Clay in its most primitive, visceral state is what artist Beverly Morrison strives to honor. “It’s the flesh of the earth with its own language, personality and rules,” she says of her favored material. But she’s not throwing pots or making mugs. Instead, she’s creating bold, expressive fine art sculptures of raw clay that highlight its natural texture and characteristics. “Los Angeles has had a long love affair with abstract painting on clay, but my work doesn’t use it as a canvas,” she states. “I’m not a ceramicist either—I consider myself a ‘ceramic sculptor.’”
Her approach caught the eye of visionary L.A.-based curator Joel Chen, who brought her pieces into both of his renowned JF Chen showrooms about a year ago. Morrison, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach, credits a study trip to Florence, Italy, as what honed her interest in sculpture. But it was seeing the minimalist works of acclaimed 20th-century British sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth that gave her purpose. “How do you say so much with so little?” she posits. “I strive to create the same silent drama that I feel in their work.” A 2012 trip to Japan introduced her to raw clay and to gestural movement that reminded her of contemporary French painter Fabienne Verdier’s brushwork. “That’s what artists do,” Morrison says. “We take in all kinds of inspiration and make it our own.”
Using recipes she refined after working with architectural ceramicists Peter King and Stan Bitters, mixing her own clay creates for Morrison a soul-satisfying connection to the earth. “This material is all about reality,” she notes. After sketching out ideas, the artist rolls out slabs, cuts them into strips and begins manipulating and building her pieces, “much like a carpenter” she says. Each collection varies, with creations ranging from sculptures to vessels to wall art. But her use of texture, movement and clean lines remains a constant. Her “Mountain” vessels, for example, are beaten with wood planks before she applies a liquefied type of clay called “slip” for a dripped effect. Her “White and Gold” pieces are also brushed with slip before she adds a glaze that she swirls with her fingers. “I only use glaze to enhance gestural expression,” she explains. “Otherwise, I feel like it smothers and suffocates the material and distracts from the forms I spend so much time creating.”
Deeply attuned to nature, Morrison lets the changing seasons, from temperature to daylight, influence her practice. “Living life is part of the creative process,” she comments. That flexibility has given space to new ventures, such as “The Midnight Garden,” a series using black clay. Exclusive works will be featured this winter at Vessels + Sticks, an online contemporary ceramics gallery. The artist will also see a brand-new lighting collection of hers debut in the spring of 2023. “It satisfies my practical side,” she quips. But what Morrison wants most is for her creations, which she’s dubbed “modern-day relics,” to spark contemplation. “I want my ‘clay children’ to inspire, but also to help people get back in touch with that primal aspect of themselves that they may have forgotten,” she reflects.