Mingling the precision of geometry and the fluidity of nature, Colleen Carlson’s creations can hypnotize with their seemingly infinite lines and patterns. Coils of clay spiraling in on themselves create an almost dizzying effect, and a ceramic shag rug texture begs you to reach out and touch it. A result of meticulous craftsmanship and a genuine sense of play, the ceramic sculptures that materialize from Carlson’s imagination are optical illusions in themselves, emanating both the strict sense of control and the hours of unrestricted experimentation that brought them about.
From functional pieces like lamps to purely decorative wall hangings, Carlson’s work dazzles with the effort it suggests. The artist owes much of her style to patience, a necessary skill when working with clay, which goes through multiple delicate phases before a finished product emerges. Carlson takes things several steps further, however, using an extruder machine to press the clay into dozens of noodle-thin strands, which she then overlays and works into the mesmerizing patterns that have become her signature.
“Maybe my greatest competition is the 3D printer,” Carlson says, referring to the perfection made possible through the emerging technological tool. But while Carlson’s works are intricate enough to seem machine-made, they each radiate a strong sense of artistry that differentiates them from any kind of computer-generated object.
Ceramics is a stark change from Carlson’s early career in modeling, which took the Western Canada native around the world and exposed her to a fast-paced lifestyle at a young age. After landing in New York City, she soon began playing around with painting, and enrolled in ceramics classes at the School of Visual Arts. The three-dimensional nature of the discipline appealed to her over the relative flatness of acrylics, as well as the solitude the act of creating allowed for. “It was sort of meditative,” she explains. “’I’m a Pisces and kind of introverted, so I think I found comfort in that.”
With its neutral tonality—a combination of earthy clay with sleek metallic glazes—much of Carlson’s work transmits a calming effect. Recently, however, the artist has been testing out colors, mixing Mason stains directly into the clay. “It becomes really saturated when it’s fired, and then it comes into its own,” she says. Inspired by everything from architecture to jewelry to pastries, Carlson doesn’t limit herself to one particular style, incorporating recognizable symbols like boomboxes, cream puffs and even the Stretch Armstrong figurine from the 1970s into her work. The artist’s devotion to experimentation is a happy match for the unpredictable nature of ceramics. Notes Carlson, “You never know what you’re going to get until you open that kiln door.”
PHOTOS: NINA CHOI