elisa Jensen curated. My way of doing a horse is profoundly influenced by Susan Rothenberg. Lately I have started making more animals and combining them with human figures. I found a broken horse’s head from one of my daughter’s childhood sculptures and used it in a sculpture – that kicked off a new series of horse works. Animal, human and vegetable share many characteristics — my impulse is to express that sharing by combining them.

Baby Snake and Horse – 2020, ceramic, paint, wire, plaster, 9” x 6” x 4”

AS: Your recent work seems to close a loop with your earlier figurative work. Queen Nerufu, for instance, creates an interesting dialog with an earlier sculpture like Vision. How do you think your work has evolved?

Jacqueline Shatz: I think my work is always looping back and forth between older work and current work. The whole endeavor of making art seems to involve an attempt to integrate my awareness. Lately I have been incorporating parts of older sculptures into and onto my current work.

When I was growing up I wanted to be an Archaeologist. I spent and still spend a lot of time in the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. That is where I found an image of Queen Nerufu in a wall painting. I like the simplicity of Egyptian art and the way the sculptures go back and forth between 2 and 3 dimensions.

Vision really did come from a vision I had when I woke up. It reminds me of the horror movie The Ring. Formally it’s a bit of an anomaly. There is a contradiction in that it is a vision, titled Vision and yet you can’t see anything with a curtain of hair over your face. Both Queen Nerufu and Vision have a turning away or covering of the face – the hair is a central formal element like a river or waterfall. My current sculptures embody the transition from recognizable human figures to figures in the process of becoming less specific beings. Using an ambiguity of shape and detail allows the persona to be more than one thing – the making and viewing become part of a process of perception.

Queen Nerufu , 2018, ceramic and paint, 10” x 7” x 5”

Vision, 2016, 12″ x 8″ x 5″, ceramic and paint

AS: Your work prompts a sense of narrative with a strong mythical or archetypal bent (sometimes overtly as in Persephone or Eve, and at other instances indirectly as in Other Minds). At the same time it also evokes a sense of a highly intimate moment of raw emotion. What is your take on that?

Jacqueline Shatz: I’m happy it succeeds in that. I guess it expresses many of my preoccupations and attempts to make sense of life and art. Maybe the raw emotion comes from my inner connection to these things and the fact that they emerge unplanned from an unconscious place. The naming and realization of what it is comes afterwards. I have always felt the pull of mythology as a subject.

Daphne – 2019, ceramic and paint, 11” x 6” x 5”

AS: How do you see your work in context of contemporary figurative sculpture?

Jacqueline Shatz: I’m not sure. I look mostly at paintings from all periods of history. Since I translate a 2-D image into a 3-D object I feel that using sculpture as a source would be just imitative. There are many sculptors I think I am akin to: Nikolas Africano (also a painter who became a sculptor), Pamela Wallace, Cynthia Eardley. Of all sculptors the one I would most love to be in the tradition of is Giacometti – both the tiny and large pieces – their intensity and compression.

AS: How is your work developing these days?

Jacqueline Shatz: I am using more combinations of materials with ceramics – this lets me change the structure more fluidly. The natural shapes of wood and shells are rich in suggestive associations. I use paper as well – hearkening back to making tissue flowers and coloring them with my mother’s lipstick.

Cerebella – 2020, ceramic, paint, paper, 10” x 7” x 5”

AS: Our interview was conducted a while before the Corona pandemic. Life has changed since. How are you coping these days and what are your thoughts about the road ahead?

Jacqueline Shatz: I retired from my Spring teaching job before the onslaught of the virus and was looking forward to more time and energy to go to art events. But that is minor compared to people losing their jobs and lives. I am lucky to have my work, food and a place to live. This has been a productive period artistically, with an under-current of anxiety. I recently won a Gottlieb Foundation Grant and that is a great joy and will allow me to expand in new directions. Connecting with other artists and seeing their work is more valuable than ever. My husband was very sick for several weeks with a Corona like illness – although he tested negative. There was a lot of anxiety but now he’s better. I miss my daughter who we haven’t been able to visit. A show I was looking forward to has been postponed. I have had faith and hope that if we can effect political change things can get better for everyone. The current intensification of our racist history and the continuing death of innocent people is painful and enraging. These difficulties intensify the values of connecting and purify our awareness of our values – if we are lucky enough to have that option.

All photos courtesy of the artist unless otherwise indicated

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: artspielblog@gmail.com