Into the Overwhelm by Stefanie Smith
Into the Overwhelm is well titled. Three life-sized, snarling terracotta dogs' heads face-off; one with its muzzle bound by rope, one spewing octopus tentacles and the other flowers. It is striking and slightly disturbing, equal parts myth and mayhem, and it recently won the CASS Art Prize in Three-Dimensional work at our Atelier Open.
Its creator, the Canadian ceramicist Stefanie Smith, is on a journey; both in life and in the studio. From early beginnings in slab-built functional ceramics, she began experimenting with large-scale sculptural work whilst undertaking her recent graduate studies at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
“For my degree, I have been exploring ideas around identity, trauma, memory, and myth, and this piece is part of that exploration. In particular, for this work, I was looking at the loss of identity and sense of self that occurs when we are not free to express ourselves fully; when we feel muzzled and bombarded by societal ideas of how we should behave and speak.”
Stefanie has been making professionally since 2012, when she was selected for a 4-year craft incubation residency in St. John's Newfoundland. It was a formative experience, following which she made a commitment to seek out new learning opportunities every year. “Artist residencies have been an important part of that. I have been very fortunate to have the financial support of my provincial and federal Arts Councils to support me with this, and have had the opportunity to participate in residencies in Mexico, Panama, New Zealand, Tasmania, and most recently the European Ceramic Work Centre in the Netherlands.
“Residencies are always influential on the development of the work, though often they impact it in unexpected ways. Working alongside artists from a variety of backgrounds and media, immersion in a new culture and its ceramic history, and time away from my own studio and comfort zone, all push the work forward. As someone whose work focuses on identity, growth experiences such as these are invaluable.” Stefanie tells us that she was both surprised and grateful to receive the CASS Art Prize. “I was nervous about exhibiting a sculptural piece for the first time, I really was not sure how it would be received. The CASS award has been an excellent confidence boost.
“When I first discovered clay in a craft context back in 2010, I was immediately overwhelmed with the possibilities, and I knew I could live my entire lifetime without learning all it has to offer. It has such a complex and fascinating history, and it is a material that requires a give and take. No matter how well I think I've come to know it, it always finds a way to prove to me that I've got a long way to go. That keeps me excited.”
Stefanie is just finishing her studies before taking up position as one of the new Graduates in Residence at Fireworks Studio in Cardiff. “I am incredibly excited about that. I am also very lucky to have an artist residency in Chile in 2023, so there are many things on the horizon. My focus will continue to be on sculpture ceramics, myth, and identity.”
Come and see Into the Overwhelm at our Atelier Open. The exhibition features 250 works by 130 artists, at all stages of their career, and working in all mediums and materials. The show continues until 3rd September.