Artist Melinda Laz’s multi-layered handbuilt ceramic tiles feature charming, nostalgic vintage photographs. See more of her portfolio by visiting her website.
There’s a favorite childhood photo showing me in pigtails at my fifth birthday party refilling a friend’s cup of glue during a craft project. Ever the helper, it’s only fitting that I went on to become an art educator spending many an hour topping off glue containers, as well as guiding my young students toward their own artistic breakthroughs.
My students have provided me with plenty of inspiration over the years, especially witnessing their unselfconscious, joyful ability to jump headfirst into their art. I try to embrace this point of view as often as possible in my own work. I studied printmaking at Washington University in St. Louis. We used unusual materials and broke many traditional printmaking rules (I once saw a student send a pair of scissors through the press!).
Years later when I bought my own press, I worked primarily in collagraph and monoprint processes where I explored texture, color, transparency and chine collé. In printmaking, process is as important as the product, and I keep that mantra top of mind.
In 2014, I invited a ceramic artist (the late Marie Gibbons) to teach several workshops to my fifth graders. I had zero experience with clay and was terrified to use my classroom kiln for fear I’d burn down the school! I learned as much as did my students in those workshops.
Marie and I sparked an instant friendship, inspiring my subsequent move to work in clay. Marie was my mentor and champion—she demonstrated that an artist’s voice and point of view come through in whatever form or medium is needed. When I switched to using clay, it was an emotional, identity-shifting change. I suddenly needed to work with my hands differently and use different materials to say what I needed to say. Yet, there are many overlaps between printmaking and ceramics.
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At first, my ceramic work was very tentative, controlled. Growing more confident with the medium, I explored mark making, texture and layering, just as I did with my prints, even working in multiples and series.
Vintage photographs regularly appear in my bodies of work over the years. Translating these photographs into ceramic portraits, I keep the faces of the subjects blank so that they appear universal.
Living in the West, I’ve grown to appreciate the nostalgia of times past—the sense of adventure tinged with hardship that I recognize in these photographs.
I usually blackwash my bisque-fired tiles in a process similar to etching, which brings out the lines and texture. Only recently have I begun to experiment with glazes. I also create custom ceramic portrait commissions based on photos provided to me by clients. The commissioned pieces are distinctively personalized original artworks, and clients tell me they are instant conversation starters.
My current series of works based on charming photographs in the Golden History Museum’s collection features a limited color palette where I’ve sprinkled in small moments of glaze.
Artist Melinda Laz invites you to follow her on Instagram.
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