By Bailey Pitzer
About the Artist:
Bailey Pitzer is a mixed media artist and educator located in Portland, Oregon. Through creating large scale drawings alongside sculptural ceramics of great blue herons, she is able to explore the relationship between self-reliance and change and how it affects her everyday life. Bailey has been working with 2D mediums for several years, but has only recently transitioned into working with ceramics in 2017. Bailey is currently a trustee on the board for K-12 Clay after being voted on in March 2019.
She has had the honor of putting the Self-Reliance Battles Change Series on permanent display at Midwestern State University as well as trading her piece Choked Up and Changing for a vessel crafted by Noe Quezada, an artist out of Mata Ortiz, Mexico. She has had her work displayed by the Wichita Falls Art Alliance out of Wichita Falls, Texas in the summer of 2019 as well as her undergraduate exhibition hosted by the Juanita Harvey Gallery at MSU Texas in May 2019.
Stalled Flight includes two large scale multimedia drawings, a woodfired ceramic sculpture, and a series of five plates. All of these works focus on the Great Blue Heron and symbology related to unexpected change leading to self reliance.
When I first started this series, I did not expect that it would become such a powerful and ongoing body of work. I couldn’t stop obsessing over the Great Blue Heron, and as a result, I fixated on animal mythology in order to understand what this bird signified. According to Native American tradition, the Great Blue Heron is a symbol of progress and evolution, and is said to bring messages of self-determination and self-reliance. Snakes are historically representative of creative life forces, healing and change. That mythology struck a chord with me, so I stuck with this obsession and eventually found flight through growth and enjoyment in creating works inspired by these creatures. The battle between a Great Blue Heron and a snake is seen often in nature, and to me, that can be read as a metaphor about self-reliance battling with change.
My drawings have been created using a free form multimedia approach with charcoal, pastel, gesso, ink and acrylic paint. The large scale of these drawings allows me to use my whole body to create a line rather than just my wrist and hand, which is something that I have found to be really powerful and expressive. According to Andrew Graham-Dixon, “The edge in modern painting is charged with neurosis; it meets a world that no longer confirms it but which is hostile or at best indifferent” Inspired by this, I’ve taken on an indifferent attitude when making my drawings in order to access that part of my brain, to be free and open to the possibilities. My series of ceramic plates built using the slab process are the part of a much more controlled art making process.
In these two distinctly different approaches to art, the freeform drawings and the more controlled ceramic works, you’re able to see the two opposing ways that I work. These two diametrically opposed ways of working also reflect my own personality, which has both spontaneity and control.
On the Cover:
An Interview With the Artist:
In this series you work with multiple mediums and I was wondering if one form was able to achieve something the other can’t and how this played a role in your creative process?
When I draw, I find that I’m able to be much more free than when I work with clay. It’s absolutely a personal thing, but I can allow myself to make mistakes more easily and be more expressive and silly with my mark making when I’m working with 2D materials. Clay tends to draw out a more serious side of me as an artist, and I take more time and care to avoid mistakes. Learning how to work with both of them at the same time with such focus and on a time crunch absolutely played a role in my creative process by forcing me to think outside the box. I was shown that I needed to become more fluid and less resistant to change, a lesson that was becoming somewhat repetitive, and thus, a theme for my artwork.
I was immediately captivated by the heron depicted in your art. Can you tell us how you first engaged with this bird as a subject?
As cliche as it sounds, the heron came to me in a dream. I was having constant dreams about this bird, it would be perched close to me in a scene, or I'd see them flying around. After a while, I found that we have one Blue Heron that lives on the lake here in town, and he would always show up on my walks. In the past, I had never really cared much for birds, so this recurring character in my dreams and eventually in my reality, wasn’t something I was initially excited about. After it became something I couldn’t ignore and had eventually started influencing my art, I looked into the symbology of herons and what this might mean for me. After doing some research, I saw that herons often symbolize independence, stillness and tranquility. After realizing that this bird was sent as a reminder for me to be patient with myself, still and present so that I can grow to be a strong, independent individual, despite the constant chaos or change that I may be experiencing.
What did you find most difficult about this project?
I struggled a lot with finding balance between time constraints for the show and work and other life expectations. It was a new challenge for me, but it was something I feel happy about in the end. I think I learned a lot through this experience about time management and when to say no, and focus on myself in order to get everything done. I also spent a lot of time learning about clay during this process and how to draw big without the fear of making mistakes, because, as it turns out, anything can be fixed with a little bit of gesso. This series of work was also very emotional for me. I spent a lot of time growing spiritually and focusing on developing my emotional intelligence. This project broke me down and forced me to dig deep to find the parts of myself that needed mending, reflect on them, make art about it, then heal.
What artists if any served as inspiration during this project? What did you learn from them that you were able to take back to your work?
While visiting the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I saw the most beautiful piece titled, “Three Graces Plaque”. It was an 18th century black basalt ware piece that inspired my series of ceramic plates. My drawings were inspired more by the thought that modern painting can be merged with neurosis of the maker. According to the mind of Andrew Graham-Dixon, when this happens, art can meet a world that no longer confirms it, but which is hostile, or at best indifferent to the results. I started drawing with my whole body, feeling the movement and found inspiration that way, by feeling my way through the drawing until it was at a level I appreciated.
How has this series changed your perspective of yourself as an artist?
This series showed me what I was capable of making and to what scale. It gave me confidence as an artist. I was very nervous to attempt drawings so large, as I had only ever made things that were maybe a third of the size. I learned a lot during the process about how to trust myself artistically, and that not every line drawn or carved into the clay was permanent. I had little experience working with clay before starting this body of work, so when I began that process, I did my best to go with what I knew and draw with the clay. The way that I carved into the ceramic plates in the Self-Reliance Battles Change Series and Patterned Patience were inspired by the way I draw. After realizing that my ceramic process could match my drawing process, my perspective shifted and art making became much more inspiring for me. I’m enthralled with the learning process, so that moment of clarity when I figured out how to move from paper to clay and back again seamlessly felt like magic. I was able to maintain my style with both mediums while still displaying how I can be freeform and fluid with 2D work and controlled with my mark making with 3D work
Are you working on anything now or have any new projects on the horizon?
At the moment I’m working on some smaller projects, more utilitarian ceramics like paint palettes, bowls and plates. My drawings and paintings still feature the heron more often than not. I tried to break free, but the heron still has me. I’ll just keep working with it until I find something new, then go from there. For now, I’m really happy with where I’m at.
What advice would you give a young artist following in your steps?
Some of the best advice I was ever given was from my mentor, Steve Hilton. He told me that it was always best to say yes more than you say no, even if it seems like something beyond your reach. Asking for guidance is never a bad thing. Accepting jobs and actively listening, not planning what you’ll say next, but paying attention to the people you’re speaking with will take you miles. People will begin to recognize you as a helpful hand and as a reliable person. Doors will open and you’ll start to meet some of the most incredible people out there. The ceramics world is the most welcoming and loving community, so find a group no matter your medium, I strongly recommend NCECA for ceramic artists, and get involved! Artists help artists, so put yourself out there.