"It makes good sense to use clay for pots, vases, pitchers, and platters, but I like to have things both ways. I make things that could be functional, but I really want them to be considered works of art."
Betty Woodman is internationally recognized as one of the most important ceramic artists working today. Through her inventive use of color and form and her expert blend of a wide range of influences, she creates exuberant and captivating ceramic sculpture.
Employing many forms, from fragmented wall vases to bronze benches to pillow pitchers, she presents a delightful gathering of influences and traditions. Woodman has traveled extensively, finding inspiration in cultures around the world. Artist and writer Jeff Perrone has described Woodman’s remarkable ability to draw on many sources:
As a body of work, her ‘style’ is an ever-changing constellation of ceramic styles…This ceramic eclecticism is an implicit critique of modernist “purity”, the leveling of variety and difference. But Woodman’s eclecticism, her pluralism is not a scrambling or confusion of systems. It is the selection of what is best from various styles; it requires more care, more orderliness to be an eclectic than to apply a single standard or adhere to a single model.
For Woodman, this eclectic gathering is an essential part of her process:
"Things emerge in my studio from a seen image or experience that gets recalled in whatever work I am doing. The work becomes a conduit of the memory of a painting, a landscape, architecture, or some other visual stimulus. Once it starts to manifest itself in my art, the topic and subject then gets further researched in books, visits to museums, or by another trip."
Drawing no boundaries between traditions of fine art and craft, Woodman takes elements from the rich heritage of each and makes them her own. She uses the motif of the vase and the vessel repeatedly, allowing it to enrich her exploration of formal and painterly traditions:
"The centrality of the vase in my work is certainly a reference to a global perspective on art history and production.The container is a universal symbol- it holds and pours all fluids, stores foods, and contains everything from our final remains to flowers. The vase motif connects what I do to all aspects of art. I can mix the motifs of a classic Greek vase on one side of a triptych with the details of a Japanese print on the other all conveyed with a palette based on the hues of a recollected Hindu temple."
Professor of philosophy and writer Arthur Danto agrees about the solvency of the vase form in Woodman’s work:
Woodman’s vases project the use with which their meaning is connected, but at the same time declare their affinity with the Modernist art to which they owe their visual interest and originality. To live with one of Woodman’s pieces is to connect oneself with both sets of meanings- the eternal human meanings of the vase as subject, and the historical meanings of the vase as form.
Betty Woodman lives and works in New York City and Antella, Italy. Her work has been shown around the world in exhibitions in France, Italy, Holland and Japan. The Metropolitan Museum, New York had a retrospective of Woodman’s work in June 2006.