Vanessa Norris grew up in a small town in Maine and spent much of her time drawing and observing as a young person. Craving to get out of her comfort zone, she enrolled in Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston to pursue a life of working with her hands, and it was there she discovered and cultivated a love for clay. Since then, she has moved across the country several times to work for different ceramic artists, including Bruce Larrabee in Park City, UT and Deb Schwartzkopf in Seattle, WA. In addition to assisting and learning from those in her field, Vanessa has instructed courses at MassArt, Moshier Art Center in Burien, WA, Indigo Fire in Belmont, MA, and Maud Morgan in Cambridge, MA. Vanessa is an Artaxis member and exhibits her pots across the United States. She currently lives and works in Boston.
At the core of Cloud 9 is perception, and that starts with how the work is viewed from far away versus up close. I make voluminous, buoyant--almost “Seussical”--forms that will potentially grab attention but incorporate white designs on a white clay body in an effort to separate those who will come closer from those who will but glance at my work. Visually, white does not stand out against gallery walls or in the kitchen cupboard; it is a common color for cheap, manufactured ceramic tableware. This lends itself nicely to adding unexpected, tactile elements to my pieces--present only for those who choose to stop, to touch, to ponder. There is a difference between looking and seeing; the interaction (or lack of interaction) is as much a part of my work as the work itself.
Poetry is another important part of how I communicate. It is an internal conversation I have with myself--a different way of processing and cementing what I cannot yet vocalize, and it acts as the grout that holds the shards of my practice together. I am handing you the blueprints to navigate my thoughts--but you as the viewer must first put in the effort. The recognizable iconography of the cloud provides an access point to enter the language of my work. It allows space for reflection on the role cloud idioms play in our perception of the world and our relationships. The small nuances of the everyday are what make a life, after all. For those who take the time, tableware provides an intimate way to experience art.
How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
Freshly graduated from college, I picked up my life and moved to the opposite side of the country to assist Deb at Rat City Studios. It was quite the move, and though I had never been to Seattle, I had my sights set on working for Deb since I heard about her program a year or so prior.
The year put forth many opportunities to grow. I rekindled my love for writing and photography to complement my practice. Though I am neither athletic nor an early riser, I woke up at three in the morning and biked six miles to my part-time job nearly five days of the week. I watched and learned from Deb, soaking up the triumphs and pitfalls that come with being an artist. And I made a home there--in the pages of my sketchbook and in between each line of poetry. My time at Rat City Studios came and went, but the year will echo and reverberate in my brain, pushing forth new ideas long after I’m gone.
I have returned to Boston for the foreseeable future to pursue opportunities here. This summer, I divided my time between teaching at Indigo Fire, instructing a high school summer intensive course at MassArt, and being a teaching assistant for Kyla Toomey at Harvard Ceramics. I had access to those facilities to continue making my work, so I was able to create new pieces for my portfolio and sell through various venues. This fall, I plan to continue making/teaching at local ceramics studios. I am also embarking on a new path with my partner, Gustavo Barceloni. We are in the process of setting up our own ceramics space called Dirty E Studios in Everett, MA. The first step in the process is to raise the funds necessary to hire an electrician and insulate the space, among other things. To accomplish our goal, we will be launching an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign on September 8th (the link will be posted on my website and Instagram on that day).
If you need me, you can find me working on the new studio, at an open mic poetry night, or sitting by the Charles River esplanade--still with clay covered jeans and my head in the clouds.