Ziran Muse: Candice Methe
Candice Methe is a delightful human and talented artist who was also at the RAiR Residency with us in Roswell, New Mexico. We had the pleasure of working and living alongside her, and among other things, her furry companions were our daughter Meilu's first real experience with dogs. I feel like that's an important fact I can't leave out, regardless of its' relevancy, because new parents love to notate all of the "firsts."
Anyways, I love Candice's work. It embraces duality and is equal parts contemporary and archaic, limitless and contained. It was so fun to visit her studio and experience the prolific breadth of her process. This woman is busy. Candice also looked incredible in these Ziran pieces, truly embodying our ethos of natural spontaneity. Here is the story, enjoy :)
I grew up in Falmouth, Massachusetts with a single dad who was from World War II. I didn't really do any art stuff. I was really big into photography when I was in high school, and didn't actually get started in clay until I was about 25. I had the queen of the odd jobs when I started working for this woman named Mary Cox. She was a ceramic artist and I helped her do packing, shipping, and rolling out slabs. It was a random job and ceramics didn't seem like anything that I was ever gonna pursue, it wasn't even on my radar. But one of the things that I noticed was that she was a businesswoman. She was very strong, very resourceful, and really motivated.
So I think growing up without a mother, I always gravitated towards strong women. From there I took a class at a place called the Ah Haa School, which is in Telluride, Colorado. I took a wheel throwing class and really enjoyed it. I just kept going back and trying to improve my skills. But when I moved to Durango, Colorado I met this woman named Lorna Meaden, and she ended up being my first mentor. She had started a small ceramic studio right out of undergraduate college, and she had built her own kiln. She had acquired all of the equipment for materials, either through grants or various ways, like the barter system. She kind of set it up on the cheap, but she was a really strong resource. She was also the same age as I was, and so she became a peer for me, and an inspiration. At the time I was still just trying to figure out what I was doing. I was working in restaurants and snowboarding and skateboarding everyday. It kind of just gave me direction, and I saw that there was someone my age really strong, really independent, and really knowledgeable. I wanted to be like her and embody that for myself. Especially with growing up without a mother, it's like you kind of have to learn these things as an adult and you do a lot of parenting on your own.
So I started doing work-for-trade for Lorna. I would clean the studio or I would recycle clay. She let me fire there and have a small space to work out of. And then from that, it just kind of took off. And I still don't necessarily understand why I work with clay. Maybe because it's like the most humble and the most human of all the materials. For the first 10 years of my ceramics career, I was self-taught and didn't understand that there was a community out there or there were a lot of resources. I wanted it to get better, and I wasn't really sure how to pursue that. So that's when I decided to go to school.
I'm the first person in my family to go to school. I started when I was 34 and got a degree in Ceramics, and then right after that went to the University of Minnesota and got a Masters in Ceramics. I didn't sell any work and I didn't participate in any exhibitions or shows or anything like that. I just wanted to focus on work. And so I think that that's had a huge impact on what I make, because I was able to really do some deep diving into who I am, why I make what I'm interested in, where I fit into the world, where my work fits into the world, and what my inspirations really are… back to my heritage and all that stuff.
I think one of the biggest things too when I was in graduate school, I moved away from working on the potter's wheel and moved towards hand building. That shift in itself was a huge part of the development of the work.
How do you describe the work that you make?
The short answer is I make sculptural vessels. I'm interested in the vessel as a metaphor. I think for me, growing up poor, one of the things that I've never really been able to let go of in my work is function. I feel like everything really has to have some sort of a purpose. But I am also interested in so much more than just the cup, the bowl, the teapot and stuff like that. I'm trying to incorporate those two things together to create a body of work that's interesting and that could be used if you really wanted it to.
As far as inspiration goes, I’m part Native American, Abenaki, but I grew up as a white person, so I don't feel that I can claim those sorts of things as identity. But I'm able to honor that through the work that I make too. One of my biggest influences will always be historic Native American artwork. And a lot of clay architectures started coming into the work, like Adobe structures and clay architecture from around the world. I think a lot of my work is also just inspired by clay.
I don't always start out with an idea. I just will start making, and then things will start happening. I kind of build intuitively and see what happens. It's like a collaboration between me and the material.
Are you still in touch with those women, the ones who first let you use their studios? What do they think of your growth and success now?
I am still in touch with them, and I think that they are proud to be a part of my personal history. I think that it's an honor to have inspired someone in a 25 year career as an artist. And now that I've been working in clay for 25 years, I am starting to see those sorts of things in myself as well.
I think it's a really special thing to move from a young person who doesn't really know a whole lot or understand, to someone who has gained so much life experience and so much skill. And then be able to share that and influence somebody else too.
So that's why you like teaching?
Yeah, and it runs the gamut on the people that I teach. A lot of them are older people who are hobbyists. But there are some young college students or even high school students who take my classes. Those are the ones I feel like I really connect with and generally will stay in touch with. I write letters and there's a gal who just got a residency that I wrote a letter for. It kind of has shifted over the years.
When you're new, your challenges are so different than when you're a master at your craft. What are some tension points you're experiencing right now?
Some of the things that I've been sort of struggling a little bit with are residual from my last residency that I did at the Archie Bray Foundation. I feel like I was up against a lot of high art, or people who were in that higher echelon of the art field. It was kind of an eye-opener to see how that all goes down. I've seen people's personalities transform when their work gets to be really popular. It becomes sort of this weird rockstar status. Then the focus becomes less on the object and more on the persona.
That's one of the things that I've been thinking about lately, because my work is really popular and I don't have any problems selling the work that I make. But clay is such a humble material. I've struggled with… how far do I want to go in my practice? How far do I want to push the boundaries in my work? I want to be able to just make what I want to make. So I don't want to start doing design kind of things. I want everything to be sort of fresh and new, and I get bored making the same thing over and over again too. Which has also been a struggle because people will like a certain form, and they'll want more of it, but I can never really replicate it. I feel like the joy is lost once I have. You're like a slave to that thing, and it stifles you as an artist and creative.
So those are two things that I've been struggling with. And then the other thing is just time. There's just never enough time. So my residency here has been more focused on finding balance and taking care of myself, and then also trying to find a place where the work can go where it commands more of an audience and more of a price point, but not wanting to move into big galleries. It’s a very difficult dance to navigate. It's a fine line because you don't want to get pigeonholed as a potter or something. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but then everybody just wants to buy mugs and doesn't take the other things seriously. But once you start moving into a place where you're making larger pieces and you're charging more money, than a lot of the people who are able to afford your work in places that you spent time and built relationships with, start to kind of fall away.
I used to make really large work and I kind of want to be able to go back to that and see where that goes. Because that’s where I feel like the work is most exciting for me. But I have to make a living. It's gotten increasingly harder over the 25 years to be able to support myself. Because as you get older, somehow you get more bills and more responsibilities. Everything in the world is getting more and more expensive.
Describe how a new form comes to be.
Generally it will start from a place that I know and it usually will come in. So I'll start with a form that I know, and then I'll just start adding things that are kind of wacky. It just kind of evolves. I make space for that to happen. A lot of times, frustration causes things to come out. I get so fed up that I have a deadline and I am trying really hard to get stuff done. And it feels like I'm trying to put a square peg around a hole. And what I need in that moment is like a little bit of joy or something new. So then something new will happen in the studio. I collect a lot of images and I feel like I have a lot of imagery from histories throughout the world in my subconscious. So that tends to come out at times too. I think clay just comes down to building intuitively and making space for that.
How do you describe your collector? Someone who falls in love with one of your pieces or has it in their home?
Well most of my work goes to the East Coast and some interior design spaces. Even though this is a vessel and references utility, it's really going to be a statement piece in a house. I'd say the people who buy my work, especially the larger pieces, are looking for an addition to their collection that brings a different feeling. I definitely have had some clients who are spiritual people and are looking for something to speak to how they view their home and the world. Or somebody who's interested in something a little more eclectic and dynamic. In ceramics, even though they're contemporary works, they do have an element of history, time, and place.
So Ziran comes from Chinese philosophy, from Daoism, and it literally translates to “nature” and it means “natural, spontaneous, and free… to push away outside influence and embrace your own authenticity.” Do you live Ziran?
Yeah, I would describe myself and my work that way. Working intuitively lends itself to being open and being free with the material. I'm more interested in the making part than any other part of the process. That's the most important part for me. That's the part where I feel most free to spend time with myself. I have a unique voice with my work, at least that's what people tell me all the time.
Creative Direction: Kelly Wang Shanahan (@theziran)
Muse: Candice Methe (@candice_methe)
Photographer: Victor Yanez-Lazcano (@yanezlazcano)
Shot in Roswell, New Mexico. July 2023.