Phyllis Schwartz - Featured Artist  fro December 2009

Which artistic media do you prefer to work in and why?

Ceramics and photography. I like the magic of scientific forces beyond my control being co-creators in both media. In ceramics, it is the fire, and in photography, it is the camera and darkroom. In both media, I can be spontaneous and experimental.

With which past or contemporary artists or artworks do you, as an artist, feel a connection?

In ceramics, I find myself drawn to the traditional masters in Japan, but if I answer this tomorrow, it might be someone else. In photography, I am a bit more predictable: Edward Weston and Imogene Cunningham. Andy Goldsworthy’s work and his art practice, especially, inspire and interest me.

What is it that draws you to them?

Like most connections in my life, they either happen or do not. I am a great believer in sympatico connection, and we all know what happens when we analyze magic.

Which particular processes or techniques of art-making interest you now?

Special effects. In ceramics, I am known as a glaze-maker. I am an artist in residence at Tupper Secondary School where I have developed their glazes based on the work started by Glenn Lewis out at the UBC Ceramics Hut in the 70s.  I have been working with Glenn Lewis and Debra Sloan for three years on book about his glaze recipes. It is at the printer’s right now. In photography, I am exploring lumen prints (no camera, no darkroom, just organic materials place on photosensitive substrates) and lenticular photography (quadroscopic camera).

What particular technical challenges in art-making do you face at this time?

I guess the answer is always the same: keeping safe. Both ceramics and photography have some important safety concerns to worry about. I have learned the hard way about some of them, but do not think that digital photography paper is any safer; in fact, it is probably more toxic than photo fixer and bit safer than lead glazes.

What in your artistic training do you value most in your work at this time?

Good teachers, always good teachers. Learning takes place in the connection between teacher and learner. I cannot say enough about how good the learning environment is at Emily Carr.

How much of a role do accident and control play in your work?

100% accident

What are some of your artistic challenges at present?

Money and a provincial government that does not value artists; a real bummer.

What are some of your artistic accomplishments at present?

I have been working on publications since the early 70s, and this little book on glazes is my most meaningful publication. My heart always leads me, but in this project, the magic of my son finding an archival treasure trove at the bottom of an old kiln, and the collaboration with two other artists taught me even more about trusting my heart. There are other accomplishments, like just getting into art school and learning to draw when I was 50, but right now I am enjoying this one.

Can you share three things you’ve learned as an artist through your own art?

One of the most amazing things in my day is spending time at a Reggio Emilia pre-school down the street where my heart sings and I connect to art without  boundaries. Google it. I only know a life that is about lifelong learning and that I am an artist. It is not three; it is a million things I have learned from my connection with kids in this environment.

When you need inspiration, how do you get it?

Inspiration is not something I think about. My ideas just come to me, just tons of ideas.

When you need to learn more as an artist, how do you do it?

I trust that I'll meet the artists I need to know about. Things like this just come my way.

What is exciting on your artistic horizon?

I  am part of a collective of seven AIOM photographers who collaborate, go on photo excursions together and meet regularly for conservations about photography and our own work; five of us are putting together a group show this spring. It might also include a publication. It is all very exciting, too good to be true. In early spring: a book launch about heritage glazes.

What is it about this artwork (self-selected work shown) that led you to choose it for this feature?

When this image appeared, I saw something powerful. It was all the formal elements working: the depth in shadow detail, the mystical quality of light,  and all the possible readings. Right now, I am reading Proust Was a Neuroscientist, and  it is having an huge impact on my artist practice and my thoughts: so much goes on in the mind to make the senses deliver information.