Portland-based artist Kate MacDowell continues to construct discomfiting combinations of human and wildlife elements in her porcelain sculptures. She builds each piece by hand, and often layers in details after hollowing out the main form, whether it is a fox’s body encasing a human skull or a human brain filled with flora and fauna.
MacDowell describes her choice of material: “I chose porcelain for its luminous and ghostly qualities as well as its strength and ability to show fine texture. It highlights both the impermanence and fragility of natural forms in a dying ecosystem, while paradoxically, being a material that can last for thousands of years and is historically associated with high status and value.”
Kate MacDowell has lived and worked in many different environments and cultures that have influenced the way I perceive the world, and therefore my pieces. These experiences have ranged from teaching in urban high schools and producing websites in the high-tech corporate environment, to volunteering at a meditation retreat center in rural India a few hours outside of the fever pitch of Bombay. She also collected visual imagery and ideas from her travels through Renaissance Italy, Classical and Minoan Greece, Nepal and Thailand.
Upon returning to the United States in 2004, after a year and a half working overseas, She began to study ceramics full-time at the ArtCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina and later at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus and the Oregon College of Art and Craft’s community education program. She has also studied flame-worked glass at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and participated in an artist residency at the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Maine.
Kate MacDowell’s newest work explores our physical and psychological relationships with the animal kingdom. Whether as proxy, trophy, raw material, or mythic symbol, animals currently occupy a space in our subconscious which layers history, fable, and an awareness of species fragility. MacDowell uses a variety of methods to create these pieces from hand sculpting porcelain, often building a solid form and then hollowing it out, to slip casting and assembling multiples. I see each piece as a captured and preserved specimen, a painstaking record of endangered natural forms and a commentary on our own culpability.
The artist’s work is included in a group show at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, which is open through April 15, 2018, and she is also leading a week-long workshop on porcelain sculpting at Idyllwild Arts in California in June 2018. You can see more of her work on her website and Facebookpage.