Guest Q&A with InFlux: Audry Deal-McEver

©Audry Deal-McEver

©Audry Deal-McEver

If you wouldn't mind, tell us a little bit about yourself. Your background, etc.

I am a Nashville native from a very creative family.  My father is a professional guitarist and his parents were photographers.  My mom has a degree in painting and her father was a master clockmaker.  I decided I also wanted to go into the arts when I was 18 and ended up earning a BFA in Ceramics at Ohio University.  There I had the privilege of studying under Brad Schwieger, Joe Bova, Alex Hibbitt, and Tim Berg.  After college, I came back to Nashville and began teaching through the many wonderful community art education programs like the Sarratt Art Studios at Vanderbilt University and Watkins College of Art and Design.  Four years ago I accepted a full time position teaching ceramics and photography at Ensworth High School and began setting up my own private studio. 

When did you start making art and why clay?

My mother says that I have always been a “compulsive maker.”  Whether it was knitting, sewing, painting, or “inventing,” I probably made something everyday of my childhood.  My family encouraged me when I decided to go to art school, but I didn’t find my interest in clay until a little later.  I entered collage as a photography major and signed up for “Pottery on the Wheel” my sophomore year as an art elective.  I hated it at first!  I had never felt so challenged.  The class moved quickly and it seemed like nothing came easily to me.  I had to spend 8 to 10 hours a week in the studio outside of class just to keep up!  Before long I became obsessive over the need to improve and ended up getting sucked in.  I started to crave my intense practice time and the constant challenge.  It is this challenge that has allowed the medium to hold my interest to this day.  I doubt this will ever change.  Between the wide range of materials and the chemical reactions that occur during kiln firings, there is still an element of spontaneity that makes you feel like you are never 100% in control.  I also love how clay requires a great deal of planning and technical mastery, while simultaneously being quite forgiving.

What inspires your work?

I have always been interested in the ways that humans interact with the natural world, especially when it comes to plants.  My early sculpture work looked at the problems facing our botanical ecosystems.  This developed into an interest in evolution and what makes one species thrive while another goes extinct.

I am also deeply interested in the history of floral patterns.  In the wild, plants change their smell and color to help attract creatures to pollinate them, with the end goal of propagation.  In the same way, floral patterns and symbols have been slowly changed over time to hold the interest of customers.  What starts out as a life-like botanical illustration can evolve drastically over hundreds of years, much like the cherry blossom and the rose share common ancestry, but are now completely different flowers.

Over the past several years, I have been doing studies of the different flower symbols seen throughout the history of different cultures and carving them onto white clay vessels as a neutral canvas.  I enjoy the way the patterns and forms engage each other.  Though I spend many hours looking at historical designs, I carve them from memory, adding my own interpretation while responding to the curves of my forms.  This adds yet another layer to the evolution of these symbols.

What led you to help start InFlux and why do you think it is important to the culture of ceramic art in middle TN?

My interest in forming InFlux began from feeling out of place and isolated as an artist.  Having studied in the southern region of Ohio (which has a long, deeply rich history of ceramics), moving back to Nashville was tough.  There didn’t seem to be as many clay artists here.  Most of the clay artists I did meet had already established their careers and their body of work long ago.  I was also bothered by how many fine art galleries in the region still hold onto the divide between “fine art” and “fine craft.”

I wanted to build a community of artists who were interested in research and experimentation, rather than creating a wholesale inventory and line of products.  I also wanted to surround myself with a support group that would keep me questioning my ideas and solutions to creative problems.  This is especially important since I work in a private studio.   Lastly, I felt that by exhibiting as a group we could help spark a new dialogue in Nashville about what contemporary ceramics can be.  Together, we can represent a broader range of ideas and start establishing connections to other parts of the world that have more developed ceramic art cultures.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

My mom describes the Deal family motto as, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!”  I have interpreted this to mean that you can’t just devote yourself to something halfway and succeed.  You have to be all in and really push yourself. 

Audry's work along with other pieces created by members of InFlux will be on exhibit at The Arts Company until December 23, 2015.