Rebecca Morgan - excerpts from an interview with Nika Sheynberg
"For me, the jugs are an extension of the face jug tradition, using a familiar “art” object from the country and expounding on it as an homage in my own vocabulary. I really view these as treasured objects, magical, highly revered objects."
[RM] Growing up, face jugs were a common image and presence in museums, homes or antique stores especially as well as the South which I have spent some time. Face jugs are one of the traditions that are an amalgam of many cultural influences. In the South, slaves used face jugs as grave markers designed to scare and keep the devil away. I always knew them as a personally crafted jug used to store liquor; features would scare children so they would not to try the contents. For me, the jugs are an extension of the face jug tradition, using a familiar “art” object from the country and expounding on it as an homage in my own vocabulary. I really view these as treasured objects, magical, highly revered objects. I absolutely created them with the idea that they personified mysticism, and personified an intangible reverence for the pastoral, country ephemera, secrets, history and traditional story telling. When I think of them animated, they are right at home in Early American/Catskills tales and Appalachian mysticism with an ambiguous narrative behind them. I think they are utilitarian objects for people, and yet they are creatures that are autonomous as well, as if they've always just been sitting in the woods existing on their own. In a lot of ways, I feel like they don't belong to anybody, the way you would keep an endangered or fictional animal to yourself. Maybe in their lifetimes they've crossed into the human cohabitation and they silently sit but are filled with all of their mystical backwoods tradition forever. That is putting a lot of narrative on them, but I view them as having some sort of story, and coming from some kind of weird place.
[RM] I think the jugs are very powerful in personification. I never have thought of my art as characters, so much as I have with these sculptures; perhaps it is their physicality. I wanted to convey a creature-y sense of other worldliness and wildness. When I was making the jugs, I thought a lot about their character and personality- "Is this jug happy today? (Am I happy today?) Is this jug neutral in their expression? (Am I blah today?) In some aspects it is self-portraiture, for sure! Often I would set out to make a jug angry and furrowed and it would just not work- formally, it was not happening, and when I made a different expression of pleasure or happiness (or vice versa), it was instantly clear, that's what it needed to be. Maybe it is a little “hippy dippy”, but I spent a lot of time holding their faces in my hands and thinking about them as personified objects, or even what color glaze they were destined to be; I felt very close to them.
[RM] I work in three general modes of representation: Naturalistic, cartooning and somewhere in between. The themes of the work stay the same across all of the mediums, but how they are formally conveyed differs. All of the work is of the same plane and there is no hierarchy, just different modes of execution. I started working in ceramics as a release and an escape from the two dimensional. Ceramics are the most fun, refreshing and loose to me right now; with the ceramic and cartooning work that I am doing, it doesn’t have to be perfect, in fact, imperfections and dents are welcome with the sculptures and face jugs, so there is less pressure, unlike a painting or drawing that often has to capture a specific likeness or be convincing. The cartoons, drawings, paintings and sculpture all inform each other and there are shared similarities across all of the modes, with the formal qualities in flux and the themes and archetypes staying present throughout.
[RM] I have been making the ceramic face jugs and sculptures in relation to my two dimensional drawings, paintings and cartoons. I consider myself a painter and draftsman first and foremost, but ceramics is my sculptural mode of execution. There is no ending or starting of formal modes; they are all happening at the same time and never stop. Ceramics really excites me and I get very excited about making three dimensional versions of my two dimensional ideas. I started making and learning about ceramics the summer before I went to graduate school at Pratt Institute at Arrowmont School of Art and Craft as a studio assistant and made sculptures and kept learning about clay throughout grad school. The last exhibition I had, the face jugs found their way next to the two dimensional work and they inform each other. I have been refining the ceramics and getting more experimental with the surface and execution and they, like the rest of the two dimensional work I make is constantly in flux.
[RM] I usually get into my studio at around 10am. It is essential to have the internet where I can talk to others, take periodic breaks to read or look at images. I will work for short bursts, maybe an hour or two at a time and then “rest my eyes” on the internet. A lot of time is spent looking for source material on the internet and books- recently I have been looking at Greek sculpture, which provides me great figurative stand-ins. Music has always been difficult for me when I’m working- it has to be very specific high energy; It can get me too emotional and melodramatic in the studio. If it is not music or silent in the studio, I am listening to comedians/interviews or talk radio. Comedy is very important to me- it lifts my mood, as working in the studio is really cerebral and physically taxing for me. I like to spend the whole day here, sometimes achieving a lot and other days maybe next to nothing. I usually leave anywhere from 9pm to 12, but if a deadline or show is coming up, it can be much, much later. I usually work on wood panels when I paint (sanded smooth, gessoed surface where I usually do a very thorough under drawing and build color up with layers of glaze) or drawings on very large paper. I have a lot of scrap paper on hand for smaller cartoon work. I like to work on a few different paintings at once- it breaks up the energy. If something is drying, I mess around with something else. I like to leave at a good stopping point- when I am waiting for glaze or paint to dry or if I feel particularly accomplished about a certain area, or if I am making too many mistakes or creating more problems for myself- it is time to go! I have a space where I make ceramics and a cleaner space for smaller drawings and a corner by the best light or window for painting.
[RM] I would love to get into printmaking and making zines or books of the diaristic cartoons I make. There is still so much to learn about painting and ceramics that I am surprised and discovering all the time.